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Six Strategies for Improving Your Virtual Team – Building High Engagement

How do you know if your virtual team members are fully engaged?

Creating high engagement within a team is no small challenge for any leader. The complexity of this challenge increases for leaders of virtual teams. Due to the absence of opportunities to have direct and frequent visual contact with all members, virtual teams are confronted with the reality of building trusting relationships through only words and tone of voice.

In a face-to-face conversation, there are three components that lend meaning to the communication—1) words, 2) tone of voice and 3) nonverbals or body language.

Words: What often comes as a surprise is words only account for 7% of the meaning behind the message. Tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%) drive intention and meaning of a message. In other words, (pun intended), the way something is said, is more important than the actual words.

Tone of Voice: In virtual communication, tone is one of the most powerful ways to influence engagement. By adjusting your tone of voice, changing the pace, emphasis and using pauses or silence to make a point, you can lend additional meaning to your words. For example, try saying “What made you say that to the customer?” several times while changing the emphasis on various words in the question. As a result, the message will come across differently even though the words are the same.

Nonverbals/Body Language: Since body language is such a critical element of communication between people, a high performing virtual team should try to incorporate live meeting options that allow members to see each other while discussing critical issues, new projects and any topics of contention.

For virtual teams to create high engagement, we recommend adopting the following strategies:

  • Hold regular discussions about the team’s vision/mission/goals – when members know how their roles and skills that contribute to the big picture, they are likely to remain engaged.
  • Provide opportunities for members to communicate outside of a project or task – engagement is a byproduct of “trust” among team members. So, try starting off each meeting with a fun question that allows people to get to know team members personally. For example, “Where would you like to travel next?” may give members insight into team members’ hobbies and interests outside of work.
  • Secure fast feedback with technology – incorporating group chats, polls and breakout groups can exponentially increase team member engagement by decreasing multi-tasking during meetings. This allows team members to remain focused on the matters at hand and not get distracted by emptying their inbox or working on other projects.
  • Conduct regular one-on-one meetings between leaders and team members – leaders can reinforce effective behaviors, assist in problem solving and, if needed, redirect team member behaviors in ways that are more effective.

Team members who are engaged are more productive, efficient and influential within their virtual teams. By investing time to tap acknowledge their contributions and guide their work efforts, leaders can encourage engagement that rivals co-located teams!

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