Strategies for Engaging Virtual Teams

Instructor: Sudha Aravindan

Sudha is currently an Information Technology Specialist and a EdD student at the University of Delaware.

As a virtual team manager, do you ever feel like you are losing control of your team? You have to come up with a strategy to improve engagement among your virtual team members. This lesson aims to provide strategies that you can implement.

Growth of Virtual Teams

A recent survey found that technology is changing the way people work. The number of people working remotely, virtually, or during non-traditional (not 8 to 5) working hours increased by 4 percent between 2012 to 2016. Many of these workers are part of a virtual team.

A virtual team of people working on the same project can include both national and international employees who work from different global locations and probably have never seen each other face to face.

Bob, the manager of a virtual team, is facing some challenges. Since he is not in close physical proximity to his team members and not able meet them at on-site meetings, he is often not fully aware of what each team member is working on. For example, Alicia in Texas may not have updated Bob about the fact that she is waiting to discuss a problem-solving strategy with Li in China, or that Matt in Kansas is waiting for Alicia to complete her report before he can start his work.

Face-to-Face Meetings

Even though his team is widely dispersed, Bob and upper-management decided to organize the very first face-to-face meeting for the entire team. Though this would be a large expense upfront, the benefits would outweigh the finances spent. This meeting would provide an opportunity for team members to create stronger bonds, which is difficult to do through virtual meetings alone.

The first meeting was a great success. Meeting in person also provided Bob the opportunity to create a personalized environment, make each team member feel welcome, share the future vision of the company, and encourage communication among the team members. This was important to help team members feel like they are a part of a larger organization and to understand how their contributions fit into the big picture.

Provide a 'virtual water cooler'

In a regular office, the water cooler is where employees get to meet with each other and exchange details about themselves and their families, build friendships, and feel that they are part of a work family. Bob decides to implement technology that will help create 'virtual water coolers', using collaboration software with text messaging and video chat options. This would help to open up avenues for team members in remote locations to communicate with each other, connect, and talk casually about things that are not always work-related, thereby promoting bonding.

In the first month that the virtual water cooler was implemented, Bob could already notice a positive effect - team members connected and came up with a great idea of surprising Kate with a virtual baby shower! One of the team members, Dave, also came up with the idea that each person should say a quick 'hi' or check-in when they are logged into work, wherever they are and whatever the time of the day is - the equivalent of saying 'Good Morning' in an office.

One-On-One Time

In one of the professional development courses that Bob attended, it was suggested that it would be helpful for the team manager to meet one-on-one virtually with all the members of the team on a regular basis, even if it is only for around 5-10 minutes. Bob starts off with checking on Tim, who is working in Alaska, through video chat. Tim was encouraged by Bob's call; he admitted that working by himself with no other team members in close proximity, especially during long winters, can become isolating at times. Bob's call made Tim feel happy and cared for.

Bob decides to implement this strategy and make it a point to spend one-on-one time with each and every member of his team. Through expressing empathy, Bob can build a strong trusting relationship with his team, which encourages everyone to discuss difficult topics openly and results in increased productivity.

One-on-One time with virtual team manager helps to express empathy and build trust.
One-on-One

Social Interaction

Another idea Bob implemented was to create an online discussion board where everyone can collaborate 24/7. His team liked this idea, as it allowed for a shared work area where members can bounce off ideas for projects and share expertise with each other.

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