Virtual teams and effective communication

Due to the global pandemic and rules of the lockdowns, employers face new challenges: making their businesses present in the online environment, move a lot of their activities from office-based to home-based, legal aspects and ensuring productivity and an effective communication to attain goals.

When it comes to the legal aspects of home working consider wether or not monitoring staff is necessary as serious reasons are required. Ensure that there aren’t any missunderstandings. If staff find out they are monitored without their consent they could seek legal counsel(Frettens, 2020). Chris Dobbs (Employment Solicitor) mentions that ‘’The employer could be facing a constructive dismissal claim. The use of surveillance, particularly if it is personal or invasive, could well amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence’’(Frettens, 2020) so having a clear written policy will help avoiding those cases.

What is a virtual team? Many employers couldn’t even imagine what a virtual team is supposed to look like because they could enjoy office life unbothered, but the pandemic changed that. My Facebook friends who are business consultants in various domains(sales, copywriting, reiki) are probably the happiest in this circumstance due to being home based for several years and enjoying handling geographically dispersed teams.

Firstly, a definition of what is a virtual team: ‘’A virtual team is a group of workers who communicate and work together using digital tools. While they can be located in the same physical space, virtual teams are often distributed, working remotely in different parts of the city, state or country—even on the other side of the world!’’(Project Manager,2020) and according to Ariel Lopez from Project Manager there are ‘’several varieties’’ of virtual teams: networked, parallel, product development, service, management teams depending on the roles, objectives of your staff.

Each employee should know what they are working toward. Set clear objectives which are easy to follow, share the company vision. Give them a list of responsibilities or have them create a daily report in Google spreadsheets which is easy to fill in, or allow them to work creatively and at their own pacing. Same goes for new hires except you could act as their mentor or assign one for them.

After objectives are set, what employers or managers need to do is ensuring that each staff member is okay with that is needed of them, that everything is understood including legalities regarding working from home. Instead of monitoring staff members managers could & should check-in regularly not just for work matters but how they are really doing, as this strengthens the relationship for the long-term with each colleague.

That can be achieved with the help of Skype(where a group chat for all teammates can be created) or Microsoft Teams(allows users to create a meeting and invite colleagues to join with chat included) or the ever popular Zoom. Being a Year 2 PR student it was a weird first two weeks on Microsoft Teams till we all got used with it so allow for some time to adjust to the new way of working. Platforms like Microsoft Teams and Project Manager help with keeping personal information safe.

What are the benefits of working remotely? Remote working has been on an increasing trend around the world. ‘’According to a 2019 study by IWG, 70% of professionals work remotely in some capacity at least once a week, with 53% doing so for half the week.’’(Project Manager, 2020).

In the chart below provided by Statista where 52% of respondents aged 21 and older who work remotely or have the option to claimed that it increased productivity, but for an employer it also means a huge saving in rent, heating and other amenities. For workers who are parents it also means being closer to their children having an easier time supervising them.

Now, what makes communication effective in a virtual team? Concise messages. Be straightforward and avoid lengthy emails and instead use facetime. Managers don’t have the luxury of seeing face to face with their colleagues so it’s best to create an atmosphere of trust and warmth that the team needs when working remotely through scheduled calls. There’s plenty of room for having fun in meetings using the whiteboard in MS Teams for example, or Mural like Laurel Farrer(Distribute Consulting) does for decision making (Designhill, 2020).

Since I mentioned that I have some Facebook friends who are business owners I’ve decided to mini-interview them for this blog and find out how they handle the virtual teams of their clients(like Emily Fisher does) or like Christine Hayes, who wanted to include two perspectives: the corporate side and having a online based business and manage literally geographically-dispersed teams. Unintentionally, they share the word ‘’aligned’’ in their brand names.

Emily handles a team of 10 for her client and she is a mindset expert, founder of the ‘’Aligned CEO’’ brand. What she does: ‘’ I provide business coaching and strategy consultations to a range of businesses from multi-million dollar brick-and-mortars to purpose-driven startups’’ and how she does it, in her own words: ‘’ I’ve had to rely more on digital platforms like Slack, Voxer and Zoom than ever before. I have started encouraging co-working sessions via zoom and casual check-ins throughout the work week. I have even started using something I call an “integrity check”, where I ensure that everyone on the team: knows what is being asked of them, feels empowered to do their tasks, and has an opportunity to ask for help or resolve any frustrations that they might be feeling. These checks have dramatically increased productivity and have led to a substantially more communicative environment between teams.’’

On how to ensure effective communication, she added: ‘’I have started to emphasize the overarching goals and the way in which tasks are interconnected. We have seen that an understanding of dependent tasks and workflow has led to faster response rates and more collaboration than in previous deployments’’.

Emily Fisher can be found on Instagram and is currently redesigning her website.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/aligned_ceo/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/emily.fisher.5895834/

Christine Hayes is the CEO of ‘’The Aligned Soul’’ and she is an author and mentor. She has managed teams based in New York, Texas, Canada and other parts of the world as well as her own. Here’s what she shared:

‘’For me virtual teams have always been apart of my life.  In running a growing 100% virtual corporation and when I was a leader in Corporate America leading high performing virtual teams was my everyday reality.

What I have found is key to effective communication and high productivity are the following:

1. Communicating to the collective team Clearly and Often

2. Maintaining an OPEN DOOR (phone/messaging) policy

3. Allowing people to work in a way that felt best for them.

(1) With virtual teams, it is important to create connection and community within the team.  I love to do this by communicating to the group as a whole clearly and often. 

(2) Additionally, it is imperative that everyone on my team know that no question is a “stupid question” except for the question that isn’t asked.  This empowers them to feel comfortable to ask whatever comes up and understand that it is a SAFE SPACE for them no matter what.

(3) Finally, it is very important for leaders to remember that people are UNIQUE.  This means that some work well during the day, some work well at night, some may need breaks in between, others may like to soldier through.

By allowing your team to work in the way that is best for them within reason of course, creates an environment where everyone can thrive.  You receive each person’s work when they are at their highest and most productive and results in more efficient more effective work.’’

Christine Michelle, Founder and CEO of The AlignedSoul by ana-hob®, Inc and former Corporate Leader with The Coca-Cola Company & Victoria’s Secret.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cmichellehayes/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thealignedsoul/

References

Ariel Lopez, 2020, What Is a Virtual Team? Definition & Examples, Viewed on [5/11/2020], Available from https://www.projectmanager.com/blog/what-is-a-virtual-team

Chris Dobbs, 2020, Can an employer monitor working from home?, Viewed on [5/11/2020], Available from https://www.frettens.co.uk/site/library/frettensnews/can-an-employer-monitor-working-from-home-solicitor-bournemouth

Designhill, 2020, Strategies For Managing Virtual Teams And Strengthening Virtual Communication For Businesses, Viewed on [5/11/2020], Available from https://www.designhill.com/design-blog/strategies-for-managing-virtual-teams-and-strengthening-virtual-communication-for-businesses/

Mural, 2020, Digital workspace for visual collaboration, Viewed on [5/11/2020], Available from https://www.mural.co/

Statista*, 2020, Benefits of remote work to the employers in 2020, Statista Viewed on [5/11/2020], Available from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1111408/benefits-of-working-remote-to-the-employer/

*Statista is an academic resource to which I am granted access by Solent University as its student.

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