Mental health within the virtual teams

Do you want to know how to become the hero of your colleagues? Read on and apply!

Managers have a tough job, managing a team and a company with a second wave of lockdown as icing. In the previous blog post on ‘’virtual teams and effective communication’’ there were a few points on the benefits of remote working but working remotely has its own cons:

  1. It can be stressful

One of the most important aspects to remember (as a manager or team leader) is to not give a member of staff a lot of tasks to accomplish in one day, if it is necessary make sure the load is not as heavy the next day, in order to maintain a balance.

  • It can feel dehumanizing

‘’How can the language you use when talking to remote workers make them feel better connected? Empathy might help your organization get there. When using such dehumanizing modes of communication as email, word choice becomes your only conduit for empathy. Choose your words with care. Belinda Parmar, CEO of London-based The Empathy Business, a global consultancy that specialises in the measurement of empathy, writes in a thoughtfully worded email: “Empathy is good for business and for employees—and in a remote office environment, empathy is key to survival.’’(Zendesk, 2020).

  • Higher risk of feeling/getting distracted

Each member of the team needs to have some sort of schedule or worksheet for the day ahead and know what goals they work towards; having a meeting every day at a certain time agreed with everyone either at the beginning or end of the day can help. Also, asking them to turn off mobiles will also help reduce distractions.

  • Higher risk of lacking community

When working remotely it can get robotic and lonely so it is important to remind them that they aren’t alone and that they can reach out whenever they need. Assigning a mentor to staffers, or hiring a Chief Happiness Officer will help create a team of people who feel like a family at work. Remember they are human, make them smile with a short message or email like Rebecca Longbottom does for her team, ‘’ find out what’s on their mind – what’s making them happy or troubled, what they’re looking forward to, and what they might dread’’ (PRWEEK, 2020). Don’t forget to have fun with games like the Pip Wilson’s Blob Tree(psycho-emotional test) or know how things are going with a ‘’fist check’’ where ‘’On Bryan’s team at BELAY, they use a “fist to five” system. When the team needs a quick read on how people are feeling about a topic, they ask participants to use their hand to put up a fist (a 0 on the comfort scale), or five fingers (a full-fledged approval) to show their acceptance. If most people are a five, you know things are going pretty well. Easy forms of feedback like this will help monitor morale even during periods of distance.’’(Forbes, 2020).

  • Higher risk of missunderstandings

For those staffers who aren’t native speakers in English it can be difficult to understand, the solution here could be assigning them to a person who speaks or understands their native language and sending them translated material, making messages clear, avoiding jargon. Another would be using a project management tool with clear tasks; using clear, empathetic language. Avoid direct harsh words, find a way to deliver a hard message softly when staff made a mistake. Everything can be fixed but trust.

  • Dealing with timezones is not impossible

Geographically-dispersed teams are indeed a thing. Know where everyone is timezone wise and set meetings, calls etc. at the same time for everyone. Divide the team in two, one part has a meeting in the morning, the other in the evening if it’s more convenient for their local time keeping in mind their preferences(sleep patterns, family commitments).

  • Holding colleagues accountable and productive

While anyone can understand if someone is a few minutes late to a meeting due to family commitments or technology issues, not the same can be said about slackers. Even in a remote working environment it is still easy to see who puts in the effort and who doesn’t, with or without a tool to track performance. Make clear what it is that they have to get done and in what timeframe and check in with everyone on how they’re getting on.

  • Online security and privacy

Have a written policy for remote working. Everyone, no matter how big or small, can use a password manager which come with premium features like LASTPASS. It stores all the passwords for you, generates strong ones to withstand hacking, and auto-fills them for you.

Using a different browser than the one used for personal things so that sharing anything personal is reduced to a minimum.

  • Disconnecting from work

Managers have to check that their colleagues don’t work more than the hours agreed on – ‘’remote workers think that they are very productive and keep doing work for long hours’’(Designhill, 2020). Remind all colleagues to set time aside for healthy eating, keeping hydrated, exercising, hobbies, family and rest because it’s easy to forget to eat or other personal needs when working from home(one example).

Was the above useful and interesting for you? If yes, have you discovered aspects you as a team member or manager can bring up to a team and improve? Managers who cannot afford a mentor or a Chief Happiness Officer like Rebecca, can become one themselves. You could:

  1. Develop a health and wellness committee that can focus on bringing wellness resources into the workplace.
  2. Review your company’s mental health resources for potential psychological safety practices, resources and tools to share with employees.
  3. Bring mental health experts into the workplace to host seminars on stress management, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.
  4. Get trained in Mental Health First Aid at Work so your employees can recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental illness or substance use among colleagues and respond appropriately. Email our team at MHFAatWork@TheNationalCouncil.org for more information.
  5. Once these tips are put into practice will benefit employers and employees and build the community that business books talk about. You’ll be the hero/ine of the team and your company will thrive long-term!

References and further reading:

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/

Glenn Lim, The “BLOB TREE” Psycho-Emotional Test, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://glennlimthots.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/the-blob-tree-psycho-emotional-test/

Rachel Go, 2018, 7 Disadvantages of Working from Home and How to Counter Them, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://blog.hubstaff.com/disadvantages-of-working-from-home/

Rebecca Longbottom, 2020, Five ways you can support the mental health and happiness of your employees, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://www.prweek.com/article/1699091/five-ways-support-mental-health-happiness-employees

Rubina Kapil, 2019, 10 Tips for Building a Resilient Workforce, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamvanderbloemen/2020/03/20/leading-teams-virtually/?sh=2626d5e35b8bhttps://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2019/02/10-tips-for-building-a-resilient-workforce/

Sarah Stealey Reed, 2016, Leaders, use empathetic language when talking to remote workers, Viewed on [11/11/2020], Available from: https://www.zendesk.com/blog/use-empathetic-language-when-talking-to-remote-workers/

William Vanderbloemen, Best Practices On Running Virtual Teams From Founder Of Company With 1,000 Remote Employees, Viewed on [12/11/2020], Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamvanderbloemen/2020/03/20/leading-teams-virtually/?sh=67d5a745b8ba

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.