In most brick-and-mortar workplaces, there’s a focus on why teamwork is important for the success of the business.
For virtual businesses, teamwork is no less important; however, it can represent more challenges due to the remote nature of the team. It’s easy to feel detached from a team when working remotely, so it’s important for leadership to put a strong emphasis on the team environment.
Isolation can lead to a sort of apathy in terms of the rest of the team. Your workers might perform well at the exact task they have been given, but your team dynamic doesn’t work so well outside of individual tasks.
How to Enhance or Encourage Virtual Teamwork:
- Bridge the virtual distance
- Introduce people properly
- Perform virtual team-building exercises
- Hire for “soft skills”
Here are some suggestions for enhancing or encouraging virtual teamwork:
Bridging the virtual distance
Your team isn’t physically together, but it is possible to close that virtual distance for excellent teamwork online.
If you think about an office environment where everyone is located together, what helps for building that team environment? Sure, you have more opportunities for things like team building exercises, but one of the major drivers is the casual conversations you have. People stop by the watercooler or in the break room and have non-work related conversations. They talk about their interests, their weekends or what happened downtown yesterday.
Research from MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory shows that those casual conversations really do matter as a promoter of teamwork:
“With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed that communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success.”
Your team can’t bump into one another in the corridors, so you need another way to bridge the gap. The answer for virtual businesses lies in having great communication tools in place while encouraging a space for non-work related chatter.
For example, you might have a Slack channel that is designated as the “watercooler” channel. You can encourage people to post non-work related pictures, questions or anecdotes about what they’ve been up to.
Tip: It’s important for management to lead by example with these sorts of channels, so that it becomes an accepted part of the company culture. Remote-based employees may be hesitant to jump in and say much about themselves if no one else appears to be doing it. Consistency is important too, for example, you could start a Friday tradition of asking a non-work related question for team members to answer.
Introduce people properly
One thing that really helps with team collaboration in a virtual workplace is to make sure everyone is introduced properly. As companies grow, it’s easy to let this become one of the things that falls by the wayside – new people start, get assigned their work, and otherwise don’t know the rest of the team.
For starters, that doesn’t create a very nice feeling for the new employee who wasn’t introduced. Team members might not take the initiative to introduce themselves, now you already have a breakdown in the way of collaboration.
Making a practice of introducing each new team member in your designated communication channel is a great start. Everyone deserves that – imagine being the only new person in a room and not being introduced to anyone!
Second, clearly outline their roles and responsibilities. Everyone needs a clear understanding of what their contribution is to projects as well as what their colleagues do. This helps people understand how they can work together and what to expect from one another.
Virtual team-building exercises
You may be virtual, but you can still partake in team-building exercises! Of course, there won’t be any falling exercises or “circle of trust,” but there are a lot of things you can do as a remote team.
Scientists have told us that team-building exercises are proven to have a positive effect on overall performance and teamwork in the workplace. As much as many employees might roll their eyes at the idea (mostly because of the stereotype of the falling exercise!), a well-run exercise works.
What might you do for team-building virtually? Here are some ideas:
- Volunteering. This has proven to be effective for team-building. There are many ways to structure volunteer service for a virtual environment, such as collect for a shared cause, join a challenge (such as shaving heads to raise funds for cancer, Movember, Dry July…), take a day out to volunteer for the same cause (for example, on collection days for certain charities), or perhaps even volunteer whatever your business does for a charitable cause (if appropriate).
- Shared meals. You might not be able to eat together in the same building, but you could join each other at the same time for a coffee or shared meal via video conference. You might even decide to have lunch delivered from local eateries near your team members.
- A monthly chat. You don’t need a big event to plan for team-building, you could set up a monthly informal video chat. This works best if you keep the group to no larger than 8 – 10 people. If your team is bigger than that, split the groups and rearrange the members every month.
Hire for “soft skills”
When you’re hiring new team members, it’s common to look for the specific “hard skills” that the role requires. You look for things like whether the person can competently write a report or use software and tools that your business uses.
An important aspect to include when you want to encourage teamwork online is to look at their “soft skills.” These include the personal attributes that enable the candidate to interact effectively with other people. Social skills, attitude, character, and emotional intelligence fall under the sorts of soft skills you need. Soft skills are essential to teamwork because they help people to manage interpersonal communication and relationships well.
Beyond hiring, many teams choose to train for soft skills as well. They assess the development needs of the team and conduct skill-building exercises to help sharpen those soft skills. A top skill that is often repeated in training is communicating clearly and respectfully. In the virtual environment, it’s easy for written messages to be misinterpreted, or to carry a harsher tone than perhaps the writer intended. All sorts of potential drama can be avoided if people know how to communicate with an appropriate tone.
At the very least, many virtual companies emphasize their importance to the team. For example, soft skills may be included as part of the values and culture of the company. It’s important that people understand that they are valued not just for the hard skills they bring.
Team collaboration is as essential for online-based businesses as it is for those with a physical location. Teamwork keeps the wheels turning in your business so that projects are completed and clients are satisfied.
Besides that, you don’t want to be stuck always having to be at work to make sure things get done, right? Every founder needs their vacations, too. By fostering a team environment, you can feel more comfortable and confident that things will get done without you there.
Become deliberate about creating a collaborative environment, since your team lacks the natural opportunities to run into one another in-person. It is worth your time and energy though, especially when you get to see your business running while you’re not there!