I am currently trying to drive two major change initiatives, and as all those involved are now working from home, I am having to confront the difficulties of virtual teams. I know I am not alone, and anecdotally, many managers have the same issues:
- “Just doing my normal work is harder – is it because I must concentrate more in meetings, or is it because I am sitting more in one place?”
- “I miss the easy social catch-ups that made me feel like a human being, now I feel like I am part of an unstoppable production line.”
- “I am working very hard, but not very smartly. I am on-line the whole time, so am interrupted frequently by the arrival of new messages across many different platforms.”
I recognise on-line, virtual working is going to be more than just a few weeks during the pandemic lock-down. It is now part of the “new normal”. For knowledge workers like myself, there is little imperative to return to the “everyone works face to face” scenario that existed up until March.
This means I need to reframe the challenge, not as a temporary crisis but as the cultural change that it is. Using this 3 part framework, I need to define:
Core beliefs about virtual working, identifying important things to consider, what is valuable and what is the right thing to be doing. These core beliefs form the basis of the “feeling” we have about virtual working.
Establish the processes, standards and performance measures for success. Effectively, all the structures that define “how” an organisation gets things done should be based on the core beliefs.
If our virtual working culture is to become the new norm, we need our behaviours and the stories we tell to explain “how we do things around here” and the value that this brings.
New core beliefs
Here are some of my practical ideas for supporting the cultural change to virtual working. Common to my most effective on-line interactions is great preparation and there is more detail in the Guide to Virtual Leadership:
Agenda – ahead of any on-line interaction, create a detailed agenda so you know you can assign time to each issue. MoSCoW this list, putting the Must Haves first, and leaving time at the end for things we might talk about, depending how the meeting has gone. This means I have a contingency, and in these times of stress, this gives us all the opportunity to use some time for caring for each other.
Attendees – be clear about who you are inviting, as the more people on a call, the more difficult it is to enable everyone to contribute. Walk the tight-rope of inviting all those who will feel they need to be there, whilst respecting that they have so many calls on their time that I will not use up their good-will unnecessarily.
Collaboration – agenda to include activities where attendees have a clear question or hypothesis they can debate. I have found this gets more sharing of perspectives and a greater level of creativity than just going round the table asking if anyone wants to contribute.
Maximize participation – share materials and questions ahead of time so those that don’t like to contribute verbally in meetings have had time to think things through and have something to say.
Become human – at the start of any meeting to share video of where we are dialling in from, welcome the introduction of children/pets/parents to say hi, and to talk about how we are coping before we get started.
I hope this gives you ideas for managing your teams and please share your ideas via email firstname.lastname@example.org