Empowered Connectivity: How Virtual Teams Create a Human Connection
Technology and the internet have made telecommuting a convenient choice for today’s businesses and workers. The incentives are clear: for employers, lowered office expense; for employees, flexible work location. Businesses that utilize virtual teams know personal connections are important for team engagement and productivity. Several tactics can help virtual groups create the needed human connection.
Connect with Workers’ Personal Lives
“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” – William James, American philosopher
An essential aspect of running a business is connecting with staff on a personal level beyond professional aspirations. This is especially true for virtual teams, where physical absence can create disconnection. Companies that place human engagement as the first priority can make dispersed teams more productive than co-located ones, the CEO further stated.
Making a human connection can be as simple as asking how a team member is doing at home or, to keep the tone more professional, encouraging team members to share stories about their latest business success. This can help virtual team members overcome physical isolation and feel part of a team. Companies can also take advantage of a virtual worker’s varying work environment as conversation starters. For example, when background noise comes up during a conference call – e.g. a dog barking or a baby crying – instead of asking the employee to mute their call, Keith Ferrazzi recommends the following: “Focus for a moment on the bark, the cry, or the [telephone] ring. Use it as a reason to engage in a way that goes beyond the initial personal-professional check-in.” Considerate actions like this foster bonding, trust, and engagement among remote co-workers.
Make Meetings More Engaging
“Groups attracted interest initially […] to increase human commitment and motivation. They are now loved because they are also creative and innovative, they often make better quality decisions than individuals, and because they make organizational life more livable for people.” — Harold Leavitt, American psychologist of management
People who come together for a common goal have long been recognized as a valuable business asset. To retain its virtual employees and promote team loyalty, companies can make meetings more comfortable and interesting.
Delivering Happiness is a company that made this work: At the beginning of conference calls, workers are asked to unanimously make direct eye contact with their cameras so everyone’s face appears side by side like in opening of The Brady Bunch. The company will also play a hit-song like “Stayin’ Alive” to introduce the next meeting topic, and to get its telecommuters to get up and dance. More companies emphasize what Deliver Happiness obviously values: camaraderie. Cracker Barrel’s employee platform, for example, seeks to create a family rather than a group of colleagues, as do countless other employers.
That said, it’s important for virtual companies to have guidelines for virtual meetings, like discouraging employees from multitasking, and keeping conversations relevant to the meeting’s purpose. This ensures the meeting’s “fun” element doesn’t compromise its productivity.
One way to do that is to appoint a virtual “Yoda”- someone who’s apt at detecting missed meeting points and speaks up when discussions get overly sidetracked – to keep conversations aligned with the meeting agenda.
Elect the Right Virtual Team Leader
Having a virtual leader who values human connection and practices the aforementioned tactics can empower a team’s connectivity. The right leader should be able to sense when people feel isolated, when team engagement is lacking, or when virtual members need to bond. Remote workers often struggle to balance their work and family life; a virtual manager should thus prioritize interlacing workers’ personal and professional goals to facilitate that balance.
For example, a manager can tell a virtual employee if a client takes up an offer, he or she can lead the project from home. The manager can also organize fun activities and gatherings for when the virtual team reaches business milestones. As well, research has shown the lack of physical cues can impact virtual group synergy, defined as clear communication and productive teamwork. An apt virtual leader should thus be candid, clarify company goals, and eliminate uncertainty to reduce confusion, misunderstanding and disengagement among virtual team members.
“Companies can’t innovate, respond to changing stakeholder needs, or function efficiently unless people have access to relevant, timely, and valid information,” wrote Harvard Business Reviewers James O’Toole and Warren Bennis who support candor at work. Virtual business leaders who can accomplish this can help remote workers form trust in each other and the business.
Valuing Engaged Human Connection
Thanks to the ease of working via the Internet, more companies allow employees to telecommute, resulting in a growing virtual workforce. Remote workers can be stationed practically anywhere, which makes it necessary for businesses to create virtual engagement through personal connectivity; this can increase business productivity and help team members achieve better work-life balance. Ferrazzi summarizes the importance of human connection like this:
“No team will achieve greatness as individuals working independently. We need to get people to let their guard down, to be more vulnerable and thus open to connection to their virtual tribe, which translates into ‘because I like you, I want to help you.’ That starts true synergy.”