Managers in 2016 are grappling to develop strategies that nurture workplace communication and morale in an ever-accelerating technology era. With the rise of new office communication technologies, such as chat functionalities, virtual workspaces, video meetings and conference calls, communication between employees and senior management can often be misinterpreted or even dismissed altogether. Poor communication up, down and across an organization, adversely affects productivity, culture, and overall business longevity.
In a world that has shifted radically towards a global, telecommuted, and virtual workspace pattern, the importance of building quality team relationships cannot be overlooked. Leaders today struggle with the best options for developing employee connectivity while achieving the larger business goals and objectives. Nurturing communication, morale, and cross-pollination of real workplace relationships is essential to organizational health and productivity.
Engaging your virtual team 101
Across all virtual communication platforms, the following qualities will best cultivate positive team spirit within a company:
- Showing encouragement, appreciation, and enthusiasm
- Having clear job accountability and processes for project management
- Encouraging cross-departmental conversations
- Building relationships
- Giving employees a voice
- Respecting the time zones and cultures of those in the workgroup
Employees work harder and go well beyond basic job expectations for people and companies when they feel genuinely connected. It is possible to generate and maintain strong work relationships across multiple time zones, countries, and cultures, but it requires top down commitment to making people feel prioritized, heard, seen and supported throughout the organization. Cornell University Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies conducted this research to study companies that either current use global virtual teams or are considering the adoption of virtual teams.
How to make it work?
Here are four ways to engage your virtual workforce:
1. Whenever possible, interact in-person
Whenever possible, it is beneficial to provide some opportunity for real, in-person interaction. It can be difficult to completely replace the value of face-to-face contact. Having an introductory or periodic chance to spend time together goes a long way towards cultivating a teammate atmosphere amongst coworkers. If not possible to do for all employees, there is still benefit to using limited visits as a reward or for those who are likely to share their enthusiasm and experiences with other remote members.
2. Hire and nurture ‘natural connectors’
Identify those people in the company who are natural connectors. Team members who intuitively seek out, cultivate and nurture relationships can go a long way towards building a highly functional and cohesive work group. Watch for these people and actively recruit these important soft skills to the benefit of the overall work experience for the organization, the employees, and the business outcomes. Give these folks the opportunity to help develop the virtual hospitality options within the company and they will likely take the concept much further than would otherwise organically happen.
3. Adopt technology advances
Utilize technology to humanize the work experience. Beyond the tools needed to actually manage work related communication, job tracking, record keeping and time management, technology provides many excellent platforms for informal employee engagement. With some basic ground rules for use, taking advantage of photo sharing social media can allow employees to show who they are, what they care about, and engage in just plan silliness and fun – two things that should never be underestimated when it comes to employee satisfaction. From food, to pets, to sports, to crocheting – everyone is passionate about something. And those are the anecdotal notes that turn an email address into a person.
While most companies provide training on the basic technological tools used to perform daily work functions, it can be a mistake to assume that “everyone” knows how to use Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or any other form of online social engagement software. Creating a simple workflow allows the chance for an employee to learn a new soft skill, while widening the likelihood that the opportunity to connect in this way isn’t limited to your more tech savvy millennials.
4. Make phone calls
Encourage non-job specific telephone connections. Set calendar appointments for phone catch-up sessions. More problems are resolved in two to five minutes on the phone than in dozens of email threads. To help those who struggle with chatter that seems purposeless, create question and answer scripts, or games that allow teams to compete for who can get the most questions answered in the shortest time.
5. Do virtual office tours
Consider virtual office “tours”, using video conferencing as a chance to share your workspace. Again, this allows for multiple person communication which pays enormous dividends compared to the one-way “watch this company video” scenario often relied on in the past. Be mindful that some personality types need advance notice to prepare to engage in any form of ‘public’ speaking, even with the goal is fun.
6. Do virtual team building
Almost any team building game that can be played during an in-person group can be adapted to a virtual experience with a little thought and preparation. Consider which popular corporate team building activities can work for your virtual team with a little customization and tweaking. Actively seek out opportunities to create these experiences either as part of a broader work-based exercise or as an occasional stand-alone just for fun session. Charades, Pictionary, virtual scavenger hunts, and more all work well in a non-traditional cyber work environment.
7. Volunteering works
Meet up physically once in a while and take advantage of philanthropic opportunities to encourage employee participation and engagement in activities that build comraderies while helping out a worthy cause. This is another area that provides employees the chance to have a voice in the causes that matter to them, while combining feeling good with doing good all under the umbrella of company culture.
At the end of the day, happy employees are more productive, stay longer, produce better results and recruit like-minded individuals to the company. Making work engaging and fun is essential to attract and retain today’s top employees, many of whom cite company culture as one of the most important considerations in their employment.
Working remotely is full of benefits to the employee, the company and the world, but should be far from a solitary experience.