Getting Off Your Virtual Island


Creating the “Human Moment” in Virtual Teams

As the poet, John Donne wrote, “no man is an island… every man is a part of the main.”  If you are part of a virtual team, you likely know the feeling of being an island adrift within your organization.

Virtual teams are everywhere.  Technology makes it possible for us to work together from wherever we are located.  Corporations benefit from hiring specific talent, regardless of geography.

But some things get lost in this “virtual environment.”  Increasingly, we are becoming islands as we enter into the virtual work force; or become part of a virtual team.

One of the usual first casualties of a virtual team is the “human connection” with one another.  We see our teammates’ names in our inboxes, we may hear and see them at our audio and video meetings, but too often, they remain disconnected and somehow “not real” to us.  We don’t really know them, and they don’t really know us. This lack of human connection hinders creativity, innovation, satisfaction, and performance — all the things critical to achieving professional success.

Traditionally,  co-located teams fostered “water cooler moments” (informal communications) through careful design — communal break rooms; couches; hanging out after work; going for lunch; and in those early-meeting moments before things got down to business.

The challenge becomes — how do we transpose that same purposeful design into the virtual workplace? What, exactly, is needed from leadership, to encourage and foster the human connection in virtual teams?  Read on!

Thoughtful Virtual Design that Creates the “Human Moment”


1.  Encourage Teammates to Communicate Spontaneously

This requires everyone being aware of each other’s availability.  The most successful type of spontaneous conversation are through some form of instant messaging.  Every platform has some kind of team chat function, even though you may have to dig to find it.  Set everyone up.  Encourage people to share their coffee cups, the view from their windows, the weather, their breakfast, etc.. Research indicates that as virtual teams develop patterns of communication, new communicative behavior emerges that often exceeds the value of face to face communications.

2.  It Must be Easy to Use

“Behavioral cost” must be low.  This is just a fancy way of saying “the amount of effort required to initiate and conduct” a conversation must be minimal in order for people to keep doing it.  Let’s just say it needs to be easy or people won’t use it.

3.  Leverage Technology’s Uniqueness

People on virtual teams will initiate conversation regardless of the receiver’s ability to respond.  Unlike face to face, where people use visual cues to know whether to initiate or not, technology makes starting a conversation easier.  Just now, I broadcast a “Happy Thursday” across my virtual team chat.. we will see who responds!

As unlikely as it sounds, document sharing has proven to be helpful in both initiating and maintaining virtual conversations. I think it just gives everyone “permission” to chat about something that is centered on a task, with acceptable digressions into chit chat.

4. Give Permission

The most important factor to creating and maintaining that human connection in our technology-laden world is the express “permission” by leadership for everyone to take the time to engage with one another in non-task related conversation.

Encourage your team, take the reins in initiating essential human moments between yourself and your team, and your team with one another. Watch as your virtual team gels together and establishes behaviors that lead to increased team performance and satisfaction. Be the bridge that connects your islands.



Question for readers:  Do you feel comfortable engaging in informal conversation with your virtual teammates? Why or why not?

How to Manage in a 24 / 7 World


Two weeks ago I was invited to join a panel of women speaking on how to manage in a 24 / 7 world.  This is so relevant in today’s frenetic environment. So many of us struggle with balancing under- and over-availability via technology, which overlays already maximized schedules that can include kids, parents, work, household, and trying to have some fun as well.

Because all of us could use some guidance on how to stay focused, to take care of ourselves with competing priorities, and to make technology work for us rather than working for the technology, our panel will offer tips you can use right away for “unplugging” when needed, managing stress related to caregiving in a family or work stress, and more.

The panel was part of The Boston Club’s ongoing knowledge exchange series. Founded in 1976, the Boston Club is one of the largest communities of women executives and professional leaders in the Northeast.  It’s members are women in senior leadership positions, women well on their way, and women at the height of their careers.  Being asked to speak to interested members of this illustrious group was most certainly an honor.

Joining me in the panel was Dawn Whelpley, CPA and Corporate Controller for Wintriss Controls Group, and Star Dargin, a leading professional coach and trainer, of Star Leadership.

Here are the tips that sparked the most interest and discussion among the group:

1.  Make a serious commitment to “your personal time”.


  • Too often, we leave those things that recharge us to chance.  We try to squeeze it in after everything else is scheduled.  Which means it rarely happens.
  • Put this time in your weekly calendar, make an appointment with yourself.  When someone asks you if you are available at that time, you can look in your calendar, and simply say that you have a previous commitment at that time.
  • Make this commitment to yourself as important as your commitments to others.

2.  Unapologetically take time for yourself.  You work hard.  You deserve to carve out a little time for yourself.


  • You are not obligated to share the details of this relatively small bit of time that you’ve carved out for yourself.
  • Whoever is asking for that time does not need to know what you are doing, only that you are not available for their request.  Just say no.

3.  Set expectations.  You hear this all the time in so many contexts it has almost lost its meaning.  But here’s a fresh perspective:


  • Consciously set Expectations: Yours and Theirs
  • There is no right or wrong when it comes to connecting with other people — there is only what works best for each individual.  With so many avenues of connection, you need to ask:

“What is the best way to connect with you?”
“Here’s the best way to connect with me.”
Repeat this conversation frequently.

  • This is a technique that works well within the context of any particular meeting, and afterward as the connection is maintained.  This is especially relevant to cell phone use within a face to face or video meeting.  Is cell phone use okay within that context?  It depends on who is running the meeting.  That individual sets the expectation for personal device usage.

What about you?  What are your best suggestions for maanging in our “always on” world?

Election Day: Leadership Lessons

It’s election day, and we’re looking forward to the notable absence of political campaigning and commercials tomorrow.  Our workplaces will be all a-buzz with talk of the results, and some will be thrilled, others less so.

Election time is a fascinating study in leadership and communication.  What were the messages you most heard?  Who did the better job of communicating who they are and what they can do for the country?  Who did the better job of motivating supports to come out and vote?

As a business leader, ask yourself the same questions.  Edith Onderick-Harvey sums up election day lessons succinctly as follows:

  • Clear feedback from those who follow you is important. Election day gives leaders clear feedback. The vote tells them how many followers they actually may have and whether, if given the choice, people would rather follow someone else.
  • You have to be clear about what kind of leader you will be. Will you be the one people follow because of your vision?  Because of your record? Because you’re someone people want to have a beer with? Or because at least you aren’t the other guy?
  • You have to lead every day. Presidential candidates and others in high profile races are under the microscope.  You have to be engaged and leading everyday because if you’re not, everyone will know about it. Take the first presidential debate as a case in point.
  • Apathy is a leader’s enemy. If your followers are apathetic and don’t show up to vote, your opportunity to lead is in jeopardy.  The enthusiasm factor is important.

Your team, your organization takes its cues from you.  Be the best leader you can be.

Remember to take the time to vote today.

Your voice matters.

Save Our InBoxes!

Email overload.  It’s getting out of hand.  We spend an alarming amount of time each and every day simply responding to email messages.

Why?  And, more importantly, What can we EACH do to reduce this problem?

For years, we have been coaching people, teams, and organizations on the importance of managing email.  We have helped countless groups establish protocols that have helped to increase productivity and to unchain people from their ever-growing inboxes.

But it’s not enough.  Current research has shown that the average amount of time that each person spends during their workday on email is growing.

We need to get the word out, and here’s an excellent resource that can help you today.

It’s called the Email Charter.

The core principle in action is that every single one of us has to take responsibility for reducing the amount of time spent on email by our colleagues.  Here’s problem, as viewed through this lens:

For each email that you write, you are creating “work” for others.  Our instincts tell us it takes longer to write than to read, so reading an email should take less time than it did to write it, right?  Wrong. It takes longer to respond to an email than it does to write.  Here’s why:

When you “check your mail”, your process is more apt to be like:  scan your inbox; decide what to open; open it; read it; think about whether you need to respond or not; compose the response; edit your response; send your response.

Every time you engage in this process, you are removing yourself from your flow of work, you are diverting your attention and it takes time to regain that rhythm.

Now, think about this — every time you compose an email message, you are creating the same interruption of work for someone else.  Here are some very common email “habits” that add to the overloading of our inboxes and unnecessary consumption of our collective time:

  • Open-ended questions that are time-consuming to answer.  For example, “What are your thoughts on this?”, “How do you think we should proceed?”  Quick to ask, not-so-quick to answer.
  • “CC” – so easy to click and add multiple recipients, but each additional recipient exponentially increases the amount of time your email is consuming.
  • “FW” – forwarding and/or cutting and pasting text from other resources creates an increasing burden of time as your recipient scrolls, reads, and sorts through to find the salient points.
  • Links and videos – easy to add, but each link and video can take minutes to view.

We love the internet.  We love our email.  It takes an iron will not to linger and peruse all the wonderful, distracting nuances of the world wide web, and to share our discoveries with others, and they with us.  “Just copy a link, paste, and send … and boom, the world’s cognitive capacity takes another hit!”

All of these things contribute to the massive consumption of our work week.  We need to get it under control and we need to do so now.  I don’t recall any of my job descriptions (ever) including “checking email” as a line item, and yet, when I’m not careful, it can consume my day.

Book Your Email Vacation Now!

Email ‘vacations’ decrease stress, increase concentration

UCI findings could boost on-the-job productivity

— Irvine, Calif., May 03, 2012 —

Being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better, according to a new study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers.

Heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows. People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark. She co-authored the study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” with UCI assistant project scientist Stephen Voida and Army senior research scientist Armand Cardello. The UCI team will present the work Monday, May 7, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas.

The study was funded by the Army and the National Science Foundation. Participants were computer-dependent civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston. Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.  Measurements bore that out, Mark said. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often – about 18 times in an hour.

She said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful. “Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.”

Mark said it was hard to recruit volunteers for the study, but “participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK. In general, they were much happier to interact in person.”

Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief too, she said. Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems.

Study subjects worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men. The only downside to the experience was that the individuals without email reported feeling somewhat isolated. But they were able to garner critical information from colleagues who did have email.

The Army is examining use of smartphones and such applications as email for soldiers on battlefields, said David Accetta, spokesman for the Natick facility’s research and development section. “This data may very well prove helpful,” he said.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UCI news,

Email Overload

What’s going on here?

Our research, completed in 2010, revealed that the average person spends 30 minutes PER DAY deleting, or thinking about deleting, email!!

When did email become our work product and why do we have so much?!  It’s getting out of hand.

No one expects you to be a drone and tap away at your computer endlessly, tied to your machine for every minute of every day, but 3o minutes deleting email?  Over the course of a standard work-week, that’s 2 1/2 hours.  In a month, 10 hours; in a year 120 (15 eight-hour workdays).  That’s a lot of time you’ll never get back.  And that’s just you.  Multiply that over your project team, department, or company, and you just might feel a little ill.

Why?  Why do we get so much email that we don’t read?  I’m not talking about email lists that you sign up for giving you the latest sales from your favorite store.  Those aren’t counted in this research.  This research focused specifically on work-related email messages that were sent by real people to real people.

Does this mean that, even after all this time, many people still don’t understand how to use email effectively?  Yes, indeed it does.

What can you do?  They answers are not as simple as they appear on the surface (as is true for our most persistent problems).  For the sake of this article, we’re going to take a look at how a simple shift in your attitude toward email can help reduce the number of unwanted messages that you send and receive.

First, understand the purpose of the “TO” and “CC” fields. “TO” requires action.  “CC” requires none, it is a “for your information only” indicator.

Second, use “CC” sparingly.  Sending your manager or team leader multiple messages every week in which no action is required from them is just an annoying way to say, “look, Boss, I’m doing my job!”; “look at me!  look at me!”; “still here, working away!”  like some yappy little dog.  If you don’t feel trusted to get your work done, then that’s a different conversation you need to have face to face with your team lead.

Finally, resist the temptation to “CC” your team lead / manager whenever you feel a dispute is in the works and you want an “official” record of your position. This culture of “CYA” – “cover your … ahem, derriere” leads to unnecessary email messages and wasted time.  Take your dispute off-line and work it out in person.  It will be infintely better, trust me.

We get too much email.  We send too much email.  We delete too much email.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Start taking control through the judicious use of the “CC” field.

This article is the first in a series designed to help reduce your email overload.  Please share with us any comments / stories you have about your own email situation.

Review: The Power of Reputation

The Power of Reputation by Chris Komisarjevksy, Amazon, 224 pages, $16.50

Here is a book review by Brianna Snyder of Women@Work.

Reputation Matters

How to manage your most important brand – you!

By Brianna Snyder/Women@Work

We’ve all been in the business of reputation management since middle and high school. Back when we were concerned with popularity and how we were received at the dance, at gym, at the cafeteria, we were all — some more clumsily than others — learning how to navigate the choppy and awkward waters of social interaction and public persona. We know now how crucial those lessons were to how we became grownups.

What Chris Komisarjevsky explores in his book The Power of Reputation is the importance of reputation to your business and your career. Reputation, he says, is trickily personal andprofessional — “One thing is for sure: there really isn’t any distinction between our personal and our professional reputations,” he says — which brings the challenge of figuring out what’s sharable in the workplace and what’s best kept at home.

The key, says Komisarjevsky, is to be genuine. In other words, be your engaged, interested, competent and sincere self. The writer shares anecdotes throughout the book (both personal and from colleagues and friends) to reinforce the idea that a reputation is the soul of a career. The writer breaks down what a reputation is and means, how it’s built on caring and respect, values and good communication. He incorporates the still-new challenges of social media and managing your online reputation and emphasizes the need to be mindful of the consequences of Facebook and blogs. He calls this “the double-edged sword of the digital world” — you can use these digital places to enhance an already-good reputation or watch in disbelief as these same places dismantle it.

We all know what makes our mechanic the best mechanic, our dentist or lawyer the best dentists and lawyers — these are the people we trust not just to be honest with us (though that’s infinitely valuable) but to do a good job. We trust that they know how to do their work, that they’re well-practiced and careful, and that they care about their jobs and us, whether they’re mending a tooth or a flat tire. They value our time and they do their jobs well. That alone is enough of a foundation for a great reputation.

Notable Quote:

“We are in an era in which the demand for candor, understanding and clarity of purpose is greater than ever before. Transparency creates confidence and underscores authenticity.”

Instant Recall:

  • Research what you’re selling — whether it’s you or your product — “to the point at which you believe there is nothing better out there.”
  • Talk to people. Let them know you care about them and their needs. Listen to them.
  • Respect your clients and your colleagues. The more you give, the more you get.
  • Be personal and personable at work; share your interests, passions and ideas.

Read this book if…

You’re just starting a new job or business, or even if you’re beginning to think about who you are in your career, what your personal “brand” might be.

Building Trust Virtually

Electronic Body Language refers to how our actions and habits in communications technology shape how others perceive us.

In yesterday’s workplace, people figured us out (and we them) as we worked side-by-side.  Someone’s crossed arms, tone of voice, smirk or smile, communicated volumes.  In absence of visual body language, how do all these “unwritten”, but essential, communications get across?

Truth is, often quite often they don’t.

Why is this important?  These unspoken communications are crucial for the trust relationships that we create and develop.

Trust has always been central to every successful team, to every relationship we have in our careers – with co-workers, managers, employees, customers, suppliers, etc.

In today’s virtual work environment, trust can be a little trickier to establish and interpret.  We make trust judgments based on people’s email habits – how quickly they respond, their “tone”, if they give us the information that we need, or the help that we requested.  And these same people make the same kinds of judgements about us in return.

So, what habits can we develop to help project trustworthiness and help us to be more successful and satisfied at work?

Before you can change your habits, or develop new ones, you need to be fully aware of your current habits and the level of trustworthiness you project now.

You can do this by asking yourself these questions:

  • What did I read into each email (tone, humor, frustration, urgency, etc.)?
  • How much of each email message did I read?
  • Note if you were on the “to” or “cc” list — do you know why you were placed there?
  • Flag any messages in which there was a “reply all” that you feel should’ve just come to you or vice versa.
  • How long did it take different people to respond to my email messages?
  • How often did I have to rephrase my question, request, or comment?
  • How often were my email messages misunderstood?

Depending on your answers, it might be time to develop a personal and/or team email protocol that will improve the chances that the other person will interpret your message as intended, without falsely ascribing things that aren’t there or ignoring things that are.

Be aware of who really needs to be on the email, and for whom this is merely a courtesy or information-only. Find out if non-essential people even want to be on the distribution list for similar emails in the future. Our research shows that people spend between 20-30 minutes a day deleting or thinking about deleting email they don’t need.

Lastly, make sure email is the more effective way to convey the message, not merely the most efficient or convenient.

Thank you for reading!