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.