The Employee Side of Working on a Virtual Team

Image: The Employee Side of Working on a Virtual Team

I had a great time at #SHRM16 and I was so thrilled that my session on managing and leading virtual teams was so packed, even at 7am!  A big thank you to everyone who attended and provided great insights during the session.  A few people spoke to me afterwards regarding their challenges with adjusting to working on a virtual team.  Since time was limited for my presentation, I want to delve deeper into how employees can transition into a virtual work environment and how as HR leaders we can support employees to move from a structured environment to a more fluid one.

Is Working Virtually A Good Fit for You?

Not everyone will enjoy or excel at working in a virtual environment.

In fact in a recent Forbes article I posted, they have determined that some people have a more “remote” personality than others.  They are characterized as:

  • Go-getters
  • Self-motivated
  • Are comfortable with fewer rules and guidelines
  • Not fazed by isolation or reduced collaboration
  • More likely to pull all-nighters

When people with this personality (which I am), have the opportunity to work remotely they are happy and 43% say they LOVE their job. When they have to work in an office only 24% love their job.

However, what was interesting about the data is that those that prefer to work in an office environment (identifying as an “office” personality) were able to adapt to a remote environment quite easily. In fact, 31% of those with an office personality said they love their job, when they worked remotely.  So, it’s better to have an office personality and work remotely than to have a remote personality and have to work in an office.

Employees need to reflect on their personality, their preferred work styles, their need for face-to-face communication and collaboration, and their desire for direction and feedback to determine if working on a virtual team will be a good fit for them.  When evaluating if, or how, to adjust to a virtual team environment, consider the following:

  • Do you enjoy working independently?
  • Can you create a comfortable work space in your home?
  • Do you have a high level of trust with your colleagues?
  • What is your preferred medium for communicating? How can you maintain that in a virtual environment?
  • What will make you feel isolated and how can you minimize that?
  • What do you need from your leader to feel motivated and engaged? Can he/she provide those things?
  • How will you maintain a work/life balance?

Adjusting To The Transition

Several people at the SHRM conference this week spoke to me about how they had to learn to transition to a virtual work environment. In some cases, employees had worked in an office for years and then had to work remotely which required a new set of skills. The challenges they faced were:

  • Needing to create a structured work schedule
  • Balancing work and personal commitments
  • Feeling isolated – missing the daily connection with their colleagues
  • Learning to say no – setting boundaries for when work had to stop
  • Using technology in new ways to enhance communication

One gentleman mentioned that to be successful he has structured his day in a way that mimicks an office experience.  He goes into his home office at the same time every morning, sets a timer to remind himself to take a 30min lunch break, and at the end of the day leaves his home office and locks the door.

A leader mentioned that in particular with her team members in Asia, she discovered that that since they always say ‘yes’ to her requests and agree to take participate in conference calls during odd hours that their personal lives were being negatively impacted due to extended work hours and time zone issues.  She had to become more sensitive and aware of how asking virtual team members to participate in late night events were creating family difficulties with their spouse and children.

Supporting Employees & Leaders

HR leaders can support both employees and managers when transitioning to a virtual team structure or more fluid work environment by:

  • Openly communicating the pros and cons of working virtually
  • Providing training on how to leverage new technology to allow for as much just-in-time communication and experiences that mimic a face-to-face meeting through video conferencing
  • Helping leaders understanding cultural differences, being sensitive to differences in relationships with authority, colleagues and work styles
  • Supporting leaders to provide more frequent feedback, coaching and recognition
  • Budgeting time and money for face to face meetings (quarterly or annually)
  • Creating opportunities for virtual team members to connect during the day / week to minimize feelings of isolation
  • Cultivating a fun work environment.  Focusing on actions that increase team bonding, inject humor and build relationships
  • Encouraging leaders to book regular video conference sessions with each team member to enhance communication and trust

Increasingly so, more employees will be working remotely, leveraging technology to communicate, and engaging with colleagues in a more flexible and fluid way.  The structured 9am-5pm work day has already been eroded with smart phones, tablets and laptops that allow (and often require) that we be available to work anytime, anywhere. As our workplace environment shifts, some employees will be able to adapt to these changes more quickly and with greater ease.  Some managers will struggle with how to empower employees more and let go of a micro-management leadership style.  Employees will need to find ways to ensure that work doesn’t consume them and that they carve out personal time, while meeting the needs of colleagues in different times zones, around the world.

Flexibility, fluidity, independence, self-discipline and a conscious effort on building relationships are the necessary competencies required to be successful in a virtual team environment.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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