Working remotely is becoming more the norm than the exception these days, but there is still a long way to go to making sure that virtual teams function as smoothly as those that interact in person every day. After talking to hundreds of employees across many industries, here are some of the top tips I’ve gathered to make sure you build connection and create smooth communication across virtual and remote teams.
1) Invest more time in relationship building
There is very compelling research that shows that the kinds of informal connection we form without thinking about it in person is severely lacking on virtual teams. For example, when you arrive a few minutes early to a team meeting, most of us will automatically engage in small talk with team members. Things like, “how was your weekend?” or “do you have any fun trips coming up?” are totally natural when sitting next to someone. When you get a conference call, however, it’s much more the norm to sit in silence waiting for the meeting leader to arrive. This is a precious opportunity to connect with people you probably don’t interact with very often, so take the time and use these small moments to build connection.
2) Set up communication norms within your team
One of the biggest complaints about virtual teams is that communication becomes a lot harder when people are operating in different places and different time zones. You can make this much easier for everyone by setting clear expectations around communication. It doesn’t so much matter what they are, but it does matter that everyone is aware of them and follows them. Some of my favorites are:
- If an email thread goes on for more than 5 reply-alls, take it offline and assign someone to lead the conversation
- Don’t try to make decisions via email. Use a tool better suited to collaboration, like the phone or video
- If you have a deadline for someone, put it in bold at the beginning of the email. The reality is most people get so much email they can’t read it all closely. Make it easy for them to respond to deliverables by calling it out bold and up front.
3) Go out of your way to make sure everyone is included and recognized
This is especially important if you work on or manage a blended team, where some people might be in the office together every day while others are working from home or another location. If you don’t go out of your way to include the people in the minority, they will feel left out. Introduce norms like taking turns on conference calls, having the remote person lead meetings, or leveling the playing field by having everyone join a video call from their desk.