What characterizes a highly functional virtual team? There is no single process that can make your virtual team better than the rest. It is a combination of many things, which employees and leaders need to bring to the table. The risks associated with working with a virtual team are usually feelings of fatigue, miscommunication, and lack of efficiency. However, fostering healthier workplace relationships and habits can cause teams to work more cohesively together.
1. Combat Virtual Fatigue
As the global pandemic has caused many industries to switch to virtual work, experiencing virtual meeting fatigue has never been more prevalent. Many virtual employees have multiple Zoom meetings per day, especially if they are in a client-facing or leadership role. Zoom fatigue begins because our brains rely on nonverbal cues like glances, gestures, nods, and facial expressions to effectively communicate. The extra effort it takes to connect with others without these critical in-person cues can leave us feeling drained of energy. Not to mention, the act of looking at yourself in the camera window can be exhausting as well. Of course, virtual teams must inevitably engage with screens to do their jobs, there are ways to combat the fatigue.
First and foremost, it is not essential to have video turned on during every Zoom meeting or call. Allow your team to turn their cameras off for meetings that are less critical, like internal syncs or weekly agenda run downs. Employees, teams, and clients can communicate just as effectively via phone calls as video calls. Many companies, however, enjoy video calls because it brings teams together and makes employees feel more connected. This is not to say all calls need to be “cameras off” or “cameras on” but allowing employees to take a break from their screen during calls can help them relax and focus on the task at hand more seamlessly.
Virtual employees are at greater risk of developing symptoms of Zoom fatigue because they are consistently engaging with screens and feel that they always have to ‘be on’ or prepared for meetings to pop up unannounced. Zoom fatigue is most commonly known to make you tired because you feel overexposed and tense, but it can also cause you to feel brain fog and eye strain as well. The effect screens have on your cognitive abilities is directly related to the blue light technology that laptops, second monitors, tablets, and cell phones produce. Digital blue light wavelengths are short wavelengths with high energy, which can cause dry eyes, pressure headaches, and blurred vision in the short term. This is why many professionals now wear glasses that block out blue light. For those who wear glasses, you can combine blue light lenses with regular prescription lenses, or you can wear these lenses alone as a great benefit to any virtual employees who might be experiencing negative symptoms caused by technology.
Communication is key when it comes to virtual teams. Open and honest communication can not only help teams avoid misunderstandings, but it can also increase your team’s effectiveness. When teams work remotely, they can easily become disconnected. This means, now more than ever, your workforce must find and maintain a consistent communication process throughout a team or department.
Set time aside to gather regularly as a team, whether on a weekly or daily basis. Leaders should also make sure that if a team member has a question or concern, they can access answers promptly. Some employees may feel that their team sees them as “annoying” or intrusive if they email or message with too many asking questions. It is the responsibility of the entire team to ensure everyone feels comfortable and empowered to ask questions related to their roles, or work will suffer. Asking questions not only fosters employee engagement but can also help employees advance their skills. Therefore, questions should never feel discouraged, especially among a virtual team.
As part of their weekly tasks, leaders should make sure they’ve touched base with everyone on their team recently. It can also help to check in with various team members on how well they’re interacting with their peers. It is common for one or two employees to feel isolated and need more specific updates than others, which weekly one-on-one’s can accomplish.
Delegating can empower your team, build trust, and assist with professional development, all while helping teams complete tasks in a more timely manner. Delegating tasks can lighten your workload. First, it allows employees to develop new skills and gain knowledge in different areas, and new skills can prepare them for more responsibility in the future. Second, delegating can be a clear sign that managers trust their employees’ abilities to take on additional tasks − especially when the outcomes are attached to the delegator’s name.
In order to properly delegate tasks, Dr. Scott Williams, professor of management at Wright State University, suggests that you create a plan, define objectives and standards, and specify the range of discretion. This will allow both parties to remain on the same page throughout the process, understanding the project goals and expectations.
Effective delegation can be a great learning, team building, and efficiency tactic among virtual teams if they practice proper communication.
Employees may become complacent with their work when they are working from home and out of the watchful eyes of co-workers and leadership. One complacent employee can damage the efficiency of a team overall. Accountability means delivering on a commitment, which includes completing the assigned set of tasks and providing quality output.
To promote accountability among a virtual team, clear expectations should be set in place. Lack of clarity can undermine performance and output and affect teamwork and engagement.
Each new project can bring on new expectations and challenges for the team. Therefore, leadership should set clear expectations to meet the required standard of each task. This can make procedures more transparent, and your team will have an easier time accepting responsibility for their tasks and actions.
Leaders of virtual teams should adopt a few measures, like setting monthly targets and KPIs, sharing important and relevant project-related information and objectives, and conducting regular virtual team meetings or one-on-ones to discuss expectations and progress. This can help virtual teams maintain efficiency by keeping processes consistent.
By adjusting virtual exposure, communication strategies, and workflow, virtual teams can be highly functional and produce great results.