How to Build a Strong Team in a Virtual World

What is this, day four million of the pandemic? By now, most of us have settled into that new routine of working. The technical issues have been largely solved. We are fluent in Zoom and various work-flow software.

Now what? How do we maintain our team spirit? As important, how do we continue to grow a culture of camaraderie when our co-workers have morphed into a two dimensional image? And, lastly, how do we incorporate the “newbies” into our culture?

A few thoughts:

Do Not Assume – You know the old adage of what “assume” does. In the remote environment, we lose the subtle aspects of communication that come with face-to-face interactions. Body language is a thing of the past because we only see everyone’s upper half.

This means we need to be very clear in our intentions. Likely, any meeting should be followed up with an email that outlines expectations and deadlines. Awareness of how other team members are feeling is important and takes more effort during the separation. Is someone just having a bad day or are there more serious underlying issues? If you have been working together for a while you get to know each other’s “tells”. Now is a good time to pay closer attention to things like how people are speaking and what their (limited) body language is communicating. Also, do not be afraid to express your own feelings.

Great teams are built on trust. Trust takes time and effort.

Over Communicate – This plays off the above point. While meetings can become redundant and boring, spending face time with your team is more important than ever. Phone calls, texts and emails are fine, but nothing replaces having a conversation while looking at someone (or, at least, their image). Remember, the printed word loses all aspects of emotional content and can be easily misinterpreted.

If you’re a manager, be very clear in what you are asking of your team. This may be a good time to use the technique of asking those members to repeat what they heard.

Widen the Conversation – It is tempting to “get down to business” on virtual meetings. Yes, time is valuable, but it is currently an elastic concept. Spend some time on small talk. Back in the real world, meetings often started with people sitting around the conference room table “catching up”. That chat time is a small but important part of team building, as it fosters human relationships. If you care about each other, you will care more about what the team is doing.

Do the Little Things – Have a meeting with no purpose. Schedule “water cooler” sessions where the team gets together to just chat. Do a virtual happy hour. These types of interactions occur organically during the normal course of a work week. Now, we have to think about and plan for them. Make it happen.

Go the Extra Mile – This is especially important when dealing with the newest team members. Adjusting to a new job experience and work environment takes time. Usually, someone will take up to six months to feel comfortable in their new surroundings. They may get the work but assimilating into the culture is now much more difficult.

Take extra time with these people. Put yourself in their shoes. Find ways to make them feel welcome. Encourage interactions in both large and small group settings. Check in with them frequently. Where appropriate give them additional reassurances.

As we have learned by now, this new business paradigm is a work in progress. We are all learning on the job. It takes a team effort to build a team. And, to repeat an overworn cliché, we are all in this together.

This post originally appeared in the Goodwill of Greater Washington Working Capital blog. Read more.