Eleven years ago I ventured away from nearly twenty years in the corporate world and into the virtual world. I had no idea how different it would be! I was anxious to get away from the constant noise and interruptions from my fellow team members. I longed for the day that I wouldn’t have to listen to gossip, or be privy to drama of some sort or another.
And – for about the first year I truly enjoyed the change. But then I slowly began to realize that I was actually missing some of that. Yes, even some of the gossip and drama, because I was beginning to realize that I had been part of a culture. A family – even if sometimes it was a little dysfunctional.
It took a few more months, but as I kept thinking about it all I realized that it wasn’t exactly the dysfunction I was missing. I was missing the collaboration and camaraderie, which was the good that came with a little of the bad.
I missed the ability to pop my head around the corner to ask a quick question, getting to overhear some juicy tidbit that would spark inspiration, or be privy to some challenge which would lead me to pondering a solution.
I missed going out to lunch with my peers or meeting at the coffee machine. I missed team building events and even some heated meetings where heads would butt, but creativity flowed.
So even with some of our dysfunction and drama we had the one thing that virtual teams often struggle with.
We had built trust!
Let’s look at 3-Steps you can take right now to build trust among your virtual team.
Step 1. Recognize You Have An Issue
You may have a great virtual team, but if you took time to read this post then I’m guessing you are concerned you may have an issue, so here’s some quick questions to ask yourself – just to be sure.
- Do members of your team engage with one another?
- Do they truly act as if they really enjoy getting together, or are they polite and professional but that’s about as far as it goes? I’m not saying people have to become BFFs and spend weekends together at the lake. Being engaged isn’t that. It’s showing interest in others, and everyone on the team doing things that make others feel like they are part of a team. It’s creating an environment where people can feel comfortable truly expressing themselves, so innovation and growth can happen, because everyone knows their contributions – while not always implemented – are valued by others.
- Are they productive?
- When there isn’t a feeling of trust; a feeling of belonging, this can create tension or apathy. Tension can create a host of negative emotions (e.g. stress or anxiety) and apathy means the team member will likely never put forth anything more than the minimum effort, and possibly complain along the way. Both are toxic to the team and your company.
- Is there signs of factions being formed, feuding between the clans, or both?
- Remember middle school and clics? I do!! It’s critical to maintain a “we are in this thing all together…period.com.” I am not suggesting that everyone always has to spend time together, and they can never break off from one another, on a personal level or even a professional level. Of course, that would be ridiculous! I am talking about, for example, when some people on a project will pool together leaving other people on the project out of the loop and are basically going rogue.
If you are experiencing any of this you have some work to do, because either you already are sensing you may have a toxic remote work environment – or you are heading for one, and that can be disastrous.
Step 2. Have Some Intentional Conversations
Intentional? Yes intentional because it is imperative that building trust starts with you. You can’t lead your virtual team into building trusting relationships if you and your team don’t trust each other!
Here’s some ideas on how to develop that. And, yes – you will need to take some time – but just like getting physically fit, the rewards will far outweigh the time and effort you take now.
- Have regular virtual coffee date 1:1 time with individual team members, and do NOT discuss business in the sense of looking for them to report out on something. Think of this as being a relationship building, creative meeting. This can be as short as 10-minutes where you are…
- Just checking in – which will show you care. Again, this isn’t seeking a report out. This is you truly wanting to know how they are doing or if there is anything you can do for them.
- Asking about their weekend – which shows you are interested in them as a person. And share a little something personal with them. Doesn’t have to be deep. Just your normal small talk type of stuff.
- Sharing something you are thinking of doing in the business and asking their opinion – which can build confidence and give a sense of belonging. Of course, don’t shoot down what they say. You may not use their input, or like what they suggested, but you can still show that you value it.
- Be intentional about getting together with the entire team for a virtual lunch or happy hour, once a month. If they are in or near the same time zone, you might even have lunch delivered to everyone. Just like in a live office setting. Create your policies around virtual get togethers, which may include:
- Everyone must be on-camera. They don’t have to be all dressed up and camera ready – but we build trust in an office setting because we can see each other. Our body language speaks volumes! Allow for the fact that they may have kids, dogs, spouses, loud cars, loud neighbors – whatever. Make it a policy that it’s all allowable and ok because that’s the virtual life!
- Have a true open-door policy. Sorry to say it, but sometimes this is just something that is a tick-mark that has been added to a policy manual without there really being any teeth behind it. Encourage – wholeheartedly – for your team to use the open door if they do have a problem and need your help. The key is that there needs to be some policies built around this. Some rules, if you will. Here’s one example…
- No problem is allowed to be presented without a proposed solution that can be discussed. It may not be THE solution, but the idea here is that it creates a mindset of – “I’m not just here to whine about so and so, or this or that – but instead I really want to find a solution in how to deal with it, and just need your guidance.”
“The most important thing in communications is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter F Drucker
Step 3. Encourage Team Innovation
- Encourage the team – not the factions – to have regular get togethers without leadership. Not because we want them to talk about you, but for them to have a chance to build relationships that are creative, collaborative, and innovative – where they then can bring those ideas back to leadership for consideration.
- Create a think-tank environment.
- Come up with a virtual version of the old fashioned idea box
- Pick a topic and encourage discussion. Might be around a trend or a current issue.
It won’t all happen overnight, but over the coming few weeks – if you start now – I’m confident you will start to see a change in your team’s dynamics.