As we navigate the ever changing landscape of a working world that is becoming increasingly virtual, how can we effectively create a sense of culture and manage virtual teams or workers?
A Workforce 2020 survey found that 83% of executives worldwide plan to increase their use of virtual employees over the next three years, so it’s something we must acknowledge.
Here at Lever we have full-time team members working from our Head Office in Australia, and working virtually from the Philippines, plus 40 contractors working virtually from 15 different countries around the world. Our contractors often praise the connected culture that we have created, so it got me thinking – what are 5 strategies that you can implement right away to successfully lead a remote team?
Foster a sense of culture and connection
Working virtually can be lonely at times, so fostering a sense of culture and connection is one of the most crucial things you can do for a virtual workforce. Hold a regular team call and schedule these regularly to create a routine. We hold daily operational team calls, weekly head office team calls, and monthly global team calls. Make them engaging and fun – don’t have a one sided conversation where you reel off the latest news. Some ways to engage your virtual team in the conversation include:
- Start the virtual meeting with a 2-minute update from each employee about what they have been up to this month
- Add some humour by starting or ending the call with a fun question that each person has to answer – we use TAOC cards or Table Topics cards for inspiration. You will generate conversations and learn things about each other that you wouldn’t normally with day to day business conversations!
- Get them to volunteer to share something they have learnt recently that could be useful to others in the meeting.
- Finish off with a round of “Why are you glad or grateful to be here today?” A focus on gratification, even something small, can be a very positive way to close off a weekly or monthly meeting.
Personalise your relationships with virtual employees with these easy tips and you will have an engaged and optimistic workforce.
Make everything accessible
Create a virtual hub where you can store all the relevant information remote workers might need. This doesn’t need to be time consuming, expensive or difficult. Your industry category will shape what exactly this should store, but be sure to keep your virtual hub updated with latest news, appropriate contacts, resources and anything they might need to know. Use a forum to build a huge pool of information that future employees can search down the line.
We use Google Sites as our “intranet” hub here at Lever and store everything our team needs to know on here. We have a forum housed within this intranet which is hosted by Quandora. Google Sites and Quandora are both fantastic tools – inexpensive and very easy to use.
Use a set of values to govern your purpose
In Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organisations, he talks about how the way forward for organisations is to create a place for the whole person to thrive. Creating a values-based organisation will build a living, breathing culture of shared core values amongst the entire team. It will generate a culture shaped by a clear set of ground rules establishing a foundation for decision-making, actions and a sense of community. In a values-driven culture, employees find alignment between their personal values and the organisation’s values, creating a unified and motivated workforce.
For a virtual employee who can’t physically see or feel a sense of culture – it becomes essential to hold a set of values front and centre, to guide the culture you are trying to create. Initiate discussions about what the values mean for the business, what they mean for you, and what they mean for the employees. Management and leadership can set examples of the values and live the values they preach.
Our values at Lever are Fearless Humility, True Partnerships, Quest for Sustainable Success, Joyful Contribution, and Balance the Whole. For us, it’s not just about “ticking the box” by saying that we have values. It’s about using them in how we show up on a daily basis and how we make decisions. We often use our monthly team call to discuss where people are seeing the values in action and what more we can do to align further with our values. We pull together with a shared purpose, and align ourselves, and our behaviours, through our values.
Invest in skills and training
As a specialist learning transfer organisation, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that we hold learning and personal growth as a core part of working at Lever. We’re not the only ones – more and more often now employees want more than money from a role. Meaning and purpose is important to them, so it should be important to employers as well.
We believe learning is an integral part of the strategy for successful organisations. Create an individual budget for each full timer to spend on their own learning and development each year. Build a team of mentors to coach and support the virtual contractors. Generate a support network so that there is always someone to go to with an issue – and never a question too small to be asked. And don’t forget 1:1s! It’s so important to hold them weekly, even more so when you aren’t in the same office so can’t ‘shout’ across desks at each other. Be sure to hold fairly regular developmental reviews where you look at the bigger picture rather than focusing on the weekly 1:1 things.
If possible, try to get the team together for face to face team days every year or so, and integrate learning new skills as one of the main features for that day.
Pick up the phone
Never underestimate the value of picking up the phone. For some things, it can be tempting to send a quick email or Skype message whenever there is something to discuss. Conversely, you might hold off on important meetings or performance conversations until you’re face to face with your virtual employee. This delays clear communication which is the lifeblood of a relationship.
Consider picking up the telephone instead for these kinds of conversations. The phone is such a powerful medium. It can easily create the opportunity for clarity with anything that needs to be discussed. Using the telephone for a performance conversation or such like means the individual can’t see you so they feel less self-conscious, therefore more likely to be open, honest and vulnerable. The phone will connect you with your virtual team members on a more personal level. Don’t be afraid to create structure with a brief agenda for your calls. We’ve been amazed at the quality of relationships we have created over the phone with people on our team we have never met!
Thanks to Jennifer Arnold-Levy on our Australian team and Sheryl Pope on our European team who both encouraged us to share what works well for our virtual team. Would love to hear what other tips you have for working with a virtual team – feel free to comment below.
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