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Is Virtual Our New Reality?

Working from home

Telecommuting is our new reality.

Quick Tips for leading teams in our new virtual reality.

One small flicker of light to come from this pandemic pandemonium is that more and more employers are forced to trust employees to work from home more often, finally!

As a career coach, I’ve partnered with hundreds of clients over the last couple of years and one of the TOP requirements most are in search of is FLEXIBILITY –  the option to work from home (or anywhere for that matter) on their own terms.

I realize there are some myths about the ability to effectively lead a team from the confines of your home office. OR to grow your career when you’re not “visible” in the office. OR all the HR issues that could potentially come from employees not tracking their time accurately if they don’t punch in / out each day.

Let me invite you to put those myths on hold for one pandemic moment and hear me out.

Telecommuting allows for even higher levels of engagement, amplified creativity, and a boost of productivity

I’ve been working from home and leading virtual teams for years and I love it! And do I dare say, when done right, telecommuting allows for even higher levels of engagement, amplified creativity, and a boost of productivity?

When leading or working on a virtual team, what if you focused on ONE thing: getting the job done. Measuring the output and quality of work versus focusing on time. What time someone logs into Skype or how long it took to respond to your email or if they’re getting the job done at 7:00 am because that’s when they’re at their best or at 8:00 pm after they settle their kids in for the night should be of no consequence. Is measuring time at work a difference that makes a difference?

Is measuring time at work a difference that makes a difference?

In my experience, hiring the right people + igniting trust in them to get the job done… regardless of time… brings a human element into the team and allows for maximum success.

Below are my top tips for leading an exceptional virtual team.

Communication – overcommunicate, overcommunicate, and overcommunicate!

  • Identify and discuss your team goals… on a regular basis (not once per year). Communicating and painting a picture of the result is the only way your team will know how to use their time effectively.
  • Share your expectations of the work that needs to be done – be crystal clear about what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by.
  • Talk about how you expect to be communicated to! If people have to guess about how to communicate with their leader, things will go haywire. Tell your team whether it’s ok to text you or let them know you hate being interrupted by Skype. Setting these expectations upfront allows virtual work to run smoothly.

Consistency – Set up a weekly schedule and stick to it! This is especially pertinent with virtual teams since you don’t have the daily office drive-bys and water cooler check-ins.

Initiating a weekly schedule with consistent application limits disruptions provides the opportunity to check in on results, and creates more availability to get the job done. Below are some thoughts for a weekly schedule.

  • Weekly team meetings on a Monday or Tuesday are a fantastic way to communicate expectations and check in on your team’s goals – but if you cancel them on a regular basis, you’re immediately sending a message that they aren’t important. Be conscious of time zones. If you have a global team and it’s nearly impossible to schedule a time that works for everyone, rotate the meeting time to accommodate time zones.
  • One-on-one meetings. As a leader your number one priority should be your team members. One-on-one meetings are a perfect way to confirm they are working on projects that leverage their strengths and that they are being challenged. If you’re not checking in on a regular basis, how will you evaluate their work? Or know how they’re feeling about their work? Set expectations as to what you want to cover in the allotted time. And again, stick to the schedule – no matter what!
  • Friday reflections. Ask your team to reflect on their accomplishments and challenges for the week and spend 10 minutes jotting them into an email to you. This is an easy way to check-in and holds your team accountable.

Connection – Leverage your weekly mechanisms to engage with each other.

  • One of the things I loved doing was spending the first 10 minutes of each team meeting conducting a virtual icebreaker. A simple question prompt to learn more about each other, “if you had a million dollars to contribute to a cause, what would it be?” OR “If you had one song running on repeat in the background of your life, what would it be?” Not only is this a fun way to start a meeting, it’s also a chance to learn what you have in common… and usually makes for a few laughs!
  • Allocate a few minutes at the end of the meeting for “shout-outs” or virtual high-fives. Let the team thank their fellow team members or share a win. Taking a minute to celebrate success is one of the best ways to connect and build your virtual team.

Care – Genuine care of other human beings, especially those on your team goes without saying. If your team is located all over the world, it might be tough to show that you care. Here are a few thoughts:

  • I used to say all the time, “I can’t see your face day in and day out, so you have to tell me how you’re doing” Ask follow-up questions… sense the hesitation or tiredness in their voice… and talk about it. This sounds simple although it can easily be overlooked.
  • Take a few minutes to craft a fun and lighthearted birthday email – copy the team so everyone knows and can join in the virtual celebration.
  • Send a card in the mail. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love to receive a surprise hand-written note in the mail!
  • Set your own boundaries and stick to them. Refrain from sending emails outside of work hours. Just because your team is not commuting into an office, doesn’t mean they are available 24/7. Before spending your evening or weekend catching up on email, pause, and think about the impact that might have on your team.

Of course, I realize virtual work isn’t an option for everyone. Doctors need to be in the operating room to care for their patients, manufacturing employees must be in the factory to make the widgets and engineers likely need to be in the lab to create the next best invention although, for those that have the option, telecommuting can be a game-changer in creating a happy, healthy work-life.

And not to mention, it is much more inclusive.

Have you thought about how many more people could work if virtual was our new reality? Those with a disability that prohibits them from driving OR someone who needs to work from home due to a medical situation OR those who must care for aging parents and need to be at their side for most of the day. The potential is endless.

According to Wikipedia, virtual reality is a simulated experience that can be similar to (or completely different) from the real world. Applications of virtual reality can include entertainment and educational purposes. Do I dare to add work and career to this list of applications? I sure hope so.

May 22, 2020

Working from home

Is Virtual Our New Reality?

Working from home

Is Virtual Our New Reality?

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