Modern technology has made remote work possible, popular, and—with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic—often necessary.
Virtual work eliminates some workplace advantages, such as social interaction with coworkers and a well-defined boundary between home and office. On the other hand, through platforms such as Zoom, it allows people to come together on-screen and collaborate from anywhere in the world.
Virtual meetings, however, have their challenges. Here are some tips to help your virtual team be successful.
Create a cross-cultural community.
- From the beginning, explicitly establish which culture, style, and language are dominant on your team, and confirm that those choices work best for the group.
- Schedule meeting times that work across time zones, so no members are being asked to attend early-morning or late-night meetings. Sometimes this is not possible, so consider alternating times.
- Be aware of typical work schedules across cultures, so you aren’t scheduling meetings on dates or times that conflict with others’ weekends or religious observances.
- Stay abreast of national and world events. Are there things happening in your team members’ regions that might affect focus and availability? Adjust priorities and timing to emphasize your team’s mental and emotional capacity to engage. For example, some in the U.S. may have experienced challenges around the election in November 2020 or the Capitol riots in January 2021. Also keep in mind weather events as they may impact safety and connectivity (electricity, Internet, and cell coverage).
- Be clear about how virtual attendees should take part in conversations. When people of different cultures get together, help them feel comfortable about participating in the meeting by being clear about your preference, whether that’s to speak up when they have an idea, wait to be asked, or post questions in the chat window.
- Be mindful of the social imbalance when some people may know each other in real life or from past teams, while others may be new to the group.
- Be sure everyone is aware of who their peers are and why they are important to the team. For a small group, that could mean individual introductions. For larger groups, consider asking participants to edit their Zoom screen names to include such information as their location, their role on the project, etc.
- Accommodate team members who may lack access to good equipment or high-speed Internet, by, for example, inviting them to participate via audio only.
- Give everyone the opportunity to provide feedback, whether through voice, chat, private email, or even an anonymous poll. (Anonymity helps protect those who may feel intimidated by the perceived power structure of the group.)
Use tech to optimize engagement.
- Consider whether a meeting is even needed and try to handle communication via different tools for small issues (e.g., Slack, WhatsApp, etc).
- Take advantage of the poll, survey, quiz, etc., tools built into your virtual meeting platform.
- Encourage chatting. Suggest participants submit questions to the group via chat.
- Ask a question and have everyone respond in the chat window before moving on. This is an instance where a virtual format offers more opportunity for individual input, something that can be too cumbersome to do in a large in-person meeting.
Run well-structured meetings.
- Have an agenda and set clear expectations for meetings.
- Provide predictable and consistent deadlines.
- Be mindful of meeting length, prepping your group in advance to keep things short.
- Have a backup communication plan, such as the phone numbers of all participants, in case of tech problems.
Most important, remember that everyone, including your virtual team, is working under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, with that in mind, thank your team for their participation, assume everyone is doing their best, and adjust your standards accordingly. While it’s always been important to prioritize relationships over projects, it’s more critical now than ever.
Our recent online discussion explored the challenges of working and learning remotely, and what you can do to help your virtual team succeed. Watch the recording.
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