Wilson & Associates Monthly Newsletter, January 2018
Virtual Teams: Guidelines for Team Members
By: Laura Kilgore
In previous articles we discussed some of the benefits and challenges of virtual teams and then focused on some ways team managers can facilitate virtual teams working together to produce a quality product.
If you, however, are working as a virtual team member and want to know how to best contribute to your team’s project, we have a few guidelines for you too. Below are tips that may also be helpful for in-person teams but are much more impactful for organizations that are not face-to-face.
Know What’s Expected of You
While it is your manager’s responsibility to clearly communicate their expectations of you, it’s also your responsibility to follow up with them to make sure you understand those expectations. Especially where instructions are communicated over phone or video meetings, it’s a good idea to repeat instructions back to your manager so you can be sure you’re doing what they need you to do.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s better to be clear about project expectations and personal responsibilities than to make guesses that might necessitate more work later because things were missed or have to be redone. If you’re worried that your manager will be irritated by frequent questions, save them up to ask all at once. Having a good relationship with your manager will also facilitate clear communication between the two of you.
Think of ways to take the initiative. While it’s important to ask questions, you’ll impress everyone on your team if you can anticipate needs and stay a step ahead. You’ll make the project flow more smoothly, and your fellow team members will appreciate the value you add.
When you work alone it’s easy to slip into the habit of thinking of yourself as a team of one, but it’s important to maintain your identity as a group of people all working toward the same goal.
Up next: Communicate Clearly
When you’re separated from your team members geographically, communication can quickly break down. As you work on your part of the project, it’s important to keep all related parties in the loop. If you’re communicating with a fellow team-member about something, you might consider including your manager and other relevant personnel in the conversation. You never know when others might have information that can contribute to your work.
Consider using communication resources like Yammer or Microsoft Teams (cloud-based collaborative work spaces) to keep your team connected, reduce the number of emails to weed through, and help keep conversions organized as team members contribute at different points in the conversation. According to an Adweek article about the benefits of Yammer in the workplace, “the basic set up is free, easy to use, and, perhaps, most importantly, it provides a private, manageable, and secure online space for businesses to communicate.” Its structure is based on Facebook’s, so anyone with previous experience with that public social media site can easily acclimate to this private one.
As inboxes fill up with long, formal emails, people tend to start skimming instead of reading every word. Important information can be overlooked which leads to miscommunications. With collaborative sites like Yammer or Microsoft Teams, you can easily communicate with the whole team in a more relaxed virtual environment. Less information will slip through the cracks, and the most up-to-date information will get to the right people. Microsoft Teams are part of Microsoft’s Office 365 platform and incorporate the capabilities of OneDrive, Yammer, and SharePoint into a single, collaborative work space.
Whether you’re composing or receiving an email, Yammer post, or Instant Message (IM), carefully reread the message to make sure the intent is clear. Read all the messages you receive completely and, again, follow-up if they leave you with questions. Respond promptly too, so it doesn’t cause unnecessary delays in your team’s efforts or give the impression that you’re not working billed hours.
Use the Resources Your Manager Provides
Your manager has likely provided helpful resources for your team that facilitate organization, communication, and collaboration. It is your responsibility to use those resources wherever possible. If such resources haven’t been provided, take the initiative and propose using them to the team, specifying how they can add cohesiveness and value.
Professional social sites such as the ones mentioned in the previous section will enable you to share helpful tips you’ve learned or enable you to request valuable feedback. Don’t ignore the advantages that come with this kind of technological connectivity.
Working remotely can have some great personal advantages such as a flexible schedule and the potential ability to work in a distraction-free environment. If you have a home office, once the chores are done, the kiddos are at school, and the pets are fed, you may feel like your mind is clear enough to focus on your work. But are you ever really done with those chores?
When working remotely, it’s important to have a designated office space and clear physical and scheduling boundaries for both yourself and your family. Alternatively, don’t let your work spill into your off-time. This way you can thoroughly enjoy your family and find the time to relax.
While you’re working, you might find it easier to focus if you silence your personal cell phone and close down distracting websites on your computer. Also, make sure your workspace is clear of clutter and has great natural light. Psychology Today shares how sunshine can increase productivity in this helpful article. They say that “that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life.” You’ll be able to increase your productivity and concentrate more easily on your project with good light and less visual distraction.
Don’t forget to also pay attention to your office space ergonomics. Just because you’re working away from the office, don’t ignore ergonomic safety practices such as taking breaks, walking around, resting your eyes, and assessing your office set up to ensure you’re not at risk for a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Check out this Personal Workstation Checklist from University Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley to assess your space.
Even though you may feel like you’re getting loads of work done in a quiet environment away from friendly and distracting co-workers, you may miss the feeling of comradery. You don’t have to let your remote team setup make you feel isolated. Simply by participating in online forums and contributing to your team’s Yammer account, you can feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. Take every opportunity to connect with team members, and attend in-person meetings or other gatherings that your manager may set up. Don’t worry; if you work hard, take the initiative, and collaborate with team members, your company will not forget you.
Whatever you do, don’t forget that you’re not in this alone. When your fellow team members succeed, you succeed, and vice versa. By taking the initiative, engaging with team members, using the resources available to you, and creating a productive and healthy work environment for yourself, you can experience just as rich a collaborative experience on a virtual team as in any office environment.
Virtual Teams: Guidelines for Team Leaders
By: Laura Kilgore
As we discussed in our previous newsletter, managing virtual teams has both its challenges and benefits. Here, we’re going to explore some specific guidelines for managers of virtual teams that can help streamline the transition from face-to-face to remote. Many management tactics can be transferred to the virtual world, but will just look a little different.
Be clear about expectations at the outset. Good managers are always clear about the departmental structure and long-term goals of the team. But with virtual teams, it’s also essential to clarify individual tasks and processes. While your employees might feel comfortable asking the little questions in person, they might feel silly spending time seeking those minute clarifications over email or the phone. That’s why it’s important to make sure expectations are clear.
Establish ground rules at the outset for communication and accountability. Make sure each member of your team knows who they’re directly accountable to so they never feel lost. Remember: you set the tone for communication in your group. Make sure it’s clear, concise, and always courteous.
Check in periodically. Follow through carefully. Create rhythm with weekly or monthly meetings that meet consistently at the same time. If you have team members in different time zones, rotate the meeting times regularly so the burden of signing in early or staying late doesn’t fall on a single group.
Up next: Facilitate Communication and Relationships
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Happy New Year!
This is a reminder to update any copyright dates in MS Word documents or in PowerPoint templates from 2017 to 2018!