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Best Practices for Virtual Teams

How can you effectively contribute to virtual teams, regardless of your role?

Operate with clear, simple and written processes

  • Set specific expectations for each member’s role, and adjust roles as needed.
  • In advance, document who or what groups get to make which decisions.
  • Err on the side of involving fewer people in specific decisions while communicating those decisions to all.
  • Involve the whole team in important communications and decisions.
  • Seek to integrate the best of the team’s ideas. (Promote “both/and” thinking and minimize “either/or” thinking.)

Establish and maintain communication protocols

  • Begin by asking who has access to what technology and when they have access. Specifically, be sure to discuss internet speed, computers and smartphones.
  • Proactively solicit each person’s thoughts, ideas and perspectives.
  • Use text-based tools (email, Slack and similar) for sharing information and ideas, and collecting simple data such as meeting logistics.
    • Send separate written notes for each topic addressed.
    • Use standard headings to clarify what is expected of the recipient, for example:
      • “Action/Decision Required by DATE and TIME”
      • “Preparation for TASK or MEETING”
      • “FYI – No Action Needed”
  • Use virtual conference meetings for problem-solving, negotiation, group decision making and solving group behavioral concerns.
  • Use one-on-one or two-on-one meetings to address individual performance issues.

Meet together at least once each week, ideally using video and voice

  • At the beginning of each meeting, create and maintain meaningful time for personal check-ins.
  • Individually, turn off all other distractions and do not do other work.

Show that you care about the people involved

  • Be attentive and engaged throughout every meeting.
  • Maintain a positive and supportive tone.
  • Recognize and praise collaborative behavior each time you see it.
  • Encourage members to support one another, especially in challenging times.
  • Proactively share changes in your own individual circumstances, priorities and other time demands.

Show that you care about the project

  • Be attentive and engaged throughout every meeting.
  • Remind people about what success looks like and why it matters.
  • Let people know you’ve received important messages, even if no action is needed right now.
  • Proactively identify and suggest solutions to project challenges.
  • Let people know your ideas, questions and concerns, and provide substantive feedback.

Be sensitive to tone when writing to others

  • People tend to be less guarded and more negative in writing.
  • People receiving written information tend to perceive it more negatively than intended.
  • People sending information tend to overestimate the clarity of their views and directions.
  • Do not send written communication when you are angry.

Choose a subdued and charitable tone to express dissatisfaction

  • Avoid attributing the behavior of others to innate character flaws or negative intentions toward you. Instead:
    • Give others the benefit of the doubt by first checking in with them. Be sure to ask whether changes in someone’s circumstances outside of the project are affecting their performance.
    • Ask what you can do to help support someone who is not performing well.
    • Share from the perspective of your own experience. Clearly describe your own fears and how it affects you. Be specific: let members know what you are worried about and why you are worried.
    • Share from the perspective of how the poor performance impacts the team and their success. In doing so, be clear, specific and concrete.

Adapted from How to Build Trust with Remote Employees by Hickman & Fredstrom; Five Ways to Improve Communication in Virtual Teams by Hill & Bartol; Leading Virtual Teams by Lipnack & Stamps; and, Managing Virtual Teams by Leigh Thompson.

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