The global pandemic completely transformed the work dynamic across every business sector. In the blink of an eye, offices were shut down and replaced with virtual teams spread across multiple locations or countries. Many CEOs and managers found themselves scrambling to successfully transition from traditional workplace structures to remote working environments with limited preparation time.
Hybrid and remote workforces are here to stay. A Gallup survey conducted in June 2022 showed that 8 out of 10 employees are embracing a hybrid or remote model for the foreseeable future.
Gone are the days when spontaneous in-person meetings and brainstorming sessions helped to solve issues and talk through big ideas. The greatest obstacle for management today is keeping remote teams connected in lieu of the old ways of collaborating. Companies now need to foster communication and collaboration in a new age of virtual teamwork.
How Teams Once Connected In Person
In the pre-pandemic era, teams relied on face-to-face communication to share ideas, collaborate on projects, and work through issues. This was especially true before the advent of email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and other forms of digital communication.
If employees couldn’t see each other across departments or over cubicle walls, dialing a team member’s phone extension to ask a quick question or arrange an impromptu meeting was the norm. Often overlooked, in-person meetings allow participants to read nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and facial expressions. The value of non-verbal communication is significant. A reported 70 to 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, and awareness of nonverbal cues is essential for effective communication.
Email and instant messaging quickly became convenient methods for contacting others. However, teams still held in-person meetings to review project updates and share other company-related information. Rapid technological advances allowed team members to video conference and use collaboration software to accomplish their meeting goals. While these are convenient tools, employees still preferred to meet in person.
Virtual Team Collaborations: The New Normal
Though the worst effects of the pandemic are behind us, organizations realize the cost savings associated with keeping a permanent or hybrid virtual workforce. Fortune 500 companies, including American Express and Aetna Insurance, are saving $15 million and $70 million a year, respectively, on real estate costs by maintaining a telecommuting workforce. Studies also show that remote workers are as, if not more, productive working remotely on day-to-day tasks as they were in the office.
These benefits make virtual teams the new norm in today’s corporate world. But in companies that once relied heavily on in-person collaboration, keeping remote teams connected to accomplish goals and objectives is often challenging. This is especially the case when employees work on long-term projects, when productivity wanes. A recent study of over 60,000 Microsoft employees concluded that employees working from home were productive with short-term projects but were less effective when working on longer-term assignments.
Common Hurdles Facing Remote Teams
While technology makes it easier to stay in touch with people who are not physically present in an office, managing remote project teams also comes with its own set of challenges.
Lack of effective communication
Remote project teams face a unique set of challenges when it comes to communication. The lack of face-to-face interaction due to geographically dispersed locations and the need for efficient communication creates barriers to an adequate flow of information between team members. A recent survey among virtual teams revealed that one of the top challenges they face is difficulty communicating and collaborating.
The lack of in-person communication may also lead to feelings of disconnection from the team, which can impact their engagement and performance. Without discussing work-related questions or issues face-to-face, many workers find it difficult for them to get the support and guidance they need to succeed.
Lack of access to timely information
One of the challenges of remote project teams is the need for more access to timely, relevant information. This can impact everything from decision-making to communication and workflows.
Remote teams often have different access to systems and tools than traditional, face-to-face teams. The lack of access can interfere with decision-making, communication, and collaboration. For example, it can be difficult for team members to share information about project progress in real-time when there are workflow systems delays or if they need access to specific project management tools.
Difficulties in Overseeing Productivity
Many managers struggle with gauging the team member’s productivity while working from home. Tracking team members requires finding innovative ways to measure output and ensure they’re focused without being able to casually check in with them throughout the day or observe office interactions.
Building trust with remote teams can be a challenge for many managers. Harvard Business Review found that 40% of managers surveyed report low self-confidence in managing remote workers and struggle to trust that workers are on-task.
Why It’s Crucial to Keep Remote Teams Connected
When a remote team is engaged, everyone has a shared sense of purpose and understands their role in achieving success. This means that goals are clearly defined and regularly communicated, feedback is encouraged and valued, and everyone feels included in decision-making. It also helps to have regular communication between remote team members so that everyone can stay actively involved and up-to-date on what’s happening in the team.
How to Keep Your Virtual Teams Connected
Team leaders are always searching for effective ways to foster communication and collaboration, regardless of where their employees are. Below are proven strategies to help keep remote teams stay connected and engaged.
Informal virtual onboarding for new members
A new team member can feel overwhelmed jumping into a project with unfamiliar faces. As an icebreaker, consider introducing new employees to the team in an informal group video chat. This activity can also be a virtual lunch meet and greet or happy hour after work. Doing so allows new team members to ask questions, obtain advice, and learn the ropes informally before getting to business.
Keep the lines of communication open
Clear communication between team members is vital to creating a productive virtual workspace. Encouraging team members to join conversations can build their confidence and help them feel connected. Create the main channel where team members can enter anytime to ask questions and share information.
Informal communications are just as essential to keeping a team connected. Establishing a “virtual water cooler,” a channel where staff can unwind and meet for small talk can boost morale and promote a sense of belonging.
Turn on the webcams but don’t overdo it
Using webcams to stay connected during conferences is an excellent way for team members to remain engaged and productive. Virtual engagement provides a sense of closeness, understanding, and collaboration that can be difficult to achieve when working remotely. Try making video meetings more interactive by breaking them up with polls, responses to questions, slides, and videos.
At the same time, it’s also essential to recognize the potential risks of overusing webcams, such as fatigue and eyestrain. To avoid these potential issues, have team members take breaks when using webcams for conferences. Consider using breakout rooms for side discussions and brainstorming sessions if the group is large. Doing so can promote more discussions from people that tend to be quiet in more extensive group sessions.
Related: Best Practices for Effective Video Meetings
Feedback should be encouraged to improve engagement and connectivity. Provide input through regular check-ins or virtual communication tools like online chat forums or video conferencing platforms. Promoting feedback can bring issues and suggestions to the surface that can assist the team in meeting their goals and objectives.
Harnessing the power of collaboration platforms
Collaboration tools are a crucial asset in the virtual team environment. They help team members share ideas and opinions, communicate efficiently, and ultimately achieve their goals. Collaborative technologies make getting to know and building relationships with co-workers easier.
Fortunately, there are many excellent collaboration and communication platforms available to keep teams connected.
Instant messaging is an excellent tool for virtual teams to stay connected, allowing them to quickly send messages to one another without long email chains or conference calls. Creating private and public groups on most messaging platforms can ensure that everyone involved in the project communicates easily and keep each other updated. Using instant messaging, team members can easily ask questions, give updates, share links and files, and brainstorm ideas anytime, anywhere. Not only does this make it easier for virtual teams to work efficiently, but it helps build a bond between members.
Team collaboration software
By providing features such as chat functions, file-sharing options, whiteboards, and task management capabilities, these platforms make it easy for teams to communicate effectively and collaborate productively over any distance.
With cloud storage, teams can access files 24/7, regardless of where they work. This storage allows them to share real-time updates and produce a united product in record time. Cloud storage helps virtual teams stay organized by efficiently storing documents and allowing the whole team to access them quickly whenever needed.
Hold fun team-building activities
Indulging the team in occasional fun games enables members to bond and provides a break from their daily tasks. These activities may include online questionnaires, virtual escape rooms, interactive ice-breakers, and digital scavenger hunts. Any fun activity that encourages collaboration and teamwork can be a great team-building experience.
These are just a few of the many activities you can incorporate to encourage your virtual team to get to know each other.
- Incorporate icebreaker questions at meetings that allow members to open up socially. Using fun, creative questions that don’t require too much background knowledge or elaboration can help participants feel more relaxed and connected.
- Create collaborative music playlists to listen to. Some ideas for themes can be a soothing de-stress set or a motivational set of tunes.
- Share stories, photos, and videos of their weekend. Try a Monday morning check-in for a positive social way to ease into the work week.
- Play some quick mini-games together to break up the day or while waiting for other members to join a conference.
Recognizing achievements and accomplishments can further encourage collaboration and help maintain morale. It could be as simple as sending team members personalized messages for appreciation for a job well done or hosting surprise virtual celebrations when the entire team accomplishes a significant task. Through recognition, managers in charge of virtual teams can build strong connections between team members. Managers who are unable to catch every accomplishment can implement a system that allows team members to submit praise for their peers.
Staying the Course With Your Virtual Teams
Digital transformation continues to allow companies to have a global and connected workforce. One prediction states that by 2028, 70% of organizations will rely on virtual teams to accomplish goals and complete tasks.
Keeping virtual teams connected is challenging but necessary to keep them productive and successful. The right tools for communication and collaboration are essential, including video chat, project management software, and discussion boards. Regular virtual meetings will help team members stay engaged and connected with critical decisions.
Additionally, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and utilizing their skills can make all the difference. When everyone feels included in decision-making, they’re more likely to stay engaged and involved in their work. Staying the course in keeping virtual teams connected ensures that everyone has a voice and is working together towards a common goal.
Phone.com is the perfect solution for businesses seeking to improve communication and collaboration with virtual teams, no matter where they are. With 50 standard features, voice, text, video, conferencing, and collaboration will keep your teams connected 24/7. Contact us today to request a demo with our solutions experts.