Category Archives: Virtual Teams: Work Better Together & Apart

Tools and tips for virtual team leaders and members.

Want Pragmatic Tips on Engaging Distributed Employees?

Instead of reading a blog post this week, watch an interview with Kathy and Trina. We were glad to talk with WorldAtWork.TV about how to keep virtual distance from creating interpersonal distance on your virtual team. Virtual employee engagement doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be intentional!

WorldatWork TV Video Interview with Trina & Kathy on Employee Engagement in a Virtual World

 

Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace, 2nd Ed. Is On Bookstore Shelves Today – Digital and Print! 

Working Virtually is a permanent part of the workplace today. Transactional work – provided by freelancers, contract employees or consultants – has increased exponentially. It is forecast that as much as half the labor force will be working independently and virtually by 2020.

Trina first sees her book in print.

Most organizations and leaders are still grappling with how to effectively manage their virtual staff and how to effectively support and motivate them. This is an increasingly urgent task as more Millennials join the workforce with changed attitudes toward work satisfaction and organization commitment. Working Virtually is the fruit of the author’s three decades of experience planning and implementing remote work initiatives and training virtual team leaders. It’s the perfect primer for executives, support functions, team leaders and virtual professionals. It provides expert guidance for anyone planning a shift to mobile work. Whether you manage teams of teleworkers or are yourself a virtual team member, you are a leader with shared responsibility for virtual teams that produce successful outcomes.

Check out more at www.WorkingVirtually.org or head straight to the publisher, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore and pick up your copy today. (Stylus Publishing is offering a new book discount. Get 20% off right now! Use code WVT20 at checkout.)

IBM is Seeking the X-Factor. Does Team Synergy Have to Be F2F? 

Recently IBM pulled the plug on telecommuting. R.I.P., early adopter. In the 1990’s, IBM led the charge into telecommuting for financial reasons – they needed to shed jobs and real estate – fast. The command to the workforce? Go home to work or else!

And it worked.

I find it ironic that today in the most technically integrated and enabled business era, IBM is reacting to financial crisis and lost market share with the opposite cry – Go to a physical office to work or else!

Why is IBM leadership following the failed Marissa Meyer solution to engender engaged teams to innovate and reinvigorate a workforce?

Inc. Magazine reported CMO, Michelle Peluso’s answer – They wanted to energize its employees by bringing them together in a cool space. She stated in IBM’s staff video that announced this policy move that it was about “Bringing people together creates its own X Factor.” She intends to motivate people by building “inspiring locations and setting them free.”

To simplify – sales are down, so let’s shake up the people and require them to innovate.

I suspect it won’t work as well as they hope. This decision to co-locate employees means uprooting families or living apart a good part of the time for many. I suspect the work spaces will be awesome, and it will be cool to be there. But not enough to make up for disrupting their family lives. I also predict an employee exodus of at least a few key people who are highly employable, a knowledge and wisdom loss for the company. I’m not alone in my skepticism. The Register calls this “IBM’s Melissa Mayer’s moment.”
I wish IBM luck, but I wonder if instead of spending millions on “cool spaces” and uprooting their people, they could have invested in their managers’ capacity to engage teams virtually?

The manager is the #1 X factor influencing team motivation – whether working virtually or shoulder to shoulder. Yet many receive no formal leadership training on engaging their virtual teams.

Today’s managers must have better relational competencies because work gets done through people. It isn’t just IBM whose leaders aren’t doing so well. It’s global. In the UK, senior business leaders struggle with people management responsibilities, too. About half of their HR professionals say senior business leaders don’t get the best from their people, according to a 2016 HR Outlook survey. Technical prowess does not translate into effective people leadership, yet only 44% of managers are given formal training on managing people and even less are giving training on managing their people virtually. We’re working further apart while needing to collaborate. IBM understood their issue, but I believe they missed the mark on a solution.

Relationship Relational competency begins with self-awareness about how we impact others, more so in a virtual environment that is missing visual cues. Virtual presence is a shared responsibility on any virtual team, but bridging virtual distance begins and remains the responsibility of the team leader. Task-only communication feels perfunctory to both the manager and the team member; it doesn’t bring people together to create the X Factor IBM is seeking. We do NOT have to work in the same room to have synergy. Corporate leaders and team leaders need to know this!

Virtual management training is a fast track to stronger virtual leaders capable of developing X Factor teams. The National Workplace Flexibility Study   shows just how a little training can make a big difference for virtual managers.

The X Factor is more likely to happen when the manager is interested in the team members and the tasks being done. When the team leader cares and communicates well, interaction is more natural, honest and flowing. Individual team members are more likely to speak up when they find mistakes or opportunities, whether they’re in a cool office space or video-conferencing in from a remote location. Strong relational competency helps the virtual leader:

  1. Communicate face-to-face and virtually in a way that inspires the team, clarifies roles, responsibilities, and team processes.
  2. Build and maintain trusting relationships that lead to celebrated team results.
  3. Lead collaboratively for results rather than manage project plans and activity.

Take at least one action today to better connect to your virtual (or not) team and find their X Factor. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Assess yourself with one or two leadership self-assessments available free in The SMART Workplace’s Knowledge Center.
  2. The SMART Workplace has launched my introductory course, The Powerful Role of the Virtual Manager. It examines what we know about today’s (disengaged) workforce and key roles of the virtual team leader. You can take the course in under an hour.
  3. Buy my new book today at a discount for preorder or from Amazon on March 31st. Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace helps leaders create collaborative cultures that span time, distance and cultural boundaries. You’ll also find tangible tools and practices, a virtual leadership model, and a career success model for the virtual professional. @trinahoefling, #workingvirtually
  4. Attend World@Work’s Total Rewards Conference May 8 where Kathy and I will lead an afternoon session on virtual employee engagement. More at @worldatwork, @worldatwork_rs, @worldatwork_dc
  5. Attend ATD 2017 International Conference and Expo May 21st and 22nd. Sunday afternoon we lead a session on managing virtual conflict, and Monday evening I’ll be participating in an ATD Author Meet & Greet. More at @atd, @atdgtc

Pragmatic Wisdom from a Seasoned Virtual Leader

Guest Contributor and long-time colleague, Amy Connell, has worked in a highly visible marketing capacity for three Fortune 500 companies. Read her story and suggestions here.

Also, my first on-demand course is available through this blog post. The Powerful Role of the Virtual Leader is an introductory course to the virtual management model I teach in Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace.

Source: Pragmatic Wisdom from a Seasoned Virtual Leader

The Inevitable Clarification of Written Communication

You know the phrase, “The best laid plans….”? No matter how slowly and carefully we communicate in the flat medium of the written word, misunderstanding and confusion is inevitable. Rather than being frustrated, angry, responding, EXPECT it. For example, as an instructor, I follow instructional design principles and I do my best to communicate clearly.  However last time I taught this course, 40% of my students posed the same two questions. I strive to write simply and clearly, so I was a bit deflated because I had obviously missed my mark. I thought I had been abundantly clear.

Then I chuckled, remembering that I am human, and reminded myself that taking a few minutes to clean up a confusing message is simply part of the ‘job’ of online facilitation.  Period. The course’s virtual office made it easy to communicate, both questions were easily cleared up (and hopefully won’t recur this term) and the entire class was notified of the clarification in case others were also confused.

Done. Handled. Students served. Professor made changes to course documents for future classes.

It’s harder to “read between the lines” when we don’t have voice tone or body language to help.

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The written medium is flat. Misunderstood writing isn’t a shortcoming unless we don’t take the time to be clear in the first place, or if we won’t take responsibility for answering questions and clarifying meaning to the reader.

Virtual team communication, especially when written, is no different than an online class.

Verification of understanding and clarification of specific detail is, quite simply, normal. You might want to encourage conversation that verifies this shared understanding.

Here are 5 proactive ways to clear confusion:

  • Take as much time as needed to be sure your writing is as clear as possible before publishing or sending your written communication.
  • Use the collaboration tools to confirm communications were received, read, responded to, or any other feedback loops you need. In other words, ensure the communication has been completed and understood. Don’t assume.
  • EXPECT questions. As I said, instead of thinking the receiver of your message is dumb or didn’t read carefully, instead of judging yourself as a poor communicator, just expect some back and forth until everyone understands the intended message.
  • EXPECT newer relationships and teams to be more iterative until you get to know one another and settle into team rhythms.
  • Add protocols and efficiency aids as they are needed. (For example, in my teaching, we have consistent, predictable due dates and engagement expectations throughout the week. I teach across global time zones, so we are asynchronous and much of the course learning happens in discussion that requires regular participation.)

If you commit to this kind of clear written communication and openness, as well as get into the habit of asking and expecting clarifying questions, you will save time and frustration for yourself and all your team relationships.

~ Trina Hoefling, Transformation Change Agent, co-founders of The SMART Workplace

The Power of True Collaboration – SMART Workplace Reflections

When shared power of intention, high trust and 3 competent colleagues come together… this is what can happen. Charlie Grantham helps you peek behind our team curtain to see how a new, busy virtual team really works – our co-founder team at The Smart Workplace.
Read his observations in the full post.

Collaboration is a Team Sport
Collaboration is a Team Sport