By Catherine Mattiske.
It’s relatively easy for companies to leverage virtual tools that help with instant messaging, emailing, and assigning projects. For the most part, that’s what the majority of interactions in virtual settings have become: the nuts and bolts of tasks and project assignments. That’s because this is what ensures profit is being turned and paychecks are being sent out. It came first in a physical work environment, and it continues to come first in a virtual environment as well.
The problem is that with a virtual team structure, virtual meetings and a virtual learning structure, all of the nuances, the personal interactions, and the human-to-human connection that we took for granted in a physical office are not there anymore. Something as simple as smiling at a coworker or holding a door for them went a long way in creating a healthy work environment. Those nuances aren’t abounding in the world of virtual communication, which is why every boss, virtual leader, and virtual manager needs to be aware of human connection via our phones and laptops.
How can you recreate these tiny, fleeting moments that were, in many ways, essential to making workers feel valued and ‘seen’ in a company today? Here are some suggestions.
Tips for Creating Human Connection and Empathy
- Be First to Your Virtual Meetings: If you have a virtual meeting scheduled for 1PM, join it at 12:50PM and use those 10-minutes as a tool to connect with your team. You will be able to have personal, one-on-one conversations with the individuals who join the meeting early. Find out what’s going on with them and connect with them on a personal level. And, if you have individuals who never join early, send them an instant message and ask them to join early. In these precious minutes you can learn more about their lives, families, stresses, and hopes for their mobility with the company. You can also ask people to stay back for a moment after the meeting as well. Treat it like you would when coffee was freshly brewed in the break room, and you caught a few minutes to chat with your coworker. Remember: with humans, drama will always occur, especially in team environments. As a leader, it’s your job to be intuitive to problems and use these off times to chat with people who you suspect are having issues. If you cannot determine if there are problems with your team, you need to spend more time tuning into the messaging and conferencing attitudes
- Be Crystal Clear in Your Management Requirements: Nothing is ‘implied’ through the computer anymore. When you communicate via email, online chat, collaboration boards, and project management software platforms, your team can’t see you and your body language. They have no idea what you expect from them unless you are over-the-top transparent about it. Think about the example of texting for a moment. If you send a text that is a sentence, with a period, and no ‘haha,’ ‘lol,’ or emoji with the text, it can come off as cold. Why? Because your emotion, expression, intonation, and vocal inflections were not included in the text. The same goes for communicating expectations to team members virtually. What you consider to be obvious or implied, may not be so to your other team members. You need to share your management requirements in multiple, obvious ways that may even seem a little bit exaggerated at times. Nothing is more frustrating to a worker than being told they broke a rule they didn’t even know existed in the first place. Assuming team members will privately chat and share information isn’t an effective management style online – and certainly not one that will make your team members feel like valued workers today.
- Remember to Have Fun: Personal, team connection is everything for the success of a company today. Remember that, at times, work can be fun for everyone. Maybe you come up with a submission where everyone sends in a photo of their pet that you put into a newsletter. Perhaps you create a competition for who can send the most texts in a month. Whatever it is, remember to add in that personal, engaging element that is also fun. Think of it akin to a work bonding outing, like going to paintball or on a hike together. Not everything needs to be serious at all times
Although being overly conscious of human connection online can sound like a time-consuming added role to your job, it’s actually one that will melt into your day-to-day pretty naturally. That’s because you, too, need that connection and will come to appreciate it as well in your leadership or training and development role with the company. With these tips, virtual learning and virtual teamwork can become just as personal as learning or working in a physical environment.
For more information on learning development for virtual teams and leading virtual teams, please visit our website to learn more.