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Words of Wisdom for Managing Virtual Teams

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The Center for the Advancement of Virtual Organizations (CAVO) in the School of Business welcomed Catherine Mattiske as its first Visiting Virtual Expert in 2021.  A leading expert on virtual teams, Catherine is the founder and CEO of TPC, a thought-leader for corporate learning and development, and inventor of the globally acclaimed learning design system, ID9 Intelligent Design. In her 2020 book Leading Virtual Teams: Managing from a distance during the coronavirus, she shares practical insider secrets to her success and, through a series of interviews, shows how organizations have transitioned during the COVID-19 pandemic. I recently asked Catherine to share her insight and knowledge in response to the following questions.

How is the traditional workday of 9-5 changed in the virtual environment?

Working from home has allowed teams more freedom to choose how their daily schedules look.  Companies now realize that the employee experience is no longer limited to a desk in a city building.  For many years, one of my clients stated that productivity would plummet if their employees worked from home.  For them, during COVID, the exact opposite happened, forcing them to relook at their limiting beliefs.

For someone new to working virtually, what are some ways they could build relationships with coworkers?

Firstly, I would recommend asking their manager for the ground rules.  How does the team work together, establish plans, set schedules, monitor projects, give feedback, recognize accomplishments, organize meetings, and more.  Then, go informal!  Book a ‘virtual coffee meeting’ with each coworker as a way of getting to know them.

What are some positive ways to deal with difficult people in a remote environment?

Many years ago, I was taught, ‘There’s no such thing as difficult people. They are just different to you.’  It’s never left me.  Strong bonds enable teams to withstand difficult situations, even with different people!  It is more confronting to receive feedback from someone the team member has never met and may have a more limited trust bias.  Team dynamics in virtual environments can provide Virtual Managers with additional challenges.  Remember, laughter shortens the distance between two people.  It is imperative to try to see the humor in the situation if virtual activities do not turn out exactly the way you planned or in other cases where something goes awry.  In difficult situations involving an entire team, encourage participation from each person on the team and then make a point of talking to those severely impacted offline in separate conversations.  Often, what happens is not important as your response to what happens. I am a fan of the ‘no agenda coffee chat’ where a more relaxed virtual call is sometimes more productive than formal virtual meetings. 

Learn more from Catherine by attending the CAVO 2021 Virtual Conference, Shaping the Future of Virtual Work, June 15-17. More information can be found on the CAVO homepage: