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Tips on Keeping Virtual Teams Productive

Posted by vishalsinghal on March 27, 2009

Karen Sobel Lojeski, Ph.D. is Visiting Assistant Professor Department of Technology and Society, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York.

Karen has given 5 tips on keeping the virtual teams productive:

  1. Introduce yourself to someone new. Sometimes the monotony as well as the stress of the times can make virtual team members feel not only physically isolated but also trapped inside small circles. Write a letter to someone new and take the time to introduce yourself. Don’t worry about whether they return the favor right away, or if at all. Virtual team members get a lift when they take charge of expanding their own networks.
  2. Mix-up communication modes—if you have been on email or social software sites all day, take a break and make a phone call to a virtual team member to “hear” how they are doing and swap a story or two. If you’ve been sitting at your desk all day, take a break, go out to a coffee shop and try to engage with another human being face to face, even if it is a casual conversation. People can often lose perspective on the world when stressed for time and when there is no human to human interaction for long periods of time.
  3. Coach virtual team members on how to juggle multiple priorities and competing goals. As the number of resources shrink and work piles up for any given individual, it’s sometimes hard to know what should come first, second, third, tenth, on the list of things to do. Facilitate sessions where virtual team members talk about their workload and encourage others to help them prioritize and stay on track. As a team leader, make regular calls to team members to make sure they are not becoming overwhelmed and give them “permission” to take breaks and time out to be with family and friends to renew energy and focus.
  4. Put things into context—leaders need to help virtual team members understand where/how other team members work and live. Context is critical for being able to identify with other virtual team members. Take time to talk about where other team members work, the kinds of things they do on weekends or in their time away from the office. Knowing the context in which others work and live is critical to establishing trust among virtual team members.
  5. Communicate, Confirm, Console, Cajole. When times get tough it is hard to avoid thinking that one is alone in their worry or anxiety. But the truth of the matter is that with good communications, virtual team members can take solace in knowing that while times are tough, and getting tougher, they are not alone. In fact, their virtual team can be a source of comfort in times of uncertainty. The leader and other key members should take the time to communicate—not JUST via email—but through phone and video when possible to get team members together regularly to talk about project issues but also about how people are feeling and what they can do to relieve stress.
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