I have another friend who spends weeks at a time in hotels working with his teams and he talks about what he calls ‘Hotel Thursday Lonely”. When you know the end is near and you are heading home, but Thursday is the in – between, the down day.
To me, as one of the virtual team members who works “remote” from the center where it all happens, I know about the other lonely I call “Iceberg Lonely”. A couple times a year my iceberg may float close enough to the mainland that I am part of the home team, but for the most part, I float in isolation. For the most part I like it that way; the autonomy and responsibility of working remotely can be exhilarating. But once in awhile, there is that word – isolation.
Effective leaders recognize that it takes effort to work in a virtual environment and there are a few key practices to change it from isolation to inclusion.
· Use the awesome technology we have at our disposal to keep the team connected. Spending time with the elevator music of the waiting room of conference calls is a small price to pay, and with cameras and meeting software we can be much more connected than just by telephone receiver.
· Have agendas for your meetings. Virtual meetings can feel long and dragged out if there doesn’t seem to be a purpose and before long we all wander off with our attention.
· Allow for a type of water cooler informal interaction between team members rather than plodding through the set agenda for weekly/monthly meetings. A few minutes of “how are things in your area?" brings everyone in around the campfire and sets the tone for open discussion.
· Don’t allow virtual meetings to be hijacked by the “home team” sitting in the room together ignoring those attending virtually – we’ve all sat through meetings where we watch and listen to the laughter without knowing the joke and the discussion without hearing the question.
· Virtual team leadership needs to be a shared experience in order to foster team cohesiveness. There should not be the city mice and the country mice aspects of the team. In other words, opportunities should be shared and equal. Care should be taken so the field mice team is not marginalized due to location and excluded from opportunities and events. This fosters a perception of degrees of value of the team members with respect to each other.
· Recently I was at a meeting with a senior leader who said that one of his priorities is the commitment to not miss 1:1s with his team members and subordinates. And I remember thinking, he had it right. All too often we cancel or have our 1:1s cancelled way too easily, we are too busy, it’s just not convenient. This further marginalizes the virtual team members and precludes them feeling a part of the team story and having a personal part to play in the connectedness of the goals and vision.
These are just a couple areas working with virtual leadership teams that often fall apart and are so easily avoided. The challenge is to work within a virtual team promoting engagement, fairness and clear vision.
Managing the challenges of working with your virtual leadership team and ensuring you don’t inadvertently push the iceberg too far away from the mainland can build a strong diversified team with common purpose.