Social distancing and working from home have scattered our workforces, pushing many of us outside our comfort zones and creating entirely new ways to work and communicate. For those responsible for leading virtual teams, maintaining employee morale and motivation is critical as staff members feel increasingly isolated.
Whether in times of normalcy or uncertainty, the most crucial aspect of keeping employees engaged is making them feel valued, helping them understand their role within the bigger picture and minimizing their isolation. Experts tell us that regular communication and shared identity within a team can mediate the effects of physical separation.
Be sure to address these three areas to maintain team morale and motivation while leading virtual teams.
Both formal and informal communication methods are being challenged in today’s virtual workplace. We must work a little harder to share what we’re thinking and what we need from one another. Frequent remote meetings with team members are critical in any off-site arrangement, but don’t forget the importance of casual conversations to strengthen relationships between team members.
- Schedule video meetings whenever possible, one-on-one and as a team. The face-to-face connection goes a long way toward strengthening commitment and accountability.
- Make time for informal conversations. Don’t be afraid of casual chit-chat or catching up. Team members who typically work in an office need an opportunity for “hallway” conversations to happen virtually.
- Be clear and concise in written communications. Employees who are used to in-person discussions to review projects and important topics may now be communicating with colleagues electronically. Encourage your team to proofread their emails — not just for spelling and grammar, but for tone and content.
Authentic relationships and transparency among leaders and team members are foundational to strong, healthy organizational cultures. As a manager, one of your primary responsibilities is to create a sense of community with your staff. Distance makes connection a bit harder to achieve, but not impossible.
- Make meetings fun. Take time to break up the monotony of the virtual, flat-screen meeting. Start a meeting with show and tell, a trivia game, ice breaker or scavenger hunt (first one back with a cooking utensil, stuffed animal, funny hat, pet, vacation souvenir, baby picture) … the possibilities are endless!
- Arrange extracurricular virtual team activities, such as cooking classes, yoga or coffee breaks. Mail ingredients to make s’mores and have a virtual campfire. Create casual learning opportunities through virtual lunch and learns and TED Talks.
- Take time during staff meetings to check-in. Ask your team, “What are you reading? …cooking? …watching? …making?” and allow them to share learnings.
Creating opportunities for connection are even more critical for employees who may be working remotely for the first time. Treating them the same as those who are accustomed to working from home may unintentionally disconnect them even more. Unlike a typical remote employee, our shelter-in-place workforce did not choose their current situation. They did not have the opportunity to plan for and establish a separate and distinct work area, and the “mothership” they’re accustomed to is gone … or at least suspended in space. Carving out time to help them adjust and remind them of their value will strengthen connections as they navigate what may feel like chaos.
Employee engagement has always been the key to a committed, productive workforce, and team morale and motivation are directly linked to people’s perceived feelings of value. When leading virtual teams, managers must engage employees a little differently. You may have to ask more questions or be more specific in reminding staff of their organizational worth. Now is the time to be intentional about connecting your people to their purpose.
- Allow people to share their successes, especially the small ones that may not make weekly or monthly reports.
- Ensure your team has what they need. Be available. Touch base regularly and often. Clarify expectations and deadlines. Follow up and follow through with your commitments. Remember that without the regular interruptions and distractions of the office, people are more focused on their tasks. The longer they are seemingly waiting on you, the more frustrated they may become.
- Use this time as an opportunity to invite your team members to learn new things by attending virtual trainings. This will reinforce and increase their value to the organization.
As you lead virtual teams, focusing on organizational communication, connection and commitment will enable your nonprofit team to not only survive times of uncertainty, but to thrive moving forward.
Margarita Sarmiento has more than 25 years of management, training and facilitation experience in professional development, team building, leadership, organizational planning, board development, cross-cultural communication and diversity. She has worked in corporate management and training with Progressive Companies, Busch Entertainment Corporation and the National Conference for Community & Justice — Tampa Bay. She’s also an active trainer and facilitator for NLC.