Lesson #2 From Early Adopters – Virtual Team Members Come With Their Own Habits

This week’s blog is the continuation of a series five blogs that highlight lessons learned and best practices everyone can use in their own remote workers and virtual teams. In the last blog post, I (Trina) talked about the 1st Lesson Learned – The Powerful Role of the Virtual Leader. This is also a quick course available to you through Virtual Workplace University.

Kathy and I have been training virtual and flex managers for years, developing training programs with clients that were early adopters. We and our clients realized early on how critical managers are to have thriving, high-performance virtual teams, so we prioritized support for the leaders and the virtual team members. If you missed the 1st Lessons Learned post (or haven’t read Working Virtually yet), we reviewed how and why strong team leadership is critical in the mobile workplace.

Adapting to New Teams and Mobile Work

Today I want to highlight Kathy’s and my 2nd Lesson Learned as early adopters – People Come to Teams with Their Own Habits. People always bring their own habits and histories with them when they start a new job or join a new team. Especially for those of us who taught ourselves how to use technology tools and apps, we tend to stick with the way we know and the tools we’ve learned – staying in our comfort zone when we can. We have individual document and version control back up and storage habits. People have different document editing preferences – Comments, Track Changes, or both? Do you have document naming protocols that have become your habit? Are you one to pick up the phone, reach out on Skype chat or Yammer? Do you usually send email? What project management processes or tools do you prefer?

Even though it’s understandable, if not inevitable, individualized habits don’t necessarily sync up with high-performing teams or the efficient organization. A co-located team’s norms change whenever some or all team members move to a mobile work environment. This change impacts how teams work and communicate together. Organizations help by providing some structure that serves. Protocols pull individuals into a common process with clearly outlined rules of engagement. At minimum, new teams or teams moving to a mobile work environment need to meet and agree to some basic protocols and team agreements.

Start with the most important and simple – communication. Who needs to communicate with whom, about what? Who else needs to be involved, informed, or is impacted? How and how often does the team and impacted departments/people meet?

When you can, accommodate team member preferences and habits about how they communicate, collaborate, organize files and folders. Most organizations have templates, meeting agendas, status reports, and other guidelines for teams to use as standard operating procedures by everyone. New organization members will need onboarding and minimal education to conform. Each team has its own cultural and operational habits in addition to organization norms. What are the shared habits of your team? Some people like ongoing, open chat rooms or message boards, such as Yammer or Skype for business chat. Some prefer to be less available and ask for people to “virtually knock” before initiating a live, synchronous conversation. What are most people in agreement about? What does the work require? Who needs to communicate with whom? About what? How often? Through what communication option? Who else needs to be involved or informed?

You may need to adjust shared agreements regarding team communication and work agreements as the team launches itself virtually. Engage everyone in determining how to work and communicate together and apart. Have your team negotiate team habits that develop into team rhythms and flows that keep everyone connected to each other, the work, and the organization. Articulate how and why the team works together differently when moving to a mobile work environment.

In a very real sense, by answering these and other relevant questions, you and your team are structuring swift trust. When everyone is functioning within the team and communication agreements, genuine trust can then develop because team members have proven themselves accountable and reliable. After all, workplace trust is as simple as believing what people say because they do what they say they will or renegotiate if the expectations change.

If you and your teams can negotiate answers those questions – and then follow the protocols, adjusting as needed – you are well on your way to becoming a high-performance, high-trust team that maintains or improves its previous productivity levels.

Most employees struggle at first to change their personal habits to accommodate needed, new team habits. Be patient with yourselves and each other, but do not relent about the changes needed. Otherwise, too much team and leader time is spent bending like a pretzel to accommodate too many forums and means of communication and document handling. Also, individual productivity, team efficiency, and often, end results usually suffer if everyone isn’t in sync operationally.

Teams and leaders also need to be trained in collaborative tools that simplify team processes and bridge virtual distance. This lays a strong foundation for people empowerment, a critical cultural norm in a virtual work environment. Collaboration know-how builds virtual team competence and confidence. What must organizations and virtual team leaders do to support this effort?

These are concrete operational tasks that put virtual teams on the 1st Path of High-Performance Virtual Teams.Ô You are intentionally developing your team’s habits. In doing so, you are also developing your virtual team’s culture. These simple tips help teams prepare for the virtual workplace and develop new behaviors that enable everyone to do their best work.


The 1st Path on the Threefold Path to High-PerformanceVirtual Teams

Next Time – Lesson #3 The Network is the New Workplace

People don’t understand the impact of virtual distance and how it can/will dumb down a team if everyone doesn’t become more intentional about work flow, communication, and how to connect on the network instead of a break room.  Our next SMART Workplace blog post discusses the simple mind shifts that opens options for work teams.

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Next month, Kathy and I are excited to share our experience and knowledge at the @FlexJobs TRaD Works Forum this Sept 27-29 in D.C.!  Consider joining us there to explore how remote work can work for you and your organization too.  I/Trina Hoefling am privileged to share a panel with Amy Gallo, Contributing Editor at Harvard Business Review and Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Company. Our panel moderator, Aliah Wright and Online Editor at SHRM, will lead a lively discussion on September 29 about The Power of Transparency, Open Communication and Accountability in a TRaD Workforce. Kathy Kacher will lead a round table discussion on #remotework also.

If you’re there, let’s connect and talk about #remote work!