Virtual teams are becoming far more commonplace in the workforce these days. If you are new to this flexible, virtual environment, there are a few rules of thumb we recommend to ensure success!
At ttcInnovations, our best practice is to respond within four business hours, whether by email, voicemail, or other communication. If you don’t have the information at your fingertips to respond in that time frame, just let the recipient know! A quick reply to say that you’ve seen their email and are gathering information goes a long way for building rapport.
We also keep our calendars current with all our appointments (both work-related and personal) so that colleagues can take a quick look to see if we are busy or not. Don’t keep people guessing on where you are or whether you are going to meet that deadline. Communication builds trust — a key part of any relationship.
2. Ask Questions!
If there is confusion surrounding a topic or situation and you don’t speak up right away to gain clarification, it can cause bigger issues in the long run. Remember, your teammates can’t see your body language or facial expressions on conference calls, so speak up! It’s likely someone else on the team may have a similar question. Some great clarifying questions to ask in any situation are: When is this due? What is your vision for the final product?
You can also use some classic listening techniques such as repeating information back in your own words or repeating the information in the form of a question. Another great way to avoid confusion and misunderstanding is to briefly summarize your meeting and list next steps for everyone involved.
3. Keep Calm and Carry On!
Don’t jump to the sky-is-falling mentality when you hit the first speed bump on a project. Staying calm, cool, and collected (easier said than done!) usually means a faster resolution. Deal with the facts, not the emotions, to problem solve effectively and get past the issue. If you are communicating through IM or email, messages with emotional content can be misunderstood, so your best option might be to pick up the phone or have a video chat instead. When communicating via email, use the High Importance flag sparingly and only for truly urgent situations. Be wary of the Caps Lock key and exclamation points, as they can escalate emotions unnecessarily.
4. Be Accessible!
Just like a physical work space, if you keep to yourself in a virtual work environment, people will generally leave you to it. But this is rarely an enjoyable space to be, especially when collaboration is a key element to success in your role and the organization as a whole. You can “put yourself out there” by doing the things previously discussed: keep your commitments current in your calendar, be available for IMs, and on occasion, pick up the phone instead of sending an email. When your team members know when and how they can reach you and that you won’t respond with a put-out attitude — they will appreciate and trust you all the more.
5. Be a team player!
In case you hadn’t caught on already, the best way to be successful on any team is to focus on the team itself. There is a common phrase echoed throughout school, work, and life in general: “You get out what you put in.” This goes for your virtual team especially. Having a culture of recognition and support goes a long way in drawing the best out of your team members. It also creates an environment where people feel safe to state their opinions and contribute new ideas, thereby encouraging them to constantly bring innovative concepts to the table!
Another way to “put in” is to remain flexible. Flexible people are less likely to get their noses out of joint when unexpected circumstances arise or misunderstandings occur — both common in a virtual environment, but nothing that has to be completely derailing.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you leverage the best advantages a virtual team offers — both as a team member and as an employer.
At ttcInnovations, we endeavor to support our virtual team not only by using these tips we’ve given you, but in two other significant ways as well — through a peer mentorship service and a resource called the ttcAcademy. Our peer mentorship service is where we have a seasoned contractor partner with a new hire in real time to show them the ropes of working on a project in our environment. The mentor guides the mentee through our specific processes, acts as an extra pair of eyes when it comes to preparing the first deliverables, and even provides client-specific guidance and tips! The ttcAcademy is a resource that houses a micro-learning series on ttc culture, quick links to all the sites we commonly use as a team, a glossary of industry and company terms, FAQs, our Knowledge Base, and more.