Working virtually means more time spent in interactions with team members. The amount of time spent planning for communication and in the act of communicating itself is at least double what it is for a co-located team. In addition to the formal meetings, the virtual manager must find ways to mimic the informal and unplanned interactions that a co-located team has, like catching someone in the hall and chatting. Co-located teams inadvertently use these unplanned interactions as predecessors for solving problems and getting work done. It is possible to virtually create informal and unplanned ways that the team can interact on a regular basis.

The manager is like a host at the party. The host has some relationship with each guest. The manager wants to create a safe and interesting virtual place that team members want to show up at and share. A good host welcomes and appreciates their guests. A good host is interested in their guests, is curious, polite, and concerned for their guests’ comfort. A good host also knows when the guest wants to leave and get work done. The great host can ask good questions, is friendly, approachable, and fun. Here are examples of how some managers have created informal gathering spots:

1.    Daily five-minute phone or video calls with each team member. Thirty minutes a day is all it takes to have a five-minute phone call with six team members. For larger teams, either every other day or connecting to key contacts is suggested.

2.    Create a virtual water cooler. Keep an open online communication like chat room open all the time for team members to just hang out. Declare, “Break times,” “lunch,” “game time,” “check-in times.”

3.    Hold virtual office hours. Be online, have open phone lines or chat rooms available at regular times daily or weekly.

4.    Create challenges and competitions. The more relevant to the results, the better, make them educational, interesting, and fun.

5.    Create a proactive, positive, and professional relationship with each team member. It’s about understanding and showing gratitude for who they are, what their career is about and how they can contribute now and in the future.

6.    Make the Implicit, explicit.  People don’t like to not know or understand. When letting them know, they will feel more connected. Share what seems obvious. This could be things like weather, holidays, a dog, or a person in the background.

7.    Start with Gratitude.  Set the tone of appreciation. Start by authentically appreciating something about the person, team, or project.

What have you done or seen done that made you feel welcomed virtually?

This was excerpted from the article, Virtual Teams Best Practices.