It’s been one year since I started in my new role as Global Social Media Manager with Adecco. Whereas before I was part of one local Marketing team, I now belonged to a small decentralized team that has relations and touchpoints with many different teams at global and local level. It has tought me a lot, about working and about myself. Do I now know better, what type of worker I am? I think so. What I would like to share with your is a list of things that worked well for me.
But why is defining a list so important? Last year we have looked at how social media has an impact at how employers look at candidates and how candidates look at employers in the Global Social Recruiting Study. This year we extended the focus from Social Recruiting and also included a focus on Work Trends. When looking at how work and the work environment changes we not only need to look at the initial contact, social media, but also how we work together after signing a contract. And since in the recent past, society has been changing the dimension to work, such as time, location and technology, we can focus on some of these elements for today. One element driving the change in the work environment, is working in digital teams, being seperated by hundreds of kilometers or the fact that we want to work in different locations from time to time (co-working spaces, home-office, other company-owned locations in other countries etc).
Working in a digital team needs different rules than what we are used to, some of them I will describe below. Digital teams are often made up of colleagues from different countries, cultural backgrounds, expertises or even industries. Communication is not as easy as when you are sharing one office or are sitting in the same building. So, what can help in improving the communication?
- I once read a blog article about how teamwork works when everyone sits in other parts of the world. The most invaluable piece of advice was an update email to your boss once a week. Since our inboxes are constantly overflowing, it becomes almost impossible at one point to answer them all. In order to make your boss’s life easier, you can just summarize what you have been up the past week and include a list of questions or actions points where you need support. As a bonus, this will make your next performance review so much easier as your boss will know what you have been doing (or not).
- Make sure you have team calls regularly. When we don’t see each other we tend to lose track of each other. We don’t share office gossip and we can’t ask to go for a quick coffee and talk about other things than work. If you don’t schedule calls regularly, it might happen that you don’t speak within two weeks, especially if you don’t share projects with each other.
- Define your work location. It can help to have an understanding with your boss from where you are working. That can be your home office, your company’s official office closeby or even a coworking space. It can also partly help to understand when you are available for your team. For me, since I am not part of any projects locally, it is very important to have a physical work location and to be able to say “I am going to the office now, honey”. As a digital person at heart, this also helps me to seperate private and office life (see also point 8) and to set at least some boundaries.
- Meet. If you want to be a team, you need to meet in person. Otherwise, how will you be able to understand your team mates? How their body language or their intonation when speaking implies certain things? You have to interact in order to work properly in the digital sphere. Make sure that you are not just meeting for your projects, but that you are also going for dinners or even team-building events.
- Meet your key stakeholders. Even though we try to keep travelling to a minimum, it is very sensible to meet the people you are working with (directly relates to Nr. 4). You will have a better work-relationship when people know you and you are not just someone spamming their inbox regularly. It also helps in understanding them better, what their pain points are and where cooperations are helpful or you could improve your own work to help them more. Meeting in real life, not just on screen can prove to be invaluable.
- If you can’t meet, use your webcam as much as possible. When you are talking to people all day long through a phone, you might get the feeling that you are talking to a machine. It can help if you are turning on your webcam and also ask your peer to do the same. You will feel more connected. At last, we are all social beings.
- Get your software right. You will be constantly in sharing and talking mode, either for presentations or trainings or brainstormings. Having software that works for everyone plus local dial-in numbers where internet connections are too slow to use voice-over-ip will make your life easier. Also, recording sessions for those working in other time zones is great. If you start a session and you have to solve technical issues for the first 10 minutes, you will lose 70 percent of your audience and you will look unprofessional.
- Connect with colleagues on social media. Be honest, you get enough Emails already plus you are checking your Facebook feed anyways, right? So why not connect with your colleagues, too? You can share your holiday updates just the same as your work-related news. If you don’t feel comfortable about sharing private stuff, than you can use Facebook sharing settings to do that. But that’s another topic. And you will discover that many colleagues are sharing work-related updates, be it campaigns or team events or team sports workouts. The point is, you need to be connected as you are not working with those people in one office. In order to have an overview on who is who and who does what and what is happening where, connecting socially will help you accomplish it.
- Define languages. This might sound trivial, but if you are not sharing the same mother language or if you have uneven spread of languages shared in your team, you need to define rules. This can be as simple as “when we are in one (virtual) room, we only speak XYZ“. I usually do not have a problem when colleagues speak in a different language which I only vaguely understand but am not able to speak, as long as we can switch back to a shared language for discussions. It is okay to clarify quickly on lunch organization in the mother language and then switch back to the shared language. What is not okay is, if you are sharing a table or are starting a discussion in the less common language and thus leaving colleagues in the dark, not being able to participate. If you do not discuss how to handle language in your team, this might become an issue without you realizing it since the affected colleague will not raise the issue most of the time. So, be proactive about it.
The red line in all these points is human connection. The less we see each other, the more we need to make an effort in defining the way we interact and communicate with each other.
What is your point of view on working in a virtual team? Have you made good experiences? What advise would you give others? Let me know in the comment box!