We’ve been thrust into the “Future of Work” by the circumstances of 2020 and are now working within or leading largely virtual teams. It is a new world, and many teams are struggling. So what is missing? What are the gaps in this new environment and why are leaders and their teams challenged to adapt?
What Are We Missing?
Working remotely and virtually is not a new concept. There are certainly advantages, including a boundary-less opportunity to win and serve new clients, build partnerships and access talent and resources more efficiently. But in my work with numerous leaders and business teams across several industries in the past 9 months, there are foundational elements that many are struggling to replicate in this virtual environment. How is your team adapting? Here are the four “C’s” that I’ve seen eroding:
Communication is key in any team. The frequency and mode of communication being used in our virtual teams is making communication more challenging, and not as impactful. Text, Slack and email use is on the rise and an increasing part of our new cadence of communication. But these methods are one-way in nature, express no emotion and often lead to confusion and messages not being clear or understood by the recipient.
A great amount of communication is non-verbal. The cues we pick up from tone of voice, visual clues of posture and facial expressions convey the majority of what we process and take away. Our human wiring relies heavily on these elements to guide our communication, but many of these are now lost or diminished in the virtual environment. Using video to connect and communicate across our teams is absolutely an asset and a key tool we should leverage. But large group video meetings from morning to night where we stare at 9 faces simultaneously is not at all how we are wired to communicate! We cannot process the subtle squinting of an eye that a key stakeholder or participant may reveal while our brain tries to interpret 9 different faces as our eyes move across a screen. If you engage too much in this activity, it taxes you and leads to a phenomenon known as “Zoom Fatigue.” Our teammates are finding the repetition draining and the communication approach lacks both clarity and inspiration.
Leaders and teams are greatly under-estimating how much we learn contextually. Through virtual work, the indirect learning that we get from situations, experiences and interactions is significantly reduced. For example, when a team hires and onboards a new employee in a remote environment, very little context is being shared which can greatly slow down the learning process. But it is not confined to onboarding new members. Contextual learning is lower for all of us and the ability to rapidly adjust, test and learn and pivot is impacted.
Creativity and innovation are also suffering in this new environment. When people are fearful or anxious, they reduce risk-taking, and revert to “safe” activities that they know and do well. But in order to solve big problems, win new customers and overcome the challenges we currently face, we need our teammates to share their best ideas, create new ones and take on intelligent risk through new actions. So many are fearful and confused in the current environment and this leads to a direct and dangerous drop in ideation and creativity.
The virtual world has greatly reduced our opportunity to collaborate, and we miss it! There are no white boarding conversations where we create our vision, no dynamic teamwork sessions where we solve big problems, no conversations in between the meetings to nurture work relationships. Across industries and across job types, the comradery and collaboration that a robust team shares is largely absent. If left unchecked, this comes with a significant price.
The Leadership Difference
So is your team or organization missing one or more of the “C’s” above? As a leader, you can make all the difference to turn this around. The first step is doing a fair assessment of these important areas, and getting a clear picture of how your team is experiencing the elements in the current environment. Through intentional actions and focus, we can improve and address each of these key areas which lead to greater team success and engagement.
Creating a virtual team that can communicate, learn and partner together and accomplish its goals requires leadership agility and overcoming significant obstacles. If your organization is missing some of the key elements being lost in virtual teams and wants to improve leadership and team performance, contact The Leader’s Evolution to schedule a consulting or coaching session with Ken.