As the world shifts from an in-person workforce to an environment defined by virtual collaboration and communication, managers and employees everywhere face a unique challenge: maintaining initiative in this new working reality.
Some employees and managers may take to the new virtual working world like a fish to water. Many others, though – especially ones not used to communicating and collaborating virtually – may find themselves floundering. Not only is that understandable, but it’s also natural; it can be hard to maintain momentum and focus when stripped of those familiar face-to-face interactions.
So, how can you maintain that needed initiative and productivity in the new virtual working world? We sought out the advice of some of our consultants – experts that have been coaching clients for over 15 years on how to be better virtual collaborators.
Here are some strategies from Aperian Global:
For managers – set clear deadlines.
The quickest way to stop momentum and focus? Lack of clear deadlines. In a virtual environment, it’s critical for managers everywhere to make sure employees know exactly what they need to provide – and when they need to deliver it. In terms of technology, using a shared project management tool like Asana allows all team members to understand the interdependencies of their tasks and timelines. Another important note? Be sure to strike the right balance between too much and too little management when it comes to overseeing virtual employees (explore our blog on this balance here).
For employees – ask questions upfront (and often).
Don’t wait until the middle of the project (or the end of one) to clarify those questions you need answered. As stated, clarity is key to effective communication and project initiative. Make sure nothing gets lost in translation for this virtual atmosphere by asking plenty of insightful questions, early and often.
Strategies for Managers and Employees
Understand your work style (and the work styles of others)
Style differences get exacerbated in the virtual environment (as detailed in this blog post). Co-workers and employees that might have different work styles – interdependent vs. independent, risk vs. certainty, direct vs. indirect – can see breakdowns in communication with this virtual environment. Add to that the lack of face-to-face interaction to clear up and remove obstacles to progress, and the pace of virtual projects can slow to a halt. A clear understanding of different work styles (as in the ones profiled on GlobeSmart) can provide a smooth path to overcoming these obstacles and bridging differences in communication. Speaking of technology…
Decide on the best tools and technologies to get the work done.
Email or messaging software? One-on-one interactions or virtual all-hands meetings? Scheduling important check-ins through the virtual meeting software or the email client? Those little – and understandable – differences in the use of crucial tools and technologies can throw considerable obstacles into the communication and collaboration process. Make sure that every employee understands the right time to use the proper application or medium; additionally, make sure you provide the critical training on your tools for members unfamiliar with their regular use.
Re-visit and re-assess projects and processes for the virtual environment.
Crucial elements of projects may shift when moving from in-person work to a virtual environment. To avoid that confusion and frustration that may arise, be sure to step back at crucial points in the project process and take the time to address those specific tasks that may become more difficult virtually – and develop alternatives or improvements.
Look for both formal and informal check-ins.
Beware of burnout! Nothing stifles that much-needed momentum than suddenly hitting a wall of exhaustion. This is a real danger – particularly in the unfamiliar virtual work environment. Create opportunities that mirror the “water cooler” or “coffee break” moments we have in f2f office situations.
Looking to maintain initiative with effective virtual collaboration strategies?