Working in Virtual Teams During the COVID – 19 Crisis

During this crisis, changes are occurring rapidly within the business environment.  The focus of many businesses remains on ensuring that their supply chain is working and customers’ needs are being met.  However this is taking place with few employees or employees working from their homes rather than their offices.

This article focuses on one aspect of working from home, managing virtual teams.  The fourth module of the International Masters Program for Managers is the Collaborative Mindset, Managing Relationships.   It looks at how we collaborate we other units, with other businesses and within our own teams and organizations.   The crisis we are now in has not changed the need to collaborate but has forced changes in how we work together.  Some of us have been working in virtual teams for years, from home or from our offices. However, now with many employees working exclusively from home because of the COVID 19 virus, managers are facing the need to restructure work and this includes managing employees and teams virtually.

Here are a few suggestions for managing your teams virtually during this crisis and, potentially in the longer term.

With all of the technology available today, there are many options outside of email and teleconferencing to work together.  Try to use video for at least some interactions to increase the feeling of connectedness.

  1. Continue some of the same routines that you had when you could meet face to face.  A regular check-in will serve three functions during this time. 
    • A check-in allows staff to feel connected with each other.  Depending on family situations, this check-in may be the only contact they have with other individuals throughout the day.
    • The check-in also provides an opportunity to get feedback on how employees are faring, not only in terms of the work they are performing but also on their wellbeing.
      I have received comments from employees working at a large institution that the town hall meetings that are run weekly not only provide information from the senior management but have also shown that people come first.  Senior management has been open to all questions and has shared more information with employees than would normally be the case.
    • This check-in is also a time to set the priorities based on the changes that are occurring daily.  Governments are changing their policies often as they react to the advice of medical experts and others in terms of COVID 19.
  2. For virtual team meetings, just as in other working teams, rules and norms for communication should be established. If it is a large team meeting, you may want to control who speaks and when. Remember that there may be more miscommunication during this time as you will be missing some of the visual cues that are part of face-to-face communications. Give time for clarification.
  3. As in all team meetings, try to adhere to an agenda and keep members engaged. It is much easier in virtual meetings for members to be distracted and work on other projects at the same time.
  4. Not all of your team members will adapt as quickly to working virtually. Your regular check-ins can provide the opportunity for others to share their ideas of how they are coping and managing their work. At a time like this, the expertise is distributed among all and it is the managers’ duty to create the environment in which these ideas can be shared.
  5. Finally, one manager I know had a Happy Hour, a social hour virtually at the end of the day with her team.  Rules were simply – No discussing work-related issues.  Learning about each other is a great way to cultivate empathy and in this case employees shared more about their personal lives than they did in the face to face work socials.

This is a new world for all managers and employees. We can maintain great working teams with trust and openness so we can learn from each other.

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