Leading a virtual team can be a blessing and a challenge; it's great to work with talent from all over the globe, unlimited by physical distance, able to communicate instantaneously. It can be difficult, though, to keep remote team members feeling like a team. When there's no face-to-face time, building cohesiveness and unity can be a challenge. Here are five ways to keep your virtual team feeling connected.
1. Set Up a Virtual Water Cooler
Team building exercises can be great, but it's often the day-to-day casual chat that helps team members find commonalities and build connections. When there's no physical hallway to meet in, however, you've got to provide a virtual counterpart: the digital water cooler where team members can hang out, chat, and casually interact for no particular reason.
Instant messaging is probably the simplest way to go; set one up for your whole team and encourage team members to leave it open during their work times, chat with co-workers, and build connections.
2. Carry the Introductions
When a new team member comes on board, make sure you do the intro right.
There's a good two-step process that will break the ice: first, send out a group email or message, introducing the new team member with a brief biography (a paragraph or two) and description of their job role. Second, use your instant messaging set-up to introduce team members to the new person. Provide a sentence or two about each team member so your newest person can get an idea of who everyone is. Giving a bio for the newest and a bit of introduction for each current member gives everyone an easy way to start conversations.
3. Hold Regular Meetings
Virtual teams can benefit from regularly required interaction, but no one wants to have their time wasted. So schedule a regular meeting, daily or weekly, but keep it short: 5-10 minutes for a daily meeting, 15-30 minutes for weekly.
Set up a format that stays the same, perhaps including a look at progress on the current project(s), goals or focus areas, quick reminders or updates, and input from team members. Keep it brief and consistent for the best results.
4. Promote Shared Goals
Even on a small team, work has to be divided into individual assignments. That's necessary, so everyone knows what to do. However, splitting a team project into separate tasks can lead team members to feel like they're working alone.
As team lead, you can bring back the common vision by reminding team members of the shared goals; bring the individual tasks and contributions back into perspective as part of the bigger picture, so everyone can see how their piece fits into the team puzzle.
Your regular meetings are a good time to promote the shared goals, reminding folks of overall progress on projects as well as efforts still needed. You can also use emails, messages, and instant messaging to keep your team informed and reminded that each individual contributes to team success.
5. Build a Strong Team
To build a strong team, don't rely on a haphazard approach. Be proactive. Be purposeful. Learn about what makes a team strong, and then change your leadership approach, as needed, to help your team grow stronger.
Resist the urge to micromanage--autonomy is important to high-achievers--and give appropriate freedom with assigned responsibilities. By rewarding great work and effort, and building rapport, yourself, with individual team members, you'll unify, connect, and encourage your whole team.