The drive to reduce corporate expenses and the availability of communications technology are converging to impact the way we work and the way we lead.  In the traditional work environment we rely on physical proximity to access the spirit and energy of teams.  In contrast, the virtual team is tasked with building the same sense of community and shared purpose but from physically diverse locations.  How do we do this?  How do we leverage our current skills to build success on a virtual team?

The key is in our communications and the way we convey the common purpose of the group.  Since gatherings play such a big role in building shared purpose, this article will address meetings and the special considerations of virtual team meetings.

Inviting remote team members to a meeting creates new responsibilities for the leader.  For instance, how many time zones are involved?  There’s an excellent meeting-planning tool at timeanddate.com that allows you to input the meeting date and attendee cities to calculate best times.  The date feature is important as not all areas participate in daylight savings time.  Ask me how I learned that important lesson!  By the way, remember to name the time zone when announcing your meeting.  Publishing meeting events with no time zone is inviting disaster – especially if we are including junior members who may not have had exposure to working with multiple time zones.

Build trust with team members one-on-one.  Members of a virtual team who know they are trusted will be more forthcoming with ideas and will challenge group think in a healthy way.  Use one-on-one time to ensure each team member understands the bigger picture and is aligned with the individual contribution they can make.

Be aware of the group dynamic during meetings.  The most challenging meetings are those where some team members are gathered in the same room while others dial in.  Part of the challenge stems from our natural propensity for communicating through body language.  Think about the last meeting you attended in person.  How many questions were answered with a head nod, a sideways glance or perhaps by silently pointing to a sheet of paper?  We can counteract some of this by narrating for the remote members.  This inclusive behavior will keep your remote teammates informed and will also help everyone learn virtual meeting best practices.

Pick your meeting tools and stick with them.   If there are handouts, ensure they are sent to everyone in advance.  Avoid the temptation to create documents last minute that are handed to in-person attendees leaving the remote members at a loss.  If you have chosen to use net conferencing technology, familiarize yourself fully with tool functionality to increase group participation.

It’s not totally up to the leader and in-person attendees to make things work well.  Remote attendees can also contribute to the overall success of the meeting in several ways.  Cell phone use should be avoided as this adds static and background noise that could make the call ineffective for others. Identifying themselves before speaking will foster engagement and understanding among the entire group. And perhaps the biggest challenge of all, remote attendees are responsible for remaining fully engaged during the call.  This means not placing the call on hold and no backgrounding (checking email messages or doing other unrelated work).

Please feel free to share your experience or comments in the box below.  And thanks for stopping by.

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