Humans crave community. In fact, our survival depends on it. It’s true in our personal lives and it’s true at work, too.
Community does not necessarily develop as fluidly and naturally when managing virtual teams as when managing collocated teams. Purposefully cultivating a sense of community is often overlooked when managing and supervising virtual teams.
However, if you don’t create a vibrant community for virtual employees to belong to, they will find their own community. Again, it is part of our very fabric to feel a part of something. So if virtual team members are not finding community in the workplace ether, they might find it on social media through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. Or they might find it in their actual physical community by walking the dog, hanging out with neighbors during work hours, or spending time in local coffee shops and other haunts . . . not working. Or they may fall back on other communities that they already belong to like extended family and friends.
To create a virtual team that truly embodies community (that is commitment to one another, ability to be vulnerable, and a strong desire to see the team succeed) requires conscious, deliberate action.
Here are four steps to create community in virtual teams:
1. Get together in person early and often.
Advocate tirelessly for a budget to bring team members together early and often. Although the tools for communicating and collaborating virtually have improved dramatically over the last decade, there is still no replacement for face-to-face interaction. Team members will build trust more swiftly, have a greater sense of comfort with one another and come to rely on each other the more opportunities they have to spend time together in the same room.
2. Get to know team members.
Into every team interaction, build opportunities for team members to get to know one another better. Whether it is a simple round-robin roll call where you ask what people ate for breakfast or where they’d go on vacation if they had an unlimited budget, create opportunities for them to share small, relatively low-risk information about themselves. As they build social cohesion, the team will become stronger and work together better.
3. Create spaces and places for informal interaction.
Whether it be through an enterprise wide tool like Yammer, Honey or Slack, or using a public platform like a private group on Facebook, team members need a place to gather, exchange ideas and be social. Consciously create the places and spaces for your virtual team members to hang out and communicate virtually. And then get yourself there and model the behavior you’d like to see.
4. Regularly communicate the story of the team
While it might seem commonplace to you, your team members need to hear the story of their team regularly and told with conviction. Include why it was formed, what it’s goals are and how it fits into the mission of the broader organization. When team members feel like their team is by design rather than by accident and fulfilling a critical role in the organization, they will be more likely to be committed and engaged.
What are your favorite techniques for creating community in your virtual team?
Share your ideas in the comments below.