If trust is the glue that connects and creates a High Performing Team, and if trust is created through spontaneous “coffee-corner chit-chat” or sharing a beer or coke after work, it’s no wonder we often struggle to feel connected to our team members when working remotely.
A recent study found that although remote teams have caught up with centrally located teams in terms of brainstorming, setting goals and project management, they are still lagging when it comes to feeling connected.
Ideally, our virtual communication techniques should replicate what we do (often without much effort) in a same-office team. The three small gestures below can help you create that bond which builds trust, which in turn builds team spirit and accountability and which finally helps increases team performance.
1. Replicate the office coffee-corner virtually
Invite a colleague for a morning coffee just to say, “Hi”. The invitation is literally for 5 minutes. It doesn’t involve talking about work, it is purely to say, “How are things?” Don’t forget to switch on the camera.
This might seem unnatural initially, but just think about what happens naturally at the coffee corner in the office. While preparing your preferred drink you see colleagues from other departments and business units and you have that quick, 3-minute chat about the weekend, about your kids, about movies or perhaps about a new running route you’ve just discovered.
What is so important about these quick exchanges? These short dialogues show who you are as a person other than just as a business colleague and they create a bond. By opening up like this, we show, and see in return, a human side to the person that we find difficult to imagine through email exchanges. We discover what we have in common and these commonalities are what help us build a relationship, build trust and therefore accountability.
2. Virtual after-work drinks
Before Coronavirus this seemed like a far-fetched thought for many. Since we have been locked up for weeks and craving conversation, it seems more natural and it’s been great to see how many people have picked up on it. Invite your colleagues for a drink after work. You grab a beer, they grab a coke, an ice -tea, a prosecco, maybe a cappuccino depending on what time zone you are all in. Whatever the refreshment, it’s time for relaxing and talking about whatever comes to your mind and exchanging on a more personal note. This is not the 3-minute chat from above. Allow some time to give people the opportunity to open up. If you’re not a natural talker, or you have some introverts on the team who might struggle to open up, think of easy subjects to talk about that are not too personal such as travel ideas, food, national celebrations and traditions in your colleagues’ countries that you might be curious about.
3. Include ice-breakers into your weekly virtual ops meetings
When we go to a same office face-to-face meeting, usually one or two people arrive a few minutes earlier than the crowd and a short discussion starts. As each person slips into the meeting room the discussion opens up with more people adding what they have to say and each new added sentence gives us insight into the person sitting in front of us. Often, these spontaneous discussions lead to creative ideas. This is a an element that is often missing in team conference calls. When we join conference calls where one person is sitting in Kuala Lumpur, one in Sydney and a third and fourth in Zurich and Stockholm, we don’t take the time to break the ice this way. We log-into the meeting one minute before it starts, the host welcomes everyone and the meeting begins.
If you’re running a virtual team meeting find some 3-4 minute icebreakers you can use. Make them short and fun. They can be as personal or impersonal as you feel is appropriate for the team. For example, ask each team member to send a photo of themselves when they were 5 years old. The others have to guess who it is. Or everyone uploads their favourite film /book/football player/pair of shoes and you need to guess which object belongs to which team member.
Always remember to switch on your camera in these sessions and find a way to convince the others to do so too. It is extraordinary how a smile can help interpret emotions that are usually very dfficult to read over the phone or through email. The visual aid helps us read between the lines when communicating with people who don’t normally say exactly what they think.
These easy to apply communication techniques help us create a connection with our colleagues, which allows us to bond and thereby create trust. Without trust and without accountability team spirit crumbles and when it does, your goals slowly become unattainable.