How to prepare your virtual team for the long haul

When the pandemic first began (early 2020) and hundreds to thousands of businesses were forced to transition from co-located teams to virtual teams, the only saving grace was that it was temporary. Well, that's what many of us thought. At first, it was about making that drastic transition so suddenly. Many of us were firefighting through the days and weeks hoping to make it through those 3 months of lockdown before returning to normal. Then, things started to look brighter! Slowly, things started to open up, but then the second wave hit, Winter came, and suddenly it's almost been a whole year where everyone is STILL working at home 'temporarily.'  With furlough extended, a third lockdown enforced, and a second strain running rampant, we think it's time to face reality. For the sake of our minds and productivity, here is how to prepare your virtual team for the long haul. 

Why you should prepare your virtual teams

Before we go into 'how,' we first want to touch on the 'why.' Why should you prepare your virtual teams for the long haul when you don't even know what 2021 will bring?

Have you ever heard of the saying, "Suffering is what occurs when we resist what is already happening?" This is why.

head on desk

Covid has swept through the world like a bull in a china shop and we've had to change everything. For some, it was working from home for the first time or leading virtual teams. For others, it was not being able to travel or see their families for long periods of time. All of us, even on a global scale, still have to wear masks and keep our distance from others.

I don't know about you, but for a long time, I was resistant to this change. I was anxious and stressed and I struggled to get through the days never mind focus on work. While some of that stress still remains today, I felt so much better once I accepted the situation. Once I told myself that, "okay, this is happening. There's nothing I can do about it and I expect that things will be very different for a long time yet," it was amazing how much better and lighter I felt. And that's the goal. This is how we need our teams to feel.

If your team is waiting on edge to hear when they will be back in the office, they aren't accepting the situation at hand. According to Dr. Srini Pillay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, they are likely to be experiencing "Cognitive Dissonance." Cognitive dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling that you get when you try to maintain two inconsistent beliefs at the same time. In this case, it's when you believe in one thing (that things will be going back to normal) but you act in a contradictory way (you're working from home and you have to homeschool the children). As you can imagine, this conflict of feelings isn't good for our health; it causes a lot of unnecessary stress.

So that's why you should set your team's expectations now. Prepare them to work virtually for the foreseeable future and you'll find that your whole team will be happier and a lot more productive.

Read: Leading a virtual team: what needs to be differentThe essential 4-step guide for leading your team virtually during the Coronavirus

How to prepare your virtual team for the long haul in 3 steps

Now we've covered the 'why,' we can move on to the 'how.' How can you prepare your virtual teams for working from home for the foreseeable future?

head on desk1. Triage the most critical team problems

You're not just "making do" anymore, you're preparing your virtual teams for the long term, so how do you make your team as productive as possible? Just like in the medical industry, you need to identify the most critical team problems first and triage these.

This is a time of crisis, so evaluate what factors are having the most damaging effect on team productivity right now.

  • What poses immediate, serious threats to your team's survival?
  • Are your team's objectives still relevant or at odds with the current reality?
  • Is there a problem with team culture and cohesion? Are team members disengaging and tuning out? 
  • Are there disagreements in the team over its mandate or core priorities? Or are team members struggling due to a lack of psychological safety? 

Do a consensus of employees and review how they are feeling and what they think can be done better. Once you've done this, re-evaluate what their purpose and core tasks are during this time and hold a team meeting to discuss.

Only when you identify core issues can you fix them and work better as a virtual team, so put some real time into reviewing the current situation and making impactful changes.

Not sure how to fix your team to get it to work together better? Download our team effectiveness review sheet to pinpoint exactly what your problems are and what you need to do to fix them.

Stability2. Address these issues to stabilise the team

Stabilisation is essential if you want to know how to prepare your virtual team for the long haul. That's why the second step is all about addressing the critical issues that you identified in step one.

Once you have your most critical issues, you need to immediately address them. Here are a few examples of most common issues with virtual teams and suggestions for what to do:

  • My team's objectives or tasks are no longer relevant to the current reality - if this is an issue for you, re-prioritise their work to something that matches the new overall goal of the business.
  • Team cohesion and culture is a problem or employees are struggling to work from home - you need to increase communication and create opportunities for non-work bonding between your employees. To do this, try mixing personal chat threads, start every day by sharing what you're grateful for, and run quarterly non-work-related workshops. Employees need to bond on a deeper level so explore how you can do that virtually.
  • Employees are overwhelmed - schedule one-to-ones every month with your employees (or weekly if they need it). On these calls, check-in with them and make sure to always give them clear goals and priorities.

Once you've addressed the major issues with your virtual teams, you'll soon see that they will become stable and a lot more productive. Not to mention that your employees will get closer and will be a lot happier too.


Master leading a high performing virtual team with just 7 simple ingredients

Prevention3. Think preventative care

Once you've stabilised your virtual team by addressing the most critical problems, you then have to make this last for the long term. That's why the final step for how to prepare your virtual team for the long haul is to provide your team with ongoing attention and preventative care.

Without a doubt, this is the most important step in preparing virtual teams for the long haul as without it, people will default to bad habits and the same issues will arise again. So how can you prevent this? How can you nurture your team to work their best remotely and avoid these relapses?

Here are a few things to start with:

  • Discuss team roles and how this relates to the overall business goal to strengthen individual identity,
  • Always give clear and concise goals and work briefs (all of which are in line with the current reality).
  • Prioritise psychological safety to make sure your team feels like they can voice their opinion and take the initiative.
  • Schedule regular one-on-ones with team members to monitor health and to prevent burnout.
  • Communicate as much as possible and run regular non-work team bonding opportunities.

If you're touching base with all your employees regularly and everyone in the team knows what their role is and what is expected of them, you can easily identify any issues that arise. It goes without saying that these will be much easier to solve the earlier you catch them.

Don't forget to Download our team effectiveness review sheet to pinpoint exactly what your problems are and what you need to do to fix them.

Useful resources:

Help your team accept that things aren't different

Hopefully, you now know how to prepare your virtual team for the long haul and why this is so important. If your team is struggling or you want to boost morale and productivity, implement these 3 steps. Identify and triage critical issues and put in place activities that will ensure that this stability lasts. Doing so makes a happy, healthy team, one that is prepared to smash another potentially difficult year.

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