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Leading Virtual Teams: Missed moments

With the holiday season coming up, our team has had a long overdue in person Team Day and we are also planning a virtual get together in a few weeks. These social activities are important to virtual teams, and I really value the opportunity to spend time with colleagues in a more relaxed way.

Blended approaches to working together can help shape the dynamic of the year, and punctuate long periods of remote working with new inspiration and energy connecting with colleagues in person can bring.

That said, this year it’s proving hard to make that actually happen. A mix of post-pandemic factors, cold + flu season, taking long overdue leave and simply bad luck have resulted in many of us missing one or more of these important moments.

Does it really matter, though, that we are not able to all meet together? Does it make a difference that I miss a Team Day or a get together?

Here are my thoughts on this:

Yes, it does…

In our team we set clear expectations that we meet in person 3-4 times a year. In 2022, thanks to train strikes and various other factors, our meet up got delayed and rescheduled several times, and it really had an impact. Relationships can change if you lack an expected amount if in person interaction.

Touch base: One of the aspects of being in an organisation in which everyone works from home that I find challenging is that I can easily forget how different an experience home-working is for each of us. What you see on a video call is only a small sliver of colleagues’ reality. Meeting in person really helps me touch base with colleagues and get a different perspective on how everyone is doing.

Joining in: We often have a social focus for meeting in person, and we have tried out a lot of different activities over the years. I enjoy joining in those activities, and being part of everyone interaction in a different way. The recent activity I missed out on was an escape room, and I am sorry I missed it!

Getting a sense of things being ‘normal’: This is a clumsy way of putting it, but I am not sure how else to express it. What I mean is that, our team met 3-4 times a year in person in 2019 and it matters to us that we are back to meeting in person in 2022. Things are not the same as in 2019, but we aim to have a blend of working from home and meeting in person, and it feels reassuring (and fun!) to get back to that schedule. Care

No, it doesn’t, if…

It’s a reality of any virtual team that someone is off or unavailable and thus misses out on a shared experience. The larger the group of people trying to get together, the higher the chances that people are missing out. There are plenty of ways to make up for the missed interaction, such as:

Share what happened: in the case of our Team Day, colleagues took photos and shared these with everyone afterwards, and also shared their stories at the next virtual meeting. We talked about what happened on the day and included everyone in the conversation.

Make it clear what others got out of it: we had planned to swap Secret Santa presents on the day, and these swaps largely moved online. We also went through some training for a new productivity took we are trying out, and that, too, continued virtually so that everyone could take part.

Encourage alternative forms of engagement: in the weeks after the event, we offered other ways to engage, and continue to conversation even though we were busy and had a lot of other things happening at the same time. That’s a crucial point for me: if it was important enough to spend time and energy to bring a group of people together, then there should also be an emphasis on afterwards including everyone who wasn’t able to get there.

Care goes both ways

During this year, I have been thinking a lot about the boundaries between work and personal space, about finding balance between the needs of the employer and the needs of the individual. In my context, working for a small employer with fewer than 10 employees, even a very small number of colleagues being unavailable as planned has a huge impact.

Today, for example, out of 6 employees: 33% are on holiday, 16.5% are off sick, 16.5% are not scheduled to work, and 33% of us, two people, are working.

When you are working in a team or organisation of a small size, balancing the need to work together on things and share experiences with the needs of each individual can be a difficult balancing act. Care goes both ways. We want to show care for each individual and their needs (take leave, be off sick, work flexibly) and also the needs we have as a team (collaborate in real time, meet to discuss new plans, spend time together).

Those missed moments can add up. In order to have good cohesion as a virtual team, you need to have enough of them with enough of your team to benefit long term. Which is why I am already looking forward to our next get together 🙂