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Virtual teams: What we have learnt so far (Webinar Q&A)

27 July 2020

± minute read

    Virtual teams: What we have learnt so far (Webinar Q&A)
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In a recent webinar Dr Jopie de Beer, Dr Renate Scherrer, Dr Karina de Bruin, and Dr Nicola Taylor considered some of the issues and learnings they have gleaned from working virtually. (If you're interested in this session's recording or transcript, click here.)



Questions from the chat:

The still very high cost of data. It makes it very difficult for lower level employees to connect. Who is following up on the President's instruction for data providers to lower their costs? It affects learners, students, and lower level employees.

Jopie: I absolutely agree, having data is off course essential to being able to work virtually as member of a team. If practically possible/using fair criteria, I do think employers should consider providing such data to those employees without the required infrastructure, to ensure that all team members are fully able to fulfil their virtual duties and roles. It is however also true that not all work can be done virtually.

Good morning, we are a small development team who worked closely together before the lockdown started. We are now working remotely and some of our members are thriving in the new environment and some not. During our VC meetings, some members are very unresponsive to questions and do not contribute to the meetings as they would in real life. How do we ease and increase responsiveness?

Jopie: I would really explore whether the reason for their response is personality related or possibly unfamiliarity with the technology, difficult circumstances at home, etc. It is incredibly easy to misjudge behaviour in the virtual world. If it is really personality related- i.e. introverted preferences, I would do a virtual self-awareness intervention possibly using the MBTI.

Renate: In my view it is a case of getting people used to doing things in a different way, and it will take some time. There are many ways in which to recreate the in-person environment. You might use a polling function as a warm-up for discussion and an early opportunity to engage people. You can also encourage attendees to use the chat function, so they can comment in real time. What we find also works, is for different team members to lead certain agenda points so that they are ‘forced’ to talk. Teams/Zoom and the like, all have functions where members can raise their hands for questions – encourage it. Use breakout rooms if available – then people can discuss a concept and report back to the bigger group.

Good morning. For Jopie. Are there certain personalities or types of employees more suited to virtual work?

Jopie: I don’t think so. I think all types can work virtually but, of course, their styles and needs would have to be considered. Example- extroverts may more easily absorb airtime during meetings, whilst the introverts may fall off more easily. Another example could be that Perceivers take a bit longer to structure their days, whilst Judgers could possibly overstructure their activities. We have great literature on type in the virtual world- will see whether we can send you some of it!

Renate, do you have suggestions for how the incivility can be addressed effectively when you are unable to have an in-person contact session?

Renate: It will be best to try and incorporate as many ‘senses’ as possible for such a discussion. Therefore, video call on the chosen platform rather than a telephone call, although not first prize, at least one can see the person.

How important is it for the leadership team to check-in with each employee from a well-being perspective and how are they coping?

Jopie: This is absolutely essential, as long as it is also balanced with other business priorities being given attention.

How do you balance incivility with the necessary critical discussions? Deliberating about business priorities might especially be important in chaotic contexts.

Jopie: Keep in mind that people should always feel safe and respected, particularly so in difficult discussions. It is therefore really important to consider how critical discussions are done. Debates and discussions about tasks can sometimes be perceived as conflict and many people shy away from it. The maturity of all parties should be such that this is not regarded as personal. It is off course very different if the task feedback is done in a personal way or perceived as personal. In this case the sensitivity or lack of sensitivity of both parties should be given attention.

Renate: Agreement on what and how issues are discussed is very important. At the end of the day, people are human, so if one gets overly excited or irritated in a discussion, own it, and move on. As long as everyone can keep on focusing on a common end-goal (i.e. delighting clients), then one can evaluate and measure input and deal with difficult conversations in a constructive way.

What are some of the winning tips and techniques we can adopt in virtual team meetings that help connect the team members in this digital world?

Jopie: Take time to check in, make sure all people are updated and fully informed on all relevant information, make sure you spend time on celebrations and acknowledgement, create time for fun and informal interaction. Remember the Z model of Type theory- when you communicate, some people need the detail( S), some need the trends and bigger picture/helicopter view (N), some really need to understand the logic of situations/decisions (T), whilst others need to know there is care, understanding, and empathy (F). As leader of the team, make sure to talk to all of these needs.

How do your resolve the cultural aspects of virtual teams in multi-national companies? Construction of reality, interpretation of meaning. Making sense in a non-face to face environment?

Jopie: This is a major challenge! The only senses used online are being able to see and to hear. I would use video often (see), I would create opportunities for all parties to share their unique experiences and challenges of the virtual world (hear). I would also consider refocussing the diversity to celebrating the similarities or using something like Type to refocus the diversity discussion. One has to also say, however, that trust develops when the team members know they can trust each other’s technical competence/skill, as well as the reliability of task completion and delivery. Leadership of the team, of course, would be critically important in creating team cohesion.

How do you balance work/life? Many children are now at home - creating challenges.

Jopie: This is so important to consider, as the context within which a person has to deliver on their responsibilities. I think the employer should provide some flexibility but, the employee should also be adaptable enough to provide the output required, if need be, after hours.

What is your opinion on whether introverts or extroverts are best suited to virtual teams?

Jopie: I honestly think both introverts and extroverts have much to offer, yet, have some dilemmas in working virtually.

Is virtual teams/working really a reality for the future world of work in SA? Do you not think workers will see it as an interim arrangement? Are we mature enough?

Jopie: I really believe the future in RSA will be blended- some time at the office, some tasks could possibly only be done at the office but working virtually is also here to stay. It will require work ethic from the employee and the teamwork will have to be structured in such a way that the employer is able to obtain clear metrics on the performance/productivity/output of the team and its members.

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