What can you do to reach out and connect with your virtual team member, direct report or manager?
When Belle Halpern and Kathy Lubar founded The Ariel Group twenty-one years ago, they had a vision of business leaders using the expressive skills of an actor to authentically connect with their colleagues, reports and managers.
In 1993, you could build relationship by doing a walk-through of your department, poking your head into someone’s office and taking the opportunity to connect on a human level. In 2014, if you want to reach out to a team member or report, you may be picking up the phone or launching Skype or FaceTime.
There is a lot of research out there about the benefits and pitfalls of telecommuting. Virtual workers can be more productive, less distracted and not nearly as stressed out as if they were commuting. But they can’t pop their heads over someone’s cube or spark a hallway conversation; they have to make a real effort to reach out if they have a question or want to bounce an idea off a colleague.
The onus is on your virtual teammate to reach out to you, to insert herself into the conference call, to speak up when the phone is too far from the speaker or to respond quickly to emails so as not to be kept out of the loop.
But what about you? What if you work in the office and he or she is virtual? What can you do to reach out and connect with your virtual team member, direct report or manager?
Here are some ideas:
- Use video whenever possible. Being on camera helps your virtual teammate to be more present and involved and it reminds you that they are present, even if they are not talking.
- Extend the celebration. We have a client whose team is all in person but for one, and anytime they celebrate a birthday, they make sure their virtual member has a cupcake, too.
- Set expectations for participation. If you’re kicking off a meeting or a presentation, make sure to clearly articulate how you would like the group to participate – let them know if you’re going to pause for questions or if they should wait until the end, or if it’s an open discussion. The virtual participants are less likely to get lost than if it’s a free-for-all.
- Be responsive. I have a colleague who answers most emails right away, even if it’s just with a “Thank you.” It builds trust between us and certainly makes me feel more connected to her.
- Make time to check in. We at The Ariel Group have a ritual at the top of every meeting. We make sure to hear a few words from everyone before we dig into business – it helps us all to get present.
Reaching out virtually does take a little extra effort and thought...but when our colleagues feel included and engaged, they are more likely to put in discretionary effort.
So take a few extra minutes at the top of the meeting to hear everyone’s voice. Use Skype instead of the phone. And have those cupcakes sent to your teammate’s home office.
Make mine chocolate.
Do you work virtually? What do your co-workers do to help you feel engaged?