I don’t know about you but with a third lockdown enforced in the UK, and a second strain running rampant, we think it’s time to face reality. It looks like working at home is for the foreseeable future and, just like most of last year, we are still without a playbook for when things will return back to normal. So what do we do? How do we deal with this situation and ease the pressure for the more junior members of our team? To put it simply, you need to prepare your virtual team for the long haul and this is how (and why) to do it. 

Why you need to prepare your virtual team for the long haul

view from the steering wheel of a car to represent why you need to prepare your virtual team for the long haul

Before we tell you how to prepare your virtual team for the long haul, we are going to touch on why it’s important to do so in the first place.

Ever heard of the saying, “Suffering is what occurs when we resist what is already happening?” This is why it is so essential.

For a lot of us, 2020 has caused a mixture of negative emotions. Just like with any other big change in life, it is really hard to accept it and adapt to it, especially when the situation is changing all the time. (Read: 16 proven strategies for coping with a big life change

When we don’t accept a situation that is out of our control, however, we experience something called ‘Cognitive Dissonance.’ Cognitive Dissonance is simply mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs or attitudes at the same time. In this case, it’s resisting the situation at hand when everything is screaming at us that it is the reality. As you can imagine, this inner conflict causes feelings of unease and discomfort which then results in physiological symptoms of stress and anxiety. 

Not only is chronic stress and anxiety bad for our health, but it’s also detrimental to our mental health too. In turn, we then struggle with focus, motivation, and productivity, just to name a few. So this is why it is so essential for you to prepare your virtual team for the long haul. If you prepare them for working virtually for the foreseeable future, this will help them to accept their reality and they’ll be much healthier, happier, and productive until that time comes. 

Read: Your ultimate guide to leading your team during COVID-19 (even if you are all working virtually for the first time)

How to prepare your virtual team for the long haul

a red traffic light to symbolise identifying issues within a virtual team1. Identify critical issues within the team

The first step to prepare your virtual team for the long haul is to identify the biggest problems first. You’re not just “making do” anymore as your team, or junior members of your department, are working from home. Virtual working is for the foreseeable future so you need to be thinking about how you can make sure the team is working as productively as they would be in the office.

To triage what issues need to be tackled first, ask yourself:

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

Only when you know your core issues can you fix them, so put some real time into reviewing the current situation and making impactful changes. Ask your team members what they think can be done better. Do a consensus of how everyone is feeling and review their purpose and core tasks to check that they are in line with the current reality.

Are you or any of your team members feeling tired or burned out? Take our free burnout self-assessment to find out.

an amber traffic light to represent having to address issues to prepare your virtual team for the long haul2. Tackle these issues head-on

Now you know what is holding your team back from being at their best, you need to address these issues. Doing so will stabilise your virtual team by improving overall morale and productivity.

To help you tackle the most common issues that virtual teams face, here are some suggestions:

  • My team’s objectives or tasks are no longer relevant to the current reality – Covid is changing the business world all the time, so keep reviewing everyone’s tasks and re-prioritise their work accordingly. Make sure they know their purpose and how it relates to the new overall goal. This may need to also be a conversation you have with the partners in your department…
  • Team cohesion and culture is a problem or employees are struggling to work from home – working from home is difficult. It can be lonely and demotivating, especially with the current situation and added pressures of having the whole family at home too. To help individuals and your team as a whole, you need to increase communication and create opportunities for non-work bonding between your team. Try mixing personal chat threads, start every day by sharing what you’re grateful for, and run quarterly non-work-related workshops.
  • Team members are overwhelmed – some will struggle more than others, so give the level of support that each individual in your team needs. Have a one-to-one with each employee every month. If it’s beneficial, make this weekly. Use these calls to check-in and to help them re-prioritise tasks or to clarify their goals and purpose within the team.

Useful resources: 

a green traffic light to represent how good it is when you prepare your virtual team for the long haul3. Prevent these issues from arising again

Once you have a stable virtual team, you want to maintain this for the duration. To do that, it takes ongoing attention and preventative care. What we mean by this is doing things that will support your team members and prevent them from defaulting back to bad habits.

To prevent the same issues from just arising again over time, try to do these 5 things as often as possible:

  1. Discuss team roles – individual identity is important, especially in this changing environment, so help your team members know what their purpose is within the team and why what they do is important to the overall goal.
  2. Give clear and concise goals and work briefs – help your team members take control of what they can by making every task you assign them as clear as possible. They will be far happier knowing exactly what is expected of them and what they are aiming for.
  3. Prioritise psychological safety – think about what you can do to help your team members feel like they can voice their opinions, take initiative, and challenge the norm. If they feel safe to do so, the performance of your virtual team will increase drastically.
  4. Schedule one-on-ones – one-on-ones are the best way to monitor health and to prevent burnout. People can avoid messages and emails but if you have a conversation with them face to face, you can get a better idea of how they are and adjust their work accordingly. (Use our free burnout self-assessment to monitor the stress levels of your staff)
  5. Communicate as much as possible –  set up daily channels and get everyone to start the day by saying what they are grateful for and what work they plan to do. With one-to-ones, virtual meetings, and non-work-related workshops, communication will be better and your team will bond on a much deeper level.

It is much easier to solve issues the earlier you pick them up, so try to implement these 5 tasks to touch-base with everyone and to build better relationships.

Useful resources: 

Preparation is key

They say preparation is key and it’s true. What do you lose from not preparing for another whole year of working from home? Nothing. What do you gain? Your team is happier and healthier and they work far more productively until the time comes where everyone can return to the office. Sounds like a win-win situation. 

If you want to prepare your virtual team for the long haul, then all you have to do is identify the most critical issues, address them, and maintain this stability over time. 

 

For more on making Partner during the pandemic:

Join our Progress To Partner membership site for $1. Here you will find countless resources on managing virtual teams, how to keep your career on track, how to get noticed over others, and what it means to actually make partner.

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