Since unexpectedly adopting a work from home model in March, millions of companies around the world are learning how to keep their workforces connected and efficient without proximity to one another. How is it possible to communicate effectively, build culture, and collaboratively innovate with nothing more than video calls and digital messages to connect us?
In the physical-to-virtual change management process, every distributed team struggles with different concerns. Some are feeling disconnected and isolated, others are overwhelmed with meeting fatigue, some have employees that work too much, while others too little. To discover and resolve your team’s unique pain points, you’ll need to hone your ability to ask the right questions, then use the responses to fuel deep and meaningful conversations about where these concerns are stemming from and what your team members can do (individually and collectively) to make a corrective change.
To start the process of analysis, you don’t necessarily need a remote work consultant or massive workforce evaluation survey. It can be as simple as adding a transparent conversation to your next meeting’s agenda. Here are five examples of questions that are designed to reveal common barriers to success in virtual teams and connect your distributed team while you’re still working apart:
1. “How can I tell when you’re having a really bad day, versus a really productive day?”
Without the ability to physically supervise coworkers throughout the work day, whether or not teams are staying productive is the number one concern of company leadership. When we worked in an office, it was easy to observe when someone was active and engaged in their tasks, or if they were distracted or lazy. The clues were obvious — feet up on their desk and scrolling on their phone versus focused on their computer, typing away. The good news is that contextual cues like that still exist in the virtual business world, they just look different than they did in the office. Frequent result submissions, consistently posting valuable messages, and attending meetings prepared with questions and ideas can all prove to us that someone is working hard throughout the day. So, discuss what that nonverbal language looks like with your team so that everyone understands each other’s virtual working styles.
2. “What is the entire production cycle of our product/service (from marketing to delivery) and who is responsible for each step?”
The influence of our modern gig economy has put today’s workers into a habit of completing their tasks as independently and quickly as possible. While this style of work is incredibly efficient, it also means that workers get zeroed in on only their work without understanding how their piece of the puzzle fits into a bigger picture or thinking about how their actions will impact the results of others on the team. Over time, this can fuel feelings of career stagnancy and isolation. Walking through your brand’s production cycle step-by-step will help your team understand the personal value they add to the group, then locate and repair broken steps of communication during the operational funnel.
3. “How do you decide when to send an email versus an instant message or a text?”
Virtual communication is the life blood of virtual teams. So, even a small misinterpretation of intent can be poisonous to the culture and trust you share. Discrepancy of communication methods is a common venom. To some, a text message feels urgent and intimate, while others interpret a text as an informal, low-priority message. Or what if you get two notifications at the same time — one from Microsoft Teams and the other from email — which is the higher priority? It’s the responsibility of your operational team to dictate what each medium means within your brand’s culture, so that everyone is speaking the same digital language.
4. “How could you spot the perfect hire for our company in a group of job applicants?”
Remote company executives put a lot of time and resources into developing strong cultures for their distributed teams, but is the culture actually being understood and adopted by their workforce? Asking a worker to spot someone they think embodies the company culture is a quick indicator of which values they believe make their team thrive. Hopefully, the grassroots culture of the brand matches the ideal culture that is being promoted. If not, continue asking questions to search for and find out where the break between the goals and the current status is occurring within your company.
5. “If you became the CEO tomorrow, what would your first order of business be?”
This is a creative and safe way to uncover what the individual pain points of your team members are, because their answers will most likely be the solutions to the problems that they personally struggle with. If they have a new product idea, but feel too nervous about sharing it during a meeting, they might propose a “Think Tank” Slack channel. Or if they feel burned out or isolated, they would probably initiate a new work-life balance support program as CEO. Be sure to take careful and sensitive notes during this discussion and then follow up one-on-one in a few weeks to check on the status of their concerns.
After your conversation is complete, remember that words are just ideas until you take action. Take careful notes about your learnings, then speak to the relevant decision makers to implement a resolution plan.
If you have concerns about productivity, communication, culture, or employee loyalty within your remote-friendly company, you’re not alone. These are common remote work problems, but they can be easily solved with more transparent and collaborative communication, followed by responsive workflow changes. If utilized, these five questions will be valuable sparks to ignite these necessary conversations and fuel the motivation that your team will need to feel connected without working in the same space.