- Virtual teams are the way work gets done: Recognise that virtual teams are going to be increasingly important to any organisation, and ensure that current and potential participants have access to training and mentoring on virtual team management and virtual team meetings.
- Set very clear and achievable objectives: Virtual teams should have very clear objectives so that it is possible to set the investment in the team against the outcome and also that team members bring appropriate skills, expertise and authority to take action.
- Chose virtual team leaders carefully: Leadership skills that work for physical teams may not be as valuable in a virtual team environment. Other skills are needed and have to be acquired through practice, not just through reading or teaching.
- Develop protocols for virtual meetings; Without good team meetings a virtual team is very unlikely to achieve its objectives and so particular care should be taken in developing guidelines for virtual meetings and for facilitating feedback.
- Provide team member profiles: Develop good profiles of each team member, taking into account local availability of technology and offices which can be used to take part in virtual meetings (especially in the case of open-plan offices) and language expertise.
- Build virtual relationships before putting them to the test: Each team should have an opportunity to meet with other members of the team through an initial virtual meeting where members can introduce themselves and gain experience with the technology being used before the first formal meeting of the team.
- Team dynamics can be difficult to manage: Team dynamics of virtual teams can be quite fragile, often depending on a very high level of trust in people they may not have met before. Introducing a new team member into an existing team may mean starting the process of building trust all over again.
- Gain consensus on what needs to happen between meetings?: Team members may have different reporting lines, which may impede the overall achievement of objectives. The measure of a virtual team is what it accomplishes between meetings, not how enjoyable the meetings are
- “English is our corporate language”: Issues of language and culture need careful consideration but should never be an excuse not to bring specific individuals into a team. There may be a mix of abilities in reading, speaking, understanding and writing in English
- Evaluate team and individual performance: The performance of the team and of each member should be carefully evaluated and training and support given where needed.
Guidance for Remote Working
Remote working can be unproductive unless you lay out the ground rules and find positive ways to keep in touch with your team. Alan Wingrove of Blue Lion Coaching has helped us work through this new normal for the Chamber administration team and we would like to share our findings with you:
First of all, you are still responsible for health & safety while your staff work at home (thanks Rob Slater of Clear Water H&S) so make sure you understand where they will be setting up their laptop/PC and phone. Cables should be safely placed and not a trip hazard. the laptop and keyboard should be positioned to avoid strain. Get them to complete a risk assessment for working from home. A template risk assessmemt is here:
Also, undue pressure could lead to anxiety and stress, particularly for someone who lives on their own or has children running around.
Do they have a work space that is separate from the rest of the family? Not everyone wants to work from home? Have you given your staff the option to come to work if lockdown regulations allow it, or have you imposed a blanket ban on working from the office?
Check whether everyone has unlimited data at home. Are you going to get a bill from anyone for additional data use? Does everyone have good internet speeds and mobile access at home?
Write to the team to set out the plan. For example:
- Please carry out a risk assessment of you work station at home and send me a copy.
- The requirement for you to work at home is a temporary measure which will be reviewed regularly.
- Once the Virus is under control you will be expected to return to [work address] to work.
- Do you have unlimited data and a good mobile network at home?
- Each day we will hold a video conference with everyone at 9.30am. I will email out the link. Please be ready to join the conference in good time.
- We will create a WhatsApp group so everyone can stay in touch.
- If you would prefer to work in the office, please let me know.
- If you find home working is getting you down, please let me know.
- If you have any concerns about your work, please let me know.
- Please avoid awkward, static postures by regularly changing position.
- Please get up and move around and carry out stretching exercises.
- Please avoid eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time.
- Please call each other during the day to share ideas and concerns.
- I would like to set clear projects for everyone to work on, rather than monitoring your time. These projects will be discussed individually.
- Please let me know what projects you are focusing on now.
Amazingly, according to a survey of 1,000 UK home workers carried out by Altodigital, 100 people admitted to taking client and colleague calls naked!
Review these figures and slides which show how change can be introduced effectively:
At first you and your team might be excited about working from home. There are positives like reduced travel time and cost, a relaxed environment or more control over your time. But after a few days you and your team might feel lonely, dispirited and unsupported.
You may also start not bothering to get dressed, or showered! It can feel comfy to work in your jim-jams but the family will think you’re not working and are more likely to interupt you. It can also mean that you don’t have your focused, work head on!
Distractions like tidying up or putting the wash on can thow your work pattern, so here are some suggested solutions to keep productivity up:
- As boss you should schedule a daily dial-in video conference before 10am to make sure everyone knows what they are doing each day. (This will also make sure everyone is washed, dressed and ready for work!)
- Use free video conferencing like Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
- As a home worker make sure your work room is clean and tidy before you start.
- Remove your home phone and put the cat outside or in a different room.
- Try to work in a room away from family distractions.
- You may like to set an alarm to focus on work for two hours then have a scheduled break.
- Don’t procrastinate with housework when you have a difficult task to perform.
- Concentrating on one thing for long periods of time can become unproductive after just 4 hours. A change is as good as a rest, so work on different projects every couple of hours or so.
- Restrict emails to set times and turn off the pop up which tells you that an email has arrived.
Managing the workplace
You will need to check the workspace from time to time to make sure it is as you left it. Check it regularly for break-ins or leaks. Pick up and check the mail and scan it to members of the team as necessary.
When the virus is under control and you want to return to work, arrange a staged return. Check the heating and IT first. Is the network still working? Is the wi-fi working? Is there any maintenance required?
Mental Health Support
Mental Health Awareness for Remote Workers: Practical Guide for Businesses
Keep in touch with your customers
You need to find ways to keep in touch with your customers digitally so they don’t forget you. Make your business indispensible to them if you can.
Can you arrange deliveries during social distancing and isolation?
Can you share business advice and daily updates, like this website, to make sure your B2B customers stay well informed? We keep this site up to date daily so feel free to refer them here.
Contact your customers to give them free advice about government support by email and social media. Solicitors, accountants, bookkeepers, surveyors, business coaches and HR advisers should be giving free advice to their clients at present and offering help to navigate the HMRC Portal and the rates office. Make sure you understand how the government support works for your specialism first!
Protecting your data
If you are already on on Microsoft 365 in the cloud, your data should be well protected by firewalls and passwords. However. make sure your passwords are complicated and don’t use the same password on other applications.
If your network is not in the cloud but on a local server, make sure your IT provider creates a VPN, or Virtual Private Network and again, make sure your passwords are complicated and not the same as the password you use on other aapplications.
Remember, you are still responsible for protecting client and staff data and GDPR still applies!
Check whether everyone has unlimited data at home with good internet speeds and mobile access. Can they link to a printer at home? Your IT provider should be able to link them up remotely.
If you don’t have an IT provider and would like advice on your personal situation, call Michael on 01323 409209.
What happens if the mobile network fails? Do you have everyone’s land lines?
What happens if the internet fails? Can everyone work offline?
Have you arranged for the company mainline to be redirected? Who will be answering it?
Do you have a network set up in the cloud?
If your ICT is in the cloud you can probably move your work phones to be plugged in easily at home. Ask your IT provider.
What will you do to support staff if anyone becomes ill?
I would like to thank Alan Wingrove of Blue Lion Coaching for helping us work through the pitfalls of remote working and for helping us to develop a plan for working from home effectively.
Ten tips for managing remote teams (with thanks to Paul Corney of Coastway Financial)