Nurturing your culture in a virtual world

Rosanna Machado | March 31, 2020

As teams around the world are settling into a working from home culture, there is certainly no shortage of collaboration and video conferencing tools to make this work from a technical point of view. For it to be truly effective, I do think we need to think about the culture and values that we want to instil in our teams.

I’ve run events with teams in offices and with virtual teams. Both can be equally as effective when there is good communication and understanding between team members. In a virtual world, this may require adapting some of your existing behaviours.

  • Remind everyone of the culture and values – these still hold true in a virtual world, but we need to be more sensitive. What might have been innocent office banter, may feel more like bullying in an online chat environment. Daniel Goleman refers to this as cyber dis-inhibition. Don’t shy away from establishing what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and acknowledge that this may evolve over time
  • Motivating your team and making them feel valued is essential in a time of uncertainty. Think about how to actively do this through team meetings, celebrating successes, praising colleagues and social moments
  • Understand how you are feeling about the situation. We have all been affected by the pandemic in different ways. Identify what’s affecting you and causing you stress and think about who you can talk to and any coping mechanisms that might help
  • Communicate more and be succinct. When teams are virtual, you lose the signals of body language and tone of voice and there may also be an assumption that someone else will pick up a request on email. Do not assume that something has taken place and establish communication norms – asking people to acknowledge requests and give an eta for delivery is a useful way of stopping people worrying about whether an email has got lost in the ether!
  • Choose your communication style based on what you are communicating and who you are communicating to. Just because you are not sat next to someone, don’t become lazy about your communication style – think carefully about how to communicate most effectively and with empathy
  • On the flip side, recognise that written text can come across more negatively than it is intended, so when you are on the receiving end try not to be too sensitive to what might be a neutral email
  • Don’t let things stew – if you are upset by a communication, be sure to follow up with a colleague to understand how you can resolve it and work better together going forward
  • Think about careful curation of group video chats – it requires more facilitation to involve everyone and ensure people are not talking over others
  • Recognise that video calls take up a lot of energy. I find that it requires more performance to get your style across and there is less nuanced feedback from others so do give you and your team enough time to recharge between calls
  • Be aware of team members’ different personalities and social styles – some may be thriving in a virtual environment whereas others may be struggling. Ensure you have an ‘open door’ policy to actively listen and check in with team members on a regular basis. Choose group communication tools that will work for all team members

Everyone is different and we all have our own worries so the best thing we can do is understand ourselves, be true to our values, show empathy to our colleagues, be kind and adapt our behaviour to support each other in the best possible way.