Virtual working – maintaining engagement and connection
Working virtually, be that leading a remote team, being part of one, or consulting with a virtual company, has become a big part of most of our lives. This adjustment is one we have all had to navigate at pace, increasing the challenge. Work and personal stressors are now more at risk of blurring into one as many of us work from home surrounded by family. Our webinars on virtual work aim to unburden you from frantically upskilling yourself: instead, we provide you with clear, actionable advice you can implement immediately.
Building on our virtual teams webinar (click here to watch or read), Emma Rowe, Lane4 Account Director, and Chris Lloyd, Principal Consultant, hosted a webinar on virtual working, this time with a focus on communication. Watch it here, or read on for the written version.
For the challenges and top tips of virtual working, click here for our blog covering all of the relevant top tips and advice. In this blog, we will focus on delving into how you can use our Lane4 communication model which we regularly use with our clients in your virtual work.
The role of communication in maintaining an engaged and connected team
Our communication framework at Lane4 differentiates communication in two ways: structured or unstructured, and formal or informal. This divides communication into 4 categories:
- Conventional forums and processes: These are one-way communications, like company updates for example.
- Structured dialogue and workshops: These are opportunities to make sense of problems, and actively involve others in key decisions: team meetings, for example.
- Everyday conversations and interactions: This communication is the kind you engage in almost without realising it – in a room before starting a meeting with clients, by the coffee machine with colleagues, or even in your own head throughout the day!
- Role modelling: These are the implicit messages your behaviours and words as a leader send to those around you.
In this blog, we’re going to focus on the second form of communication, which involves structured dialogue and workshops. As many of us have gone virtual, making sure key meetings are still running smoothly feels like an immediate necessity. So, below we provide you with a structure you can use to continue getting the most out of your virtual team meetings.
steps to structure your virtual meetings
Team meetings fall into the second category of communication. These meetings are performance meetings, and therefore are a great barometer for the health of a team. Ultimately, these team meetings are at the crux of what the team delivers, and therefore are crucial to get right when working virtually.
Communication is one of the biggest changes in transitioning to virtual work, as it inevitably becomes much more intentional: there are no longer opportunities to share information when you pass each other by the coffee machine, for example. In order to maintain engagement and connection, team leaders must deliberately set up structures to maintain the four types of communication outlines above. Indeed, for more formal, task-based team meetings, a simple way to ensure that the quality of output is where it needs to be is imposing a structure.
The structure we outline below comes from Robert Schwartz, who is a thought leader in team leadership, published a book titled “Smart leader, smarter teams”. Although the elements may appear to be common sense, for many these components are not yet common practice…
Before the start of the meeting, communicate any big questions you want your team to reflect on prior to the start time. This will ensure they are all engaged in the process before the meeting has begun, and also demonstrates that as a leader, you value their input (remember the role modelling mentioned earlier).
Agree a purpose for the meeting at the start: as there are fewer communication touchpoints when working virtually, these key messages must be communicated clearly to ensure everyone is on the same page.
From this, you should then determine a clear set of agenda items. These should be realistic – adding too much to the agenda can come at the cost of covering the main points in enough detail. With a purpose and an agenda should come objectives for the meeting, which can be determined by determining clear criteria for success.
Being a team leader in meetings involves making sure the right conversations happen to ensure that the agreed purpose is fulfilled. Part of this is ensuring that the process is set up for that. This might involve asking colleagues to lead different parts of the meeting, or determining the success criteria previously mentioned.
Addressing the process in a virtual meeting also means establishing some ground rules for conduct so that people stay present and don’t get distracted. Top tips include encouraging your team to turn on their cameras, as well as actively drawing people into the conversation to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
Establishing clear purposes and processes allows for the content of the meeting to be given maximal attention. Knowing who is leading which topics, for example, allows for healthy, iterative conversations where everyone can share their perspectives. These kinds of conversations encourage team members to commit to the decisions made in the meeting, as they feel they were a part of reaching the outcomes.
In the commitment stage of the meeting, leaders of remote teams should ensure everyone has understood the outcomes of the meeting. Next steps should be determined, and it should be made clear who is going to action each step.
Leaders should communicate specific accountability and responsibility for each action: good practice for commitment after meetings is to write this up and circulate it within your team. This is all the more important in a virtual team where there are less opportunities for clarification after meetings.
Taking the time within the meeting to review how it went is key. In a virtual context, you must be much more disciplined and focused in making sure everyone is clear on the structure and content of meetings: the luxury of some of the informal communication cues we are used to using as a gauge of our colleague’s thoughts and feelings can no longer be used in the same way.
Ask yourself and your team:
- To what extent was the purpose and objectives met?
- Did we follow the process we had planned?
- Are we all happy with the quality of the decisions made?
- How did the meeting feel overall?