How To Foster Team Culture In A Virtual Work Environment

Credit: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

 Published 5/16/2015

There was a time, not so very long ago, when every employee of a company worked in the same building, together, in the same office. Today, things couldn’t be more different. Thanks to cloud computing and mobile technology, “work” can happen from anywhere, as long as there is a Wi-Fi hotspot within range. That means that telecommuting, virtual workforces, and job sharing have become the norm.

Even though we are all accustomed to working from anywhere, it can be difficult to foster team spirit among a dispersed or independent workforce. If every member of a team is located in the same section of one building, it’s easy for individuals to get to know one another on a personal basis and to be invested in team success. When every member of a team is in different area codes, fostering positive team dynamics can be much more challenging.

Follow these tips for bringing a dispersed workforce together as a productive team:

Create a Team Vision

In order for virtual or dispersed teams to work together, they must have a strong shared vision. It is easy for independent workers to function inside a bubble. When working remotely, it is difficult to understand how work impacts the team or the company as a whole.

Setting a team vision gives everyone a sense that they are working toward something together.

Common goals give team members a reason to call each other on the telephone to check on a project, to set aside time to collaborate remotely, to email each other congratulations when things go well, or even to instant message one another just to say hello.

Weekly Meetings

Most in-house teams have weekly staff meetings and in-house employees have regular one-on-ones with their direct managers.

It’s easy to let those meetings fall by the wayside when a team is geographically dispersed. However, regular meetings are essential for team success. Those weekly meetings help keep individual and team goals aligned, and foster a sense of community between team members and managers.

Weekly meetings not only promote a sense of “team,” but they also keep work moving forward. Regular progress reports and check-ins ensure that goals are met and that everyone is on the same page.

Create Opportunities for Learning

Weekly meetings should be structured to give the group the opportunity to learn from each other. If you have set a team vision and the group understands its collective goals, these learning experiences can reinforce the dynamic. Each week, have one person make a brief presentation about what they contribute to the team and help them focus on the things that they do to drive the team to their overall goal.

See Talent Obsession Weekly for more on how to run these weekly meetings.

For example, the CFO might want to present on pricing structure to explain why a product has to be sold at a specific price point and incorporate facts about the costs that go into the creation of the product.

Now, the sales team understands how much the product costs, they know what engineering contributes to the process, etc. The more a team understands about what each person contributes, the more engaged everyone will be in both the process and the results.

How To Conference

A few years ago, managers could claim that video conferencing was too difficult, expensive, or unreliable to incorporate into regular work life. However, there are plenty of free video conferencing programs available, including Google Hangouts, that make it easy to video conference with a dispersed team.

Telephone conferencing is ideal for larger groups, but small teams of 10 or less should embrace video meetings as well.

The more team members can “see” each other, the better. They will feel more responsible for each other, and they will be more likely to develop their own interpersonal relationships.

Get Creative With Bonding Ideas

Video conferencing doesn’t have to be all business, all the time. Encourage the group to log in to a conference early to chitchat, just as they would in a conference room. Managers should also look for creative ways to help the group get to know each other. For example, the manager might send each member of the team a small, personalized gift that has something to do with their jobs or their interests. At a video meeting, have everyone open their gift and then share it with the group in a corporate version of “Show and Tell.”

Inconvenience Equally

Geographically dispersed teams are often scattered across time zones. If one member of the group lives on the West Coast, don’t force him or her to wake up a 5 am for an early meeting each week. Try to do your best to rotate meeting times or days to “inconvenience equally,” ensuring one person isn’t always getting the short end of the stick.

Managing dispersed and virtual teams comes with unique challenges, but when managers take the time to foster a sense of teamwork and togetherness, virtual teams can move together toward achieving common goals.

Beth Armknecht Miller is a Certified Managerial Coach and CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Her latest book, “Are You Talent Obsessed?: Unlocking the secrets to a workplace team of raving high-performers is available on Amazon.