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    Virtual Team Building and Remote Work Culture; A Guide For Modern Leaders

    March 5, 2024

    I’m just gonna come out and say it: the traditional in-person office setup is as outdated as dial-up internet. But for some reason, some businesses are still dragging their feet. They’re not quite ready to embrace the remote work structure that so many people are looking for in their career. So while they’re busy trying to herd everyone back to the office in this post-Covid era, the forward-thinkers are jumping on the virtual team building bandwagon like it’s the last train out of town. And the ones who are nailing it are the ones getting creative with how they lead and manage their teams with afar.

    The struggle for some companies is real because they’re stuck in that face-to-face mindset. Managing a team when you’re not physically together requires a different approach. Putting virtual team building front and center and being crystal clear about your remote work culture will pay off in employee retention, productivity, and ultimately, your success. So, let’s talk about how to make this happen, both in the stuff you can see and the stuff you can’t.

    Building Trust at Work

    Virtual team building in a remote work environment starts with trust. Just like any other relationship, establishing trust takes work and intention, but many leaders are dropping the ball by not putting in the effort early or consistently enough with their team. And their team’s productivity and employee attrition rates show it.

    Trust is about so much more than being able to count on your team to meet deadlines or show up to client meetings. It’s about creating an environment where every person feels valued and respected. What a lot of leaders forget, though, is that trust is a two-way street. You have to trust your team, of course, but they also have to trust you.  Remember: you hired your team for a reason. Now it’s your turn to show them they can trust you to lead them, even if you’re scattered across time zones and rely on Slack and Zoom to stay connected. 

    Building trust and accountability between you and your team isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ crockpot recipe. It’s more like that sourdough starter your neighbor won’t stop bragging about – it’s a commitment that needs regular feeding and TLC.

    3 Ways To Build Trust:

    Here are some concrete and meaningful ways to show up for your remote team and foster deep, lasting connections based on trust: 

    Be Consistent: Start basic: if you promise something, make sure you follow through. But there’s a deeper layer to consistency that’s key for building trust and shaping your culture. It’s about how you show up for your team and the vibe you bring to the table. Volatility is a surefire way to put people on edge, and that’s no good for your culture’s foundation.  When your team knows what to expect from you, they can relax and focus on their work, instead of stressing about how to manage their interactions with you. So, keep it steady and predictable for those counting on your leadership.

    Lean Into Your Strengths: Establishing trust and accountability is also about recognizing the unique role you play in the team dynamics, whether you’re known for being a go-to source of information, support, guidance, or entertainment. 

    Are you the resident meme master who kicks Monday off with a laugh? Are you the one everyone turns to for a pep talk? Embrace whatever magic you bring to the table, own it, and be the source of support your team counts on.

    Set and Respect Boundaries: Trust isn’t about being on call 24/7. It’s built on setting and respecting boundaries. If your culture values work-life balance, make sure your actions reflect that. Don’t message your team after hours if you’ve encouraged them to switch off. Forcing them to choose between their downtime and your business needs creates unnecessary tension and chips away at the trust you’ve worked hard to build.

    Establish an Effective Internal Communication Strategy

    If trust is the foundation of virtual team building, then internal communication is the framework that holds everything together. As leaders invested in our team’s well-being, it’s our job to nurture a space where communication is clear, respectful, and productive.

    A well-defined structure is essential for any effective internal communication strategy. It really comes down to finding the perfect balance. Keep the lines open, cater to your team’s productivity needs, but steer clear of digital burnout. Despite what our past managers wanted us to believe, not every update warrants a Zoom call and not every message demands an instant reply.

    Many leaders overlook the impact their internal communication strategy has on their team’s productivity and morale. If your remote team is tethered to Slack, expected to snap back to messages within minutes or jump on calls at a moment’s notice, it’s time to zoom out and see the bigger picture. How does being perpetually “on-call” disrupt their focus, flow, and creativity?

    I’m not suggesting you go radio silent and stop checking in with your team. Far from it! What I’m saying is: lean into structure and clarity to bolster effective internal communication that supports your team’s best work.

    Pick the right tools that suit your team’s needs (Slack, Asana, Trello), and lay down crystal-clear guidelines for response times and the purpose of each channel. Get into the nitty-gritty, like using emojis on Slack to indicate your availability. The more clarity and structure you bring, the more productive your culture will be. Let’s make communication work for us, not against us!

    Clearly Define Your Remote Work Policy

    Many companies are still dragging their feet when it comes to embracing remote work. They’re failing to provide their managers with the new skills and, more importantly, the STRUCTURE they need to lead remote teams effectively. This is in spite of a massive body of evidence showing that people prefer to WFH. According to Forbes:

    🏠 57% of workers would look for a new job if their current company didn’t allow remote work

    🏠 35% of remote employees feel more productive when working fully remote

    🏠 65% report wanting to work remote all of the time

    🏠 71% of remote workers said remote work helps balance their work and personal life

    I’ll be the first to say that in-person work has its perks, and it’s tough to match that vibe remotely. But the people have spoken, and they’ve made their preference crystal clear. As leaders, it’s our job to listen and adapt. Let’s stop trying to force square pegs (in-person work) into round holes (what employees actually want).

    So let’s create remote-work specific policies that provide the structure and clarity our teams need to thrive. Here are some key points to consider:

    3 Key Elements of a Remote Work Policy

    Behavior: Setting clear guidelines for remote work behavior offers your team a solid foundation, providing confidence and direction in the absence of in-person cues. These guidelines can cover everything from internal and external presentation to communication with the team and clients, as well as time and task management. These guidelines may seem like common sense to you, but having these clear expectations helps ensure everyone is aligned and working cohesively.

    Expectations: Clear expectations and fostering an environment where employees feel empowered to meet those expectations is key in a remote work policy. This approach not only outlines what is required of each team member but also empowers them to take responsibility for their work.

    Metrics: By establishing clear, measurable objectives specific to your team’s remote work, you provide a roadmap for success that can be tracked and assessed. Keeping your team focused and aligned fosters a culture of transparency and accountability, where everyone knows exactly what they’re working towards. Metrics also create an environment where progress and achievements are recognized and celebrated, helping boost morale.

    Keep in mind that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it for your remote work policies. What’s effective for your social media manager might not fly for your lead sales director. You’ll need to address the nature and deliverables of each position and create specific guidelines and expectations for each.

    Your remote work policy is an opportunity to open up lines of communication between you and your team. Embrace enough flexibility to adapt your policies to meet the diverse needs of your team.

    Give Your Remote Work Culture Some TLC

    To wrap it up, virtual team building is way more than awkward ice breakers or Zoom happy hours that everyone secretly wants to escape. That’s sooo 2020, folks. Let’s instead focus on building mutual trust through crystal-clear policies designed for remote work, setting boundaries for communication that everyone respects, and keeping things consistent. Remote work might still feel like uncharted territory, but it’s not going anywhere. So, give yourself a break as you steer through this exciting new era of leadership.






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