By Isaac Brunt
Allowing your team to develop brand loyalty will increase productivity, reduce talent abandonment rate and enable a much more pleasant work environment. The problem is that brand loyalty often takes place because people develop feelings for their coworkers and work environment. The thing is that in a virtual workplace, this is not a simple thing to achieve. First of all, your staff members may work for years in your company without ever meeting with their colleagues in person. The same thing goes for your management. So, here are five tips to overcome this difficulty.
1. Understand all the subtle differences
When working in a virtual environment, chances are that you’ll employ people from all over the globe or at least people from different regions. First, there are cultural and technical differences that you need to consider if this is the case. Even without anything else being different (let’s say you’re hiring an expatriate currently living across the globe), there’s the issue of time-zone difference to take into consideration. There’s also the issue of the importance of VPN (due to some platforms being restricted in certain regions) and more.
This diversity needs to be celebrated for several reasons. First, it will greatly help your employees feel accepted into your ranks. Second, it allows you to conduct a more efficient hiring process in the future. By having an infrastructure and culture that makes you into an international organization, you will greatly expand your potential talent pool. This alone is a huge advantage worth exploiting to the fullest.
2. Technological compatibility
Another thing worth mentioning is one of technological compatibility of your virtual team. Namely, the entire team should be on the same tools. If the tools are free, you should insist on their use to create a standard format, thus facilitating workflow. On the other hand, if the tools are premium, you might want to pay for their license (or provide a license that they can use) and see this as an investment in your business’ infrastructure. Getting a reliable video conferencing tool will streamline your communication processes quite drastically.
The next thing worth considering is the importance of helping your staff get a grip on your workflow. All these tools need a bit of time to master, so, you should provide guides and guidance for them all. Having a team create instructional videos on the topic of how all of them should be used and then standing by to help out. This way you both streamline your processes and help them out, which additionally contributes to their feeling of loyalty towards you.
3. Regular communication
In the traditional workspace, communication flows organically. People sit next to each other and chat during work hours, they spend breaks chatting and sometimes even go to grab a beer after work together. In a virtual environment, they’re robbed of this experience which does you a great disservice as an employer. To make up for this, you need to strike up a regular conversation with your employees.
What does this mean? First of all, it means that you need to talk to them even when there’s nothing wrong. Ask them how they’re doing! If they’re doing a great job, give them some positive feedback. In some companies, feedback occurs only when there’s a problem. This conditions your team to get a cold sweat every time they see a corporate mail in their inbox. This shouldn’t be the case. Use the IM platform to inquire about their wellbeing and ask if there’s something you can do to help. These small things may end up meaning a lot.
4. Teambuilding in the virtual environment
Another thing you need to understand is that team building in a virtual environment is an option. There are so many tips, tricks and techniques that can be performed here. Through your video meetings, people get a chance to peak into each other’s homes, which psychologically makes them closer together. You can also invest some effort into all sorts of personal facts and weekly trivia contests. The concept of picture sharing and show and tell may also help.
As for the rest of the team building activities, in a traditional work environment, you would pick up your entire team and take them to a paintball exercise or a field trip. In a virtual environment, you can do something similar. Instead of paintball, you can have everyone play a multiplayer video game. There are so many such instances and opportunities, where you get to compensate a shortcoming of a virtual workplace with a strength of doing business in a digital environment.
5. Build trust
Trust is a two-way street and it works in the virtual teams in the same way it would in a traditional workplace. Your employees need you to honour your word. Pay them in time and pay them what you’ve promised. You can, naturally, go above this but you should not go below this figure. Avoid making promises that you can’t keep and try to act as an authority. As an entrepreneur and a manager, it is your job to stand behind your word and take responsibility if things go south.
Trust takes a lot of time to build but only a second to destroy. If you’re not sure, say that you’re not sure. Don’t give a random answer or try to avoid it. Always be ready to stand behind your words. This is a great policy to practice when facing clients and investors, as well. This also gives you a solid business principle to live by and it doesn’t change regardless of the environment (virtual or traditional).
At the end of the day, managing a virtual team is not a simple matter. Then again, managing a team of any kind (at least managing it properly) is never a simple thing. You need to focus on establishing an interpersonal relationship and building trust in a digital environment, which may involve new means and techniques in communication. Still, the benefits and incentives are all already there.