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By Rod Miller, Bizkinnect Lead Consultant

Challenges are opportunities in disguise. A new remote working environment is no exception. As the reality sinks in, many managers are seeing the potential obstacles in front of them as they consider helping their newly-dispersed team to work well together.

However, with intentionality, forced virtual teams can help you build a brand-new level of organizational health within your workgroup. Here’s how.

1. Capitalize on the opportunity to set behavior around communication

The more sensitive a topic is, or the more potentially conflict-laden it may be, the more “in-face” the communication needs to be. Here’s a general rule of thumb to determine which medium to use:

  • Texting or instant messaging: Use for quick questions that are not complex, emotional or likely to cause conflict.
  • Email: Use for informing team members of items everyone needs to know that were not covered in status or weekly meetings.
  • Phone: Use for discussion that has higher stakes for those involved – subjects that are more likely to raise emotions or conflict, or are more complex in nature.
  • Video conferencing: This medium helps capture non-verbal communication. Use it for the topics with the highest emotional stakes or the most complex discussions, or for those with larger amounts of team members involved.

2. Virtual teamwork creates an opportunity to instill the discipline of regular meetings.

In a dispersed working environment, your meetings will be critical. Without good meetings, people will default to sending lots of emails and copying everyone on everything. Work will bog down with responding to emails, thereby ensuring something will be missed as the volume of emails goes up.

  • Daily status meetings will help to keep this more manageable. The status meeting is the 10-minute “stand up” meeting at the beginning of the day. Use these to maintain and build connection within your team. Make this a mandatory video or voice conferencing meeting where each team member reports on their priorities and plan of action for the day. This alone will reduce unnecessary email communication.
  • Secondly, weekly team meetings have never been more important. The purpose of these is to review the week’s activities and resolve obstacles and issues. Again, these should be video conferencing meetings.
  • Do not conflate your weekly staff meetings with ad hoc tactical meetings. Ad hoc meetings are reserved for the smaller number of individuals directly involved in resolving an issue that requires longer, in-depth discussion (one to two hours).
  • Be prepared to have more meetings if your work is shifting dramatically due to the unfolding crisis.

3. Seize this opportunity to improve team clarity.

Because of more difficult communication circumstances, this is an opportunity to become crystal clear about:

  • your team’s rallying cry,
  • what your priorities are and
  • who is working on what.
  • In addition, create clarity by setting expectations for each team member’s work time and availability. Help your employees set boundaries around their work time so that they are also getting down-time.
    • Creating clarity here will help your team members create clarity with their family members, as well as your clients.
    • You may also want to create a policy around working from home that your entire team or organization will adhere to.

4. Use this time to increase trust within your team.

Trust is built on the basic premise of knowing people as people and appreciating our differences. In a work-from-home environment, team members will be reaching into each other’s home life at a more personal level than ever. If trust is low among your team members, this could feel invasive and you may experience push-back on video meetings.

A green screen or virtual background can help with this during video conferencing. Web conferencing products like Zoom have a virtual background to protect home privacy and reduce distractions. Most importantly, see this as an opportunity to practice understanding within your team as you learn more about each other’s unique lives.

5. Use this as an opportunity to practice mining for conflict.

Because of physical distance from each other, it’s essential to make sure that during your meetings everyone in the team has a voice and has spoken their opinion. It is easy to “hide” remotely, or to generate unhealthy conflict via backchannels because team members feel anonymous. Mining for conflict—asking people for their opinion or if they agree—becomes even more essential.

You may need to quiet the extroverts on your team and call out the quieter ones, asking for their opinion. Remember that it’s perfectly normal to have “dead air space” while people process. Remind your team that they don’t need to rush in to fill a void, so that others have space to respond.

6. Improve employee engagement by helping your team to measure their own success.

We often underestimate how others’ appreciation of our work impacts on our sense of fulfillment in our role.

If your team member, Bill, has been used to the reward of seeing the happiness on Sandy’s face when he puts those key papers on her desk each week, be aware that he’s not going to be able to receive that reward in the same way.

As their manager, it’s up to you to help your employees feel known, relevant and able to measure their own success. You may want to institute weekly one-on-one calls with team members so that they feel acknowledged by you in the absence of “hallway” conversations. Encourage your reports to be deliberate about connecting with each other as well.

The most important things while working from home are to be intentional about your team’s organizational health and to allow the crisis to be an opportunity to draw you closer relationally. If done well, your team may come out of remote working as a higher-performing powerhouse than when they went in.

Ready to connect?

  • Sign up for the 45-minute webinar, “Conflict and Clarity,” with Bizkinnect’s lead consultant, Rod Miller. In this webinar, Rod shares practical organizational health and change management concepts you can begin to apply today.
  • Would you like a free one-hour consultation? Let’s connect!  We would love to help you as you implement these practices within your own organization.
  • Please note, we now also offer all of our services remotely via video conferencing.
  • If you have any questions, feel free to call us directly.  800-953-8112


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