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In this month’s issue: If you’re not compensating for physical togetherness, your team may not excel

Global Team ImageTravel back in time with me to before farming, grocery stores, and take-out. Men and women roamed the Earth in constant search of food, hunting game and gathering plants. Every time they stepped out of their dwelling, they had no idea what the day’s search would bring. On a good day came full stomachs for their families; on a bad day came a hungry tiger or a lack of resources.

Whatever happened, these early humans knew that their best chance of survival was to stick together.

Today, though food is more readily available in some societies, the drive to stay physically together is still hard-wired within us. People from certain cultures describe how trust increases when you can look into someone’s eyes. In another example, the gripping and common fear of public speaking comes from a fear of being rejected by one’s peers, which for early humans meant near-certain death.

We are programmed to be together, yet geographically dispersed teams are becoming today’s workplace norm. Even if someone works one building away from their colleagues, they will likely work virtually. Add in the global component and the divide increases with time zone, language barriers, and cultural differences. Many colleagues work for years without ever meeting.

Does this mean that virtual teams are unnatural? Will they ever be a successful substitute for face-to-face?

Virtual teams are capable of high-performance, but not without what I call “compensation activities.”

Since humans subconsciously see togetherness as entwined with survival, when we are not together trust is more fragile. We must compensate for the lack of physical presence by intentionally engaging in activities that build quick, deep trust. I see many organizations, however, ignore this need.

Leaders might think that trust and relationship-building is secondary to driving the business growth. What they must remember is that virtual teams do not start on the same level ground as co-located teams in terms of trust. Though younger generations may be more comfortable working over distance media than their more senior colleagues, the human call to be together remains. As part of a virtual team, we can still answer the call.

How, you ask? The possibilities are endless.

  • Exchange photos
  • Schedule regular video conferences
  • Call or email a colleague when you don’t need something
  • Ask questions about each other’s cultures
  • Use collaborative software such as Adobe Connect or WebEx to conduct virtual meetings
  • Acknowledge holidays through a quick email greeting
  • Create a virtual bulletin board (such as Corkulous) which depicts your work environments
  • Take two minutes at the beginning of every conference call to socialize with teammates

And the list goes on. I have seen teams create incredible trust and results through “being together” in the virtual space. This will not occur naturally as it might face-to-face, so you must be deliberate about the investment. The return, however, is immeasurable.

What compensation activities do you use to build virtual trust? Comment here and we’ll “see” you next time!

Want to see what highly effective virtual team collaboration can look like? Contact us at [email protected] to see if you qualify for our free 30 minute demonstration in Adobe Connect.

Vicki Flier Hudson

Vicki Flier Hudson, Chief Collaboration Officer for Highroad Global Services, Inc. inspires people to leverage the full power of differences. She has helped countless large-sized corporations establish successful operations across the globe and build bridges across cultures, distance, and time.

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