How to overcome challenges in a virtual team? I’m Chad Littlefield. I get to work with some of the coolest organizations and universities on the planet. And over the last several years, I’ve gotten to work with some really phenomenal all remote teams. And then in 2020, we all became an all-remote team. No doubt you’ve bumped up against some major challenges in operating as a virtual team. And so, in this video, I’m going to first unpack share some really phenomenal data on over 6,000 remote workers of what are the top 5 challenges of remote work and then I’ll share some really clever strategies of how I’ve helped teams overcome them so that at the end of this video, you can immediately steal them, take them, and apply them to your own context. No more flop, let’s get into it. Alright. What are the top challenges? Buffer who’s one of the…
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Collaboration and Communication
Even pre-pandemic was one of the most highly regarded all remote teams. It worked all remotely for as long as they existed. They just been really transparent with their journey of remote work and figured out how not to do things and how to do them. They put out this state of remote work report every single year. I’ve got in my hands the 2019 data and the 2020 data which combined is over 6,000 people’s perspective on remote work. Now, what’s interesting is over the last 2 years, the data didn’t actually change all that much. I’m just going to share with you 2020s data on the top 5 challenges. There are a couple items that switch position slightly but not anything super significant. You can see, I think you can see right in the top, collaboration and communication.
Number 2 loneliness. This is on just about any report ever. If you’re watching this video, you’ve probably experienced it yourself and probably talked about it with your team at some point. It can be awesome to work from home to work remotely. It can also be very isolating. In a previous video, I shared that the number one characteristic of what makes people live longer, number one is social integration which is interesting. It’s not even necessarily have to do with deep relationships. It’s just literally you feel you recognize the male person. And when you go to the YMCA, you see the same handful of people there like there’s just this familiarity that you feel integrated into a community. And when you’re working from home, there is no community to be integrated into other than the one that you’re already deeply embedded in which is your family. That is if you actually have a family or a spouse, right? For remote workers who are living solo that effect can be magnified as well.
Not Being Able to Unplug
Number 3 is a big one. This one was higher in 2019 as well. Not being able to unplug. Distractions at home and last but not least, being in a different time zone than teammates. And real quick I want to hit on number 5. That being in a time different time zone from teammates just low-hanging fruit from all the remote teams that I’ve worked with. That is a major challenge and it turns out you can’t change the time zone of a country that somebody is in. One of my recommendations is actually be really, really conscious of hiring from extremely incompatible time zones if there’s going to be a requirement for a lot of synchronous communication and connection. If you need a lot of back and forth that’s happening over Slack or meetings over Zoom. You’re not going to get the best out of your team if somebody’s needing to wake up at 2 A.M to meet somebody else at 3 P.M, right? Being really deliberate in your hiring can be an extremely preventative measure to avoid that time zone issue.
Now, if it’s unavoidable, there are things that you want to do to put into place. Establishing, knowing before you bring people on the team how exactly you’re going to manage time zones and what the work hours are and if people are flexible to create at least 2 to 3-hour overlap every single day, that makes a really big difference. There are the challenges and you might be on this video because you already know your problems. They might… You know, the problems of your virtual remote contacts might be a little bit different than this data, right? Data doesn’t ever describe you exactly. But I’m imagining there’s some overlap and so from this point the video forward, ruthlessly misinterpret and steal everything I say and do and apply it to your own context. The way that i want to share some of these solutions are exploring “What are the biggest benefits of working remotely?” Let go of struggles. You know, there’s a chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch: How To Make Change Happen When Change is Hard. Talk about this idea of finding the bright spot. And it is a brilliant technique to create change. And that is if you’re trying to overcome challenges and struggles, don’t necessarily focus all on those challenges and struggles. Focus on what’s working really well. And I can say from this graph and you can read real quick and pause if you want to that the benefits of a remote work, the word flexible shows up about 8 times. And just as you’re pondering 2 overcoming challenges. One of the other things that Buffer found in the report that I thought was kind of a silly funny graph. 98% of people want to work remotely at least part of the time for the rest of their careers.
This is really interesting, important data. Now, we’ll see after we’re totally through pandemic.
We’ll see if that graph changes at all. But I think the idea that our work fits us rather than us fitting our work is an incredible concept that has the ability to change the way we think about work altogether. My number one strategy for overcoming the challenges in your virtual team are look for the bright spots and dissect them. What a bright spot is is what is asking your team checking with them what is working really well about working remotely. And then dissect that, pick that apart. The other thing is in taking your challenges, a way to find bright spots within challenges. Let’s say for example, you’ve heard from your team that they’re really struggling with, just feeling isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world. The way that you might find a bright spot in that is to say, to ask questions like, “When is a time in the last month that you felt really, really connected or tuned in to this team to the community around you to your family?” Etc. And invite people to share one really practical way to put this idea of a bright spot into use is blocking off a 20 to 30-minute meeting every single week. And the intention of that meeting is always to identify unpack and dissect bright spots. You might ask questions like “When is a time in the last week or 2 that collaboration and communication were working really well or that something was communicated really effectively? Or some way that you’ve partnered with somebody else on the team in a unique way that you haven’t?” Right? Asking this appreciative inquiry, asking questions that look for the bright spots and unpack rather than saying, “Hey, I know that everybody’s struggling with loneliness and isolation. Like how are you doing with that?”
And that’s fine to check in like that. But this specific strategy is to say “Let’s focus on the bright spot” and then the tool here is to once you identify that bright spot and dissect it a little bit, to then ask “And how can we replicate this throughout the rest of our work? Or throughout the rest of this week?” When you replicate bright spots, you end up solving challenges. Whereas sometimes when you focus on the problem and you’re so tuned into the problem, it’s hard to actually come up with solutions. Because when we’re in challenge-struggle-problem mindset, our brain goes like this. And we’re very narrow solutions we can come up with. And yet when we’re looking for bright spots Barbara Fredrickson our positive psychology research talks about the broaden and build theory. And it’s this idea that the brain opens up when we’re looking at things like bright spots as opposed to just challenges. The second key strategy that I want to share in how to overcome your own challenges in your virtual team is by picking by far the most significant benefit of working remotely which is this idea of flexibility. Use flexibility to your advantage, right? Acknowledge and actually create flexible time. What I mean by that is flexible time is essentially the idea where you’re carving out some amount of time each week inviting people to say ‘How can we use flexibility to solve some of our biggest challenges?” Right? You take the biggest benefit of working remotely. And you turn it into a tool to addressing challenges. You’re feeling isolated, disconnected, if flexibility is a tool; what if we just decided to all stop work at 3 P.M and to do something that was connecting. Either with each other as a team or with our families or oscillating week after week, right? Week… On odd weeks, you’re connecting with your team. On even weeks, you’re cutting out of work early to connect with family. And actually, brainstorming as a group or getting together in your meeting as a group to ask questions or prompts like “What are you gonna do to create some meaningful connection in the next 2 hours?” If you have that meeting at 2:30 and it goes until 3. And then at 3 P.M to 5 P.M, you have people who are set out with the intention to create meaningful connection that makes a difference in that line item of a virtual team struggle. I hope the strategy of finding the bright spot and then also using flexibility as a tool to solve the challenges that you have on your team is really useful. I get to spend all of my time figuring out how to help remote teams connect and engage. And how to make connection engagement really easy, how to make smooth the process of communication. If you’re looking for really practical tools and ideas, the videos at the end of this… Link at the end of this video will help deepen your knowledge of how to make virtual teams fun, how to make virtual connection engagement more meaningful. And then in the link in the description, there’s a link to a free downloadable version of our connection toolkit which we created specifically to help amplify connection belonging and trust.
There’s a ton of group exercises for teens of all sizes in all contexts. You can obviously get the kit shipped to your house and there’s a link for that below. But that costs money. If you’re into the whole free thing, the url below Weand.me/free will give you access to a whole bunch of the tools. We’ve got a deck of cards with questions to promote prompts to offset that loneliness and isolation dynamic to create more meaningful connection before content. It was awesome hanging out in cyberspace with you all.
Have an awesome day.