Connectedness and community are the materials of our social fabric as human beings. We all need a degree of these things, some of us needing more than others. In this time of disruption, we thought this topic might be more relevant than ever.
In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, many governments and regional jurisdictions have cancelled the gathering of people in large groups. Interestingly, in the early stages of the public’s response to this development, people were seen congregating in smaller groups in social spaces such as beaches and parks. This served as evidence of the social nature of human beings. Even in a situation when social isolation is encouraged, people seek out opportunities to connect with one another and live in community with one another.
As a result, there is the possibility that people will start to feel isolated and cut off from their social support networks and the world at large as we all come to terms with this new reality of social distancing and isolation. The prevalence of conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as feelings of loneliness, could potentially increase due to extended periods of isolation.
From an occupational perspective, virtual teams embody certain advantages but also carry certain challenges. Research shows that some advantages include the fact that members’ work happens across a longer timeframe, travel time and cost is reduced, and virtual teams allow an organization to access a larger talent pool. Challenges that research has identified include the fact that it is difficult to develop relationships between virtual team members, they can miscommunicate more frequently, and the set-up cost of technology is high.
People typically establish trust through physical contact and socialization, which are simply not available to virtual team members. Miscommunication and the loss of face-to-face communications are also challenges, because much of human communication includes non-verbal cues, as well as meaning and feeling, in a message. Technology often loses the richness of these forms of communication. People feeling isolated have a need for companionship. In self-contained offices, co-workers can meet for lunch, share stories, talk about their kids and socialize outside of work. Unfortunately, these more casual interactions are less possible for those working at a distance from each other. Managing virtual teams can also be challenging. How can you assess individual performance, monitor diligence, and ensure fairness in treatment when your team is not physically present?
One key aspect becomes heightened in virtual teams, namely communication and the need to manage and monitor work more closely. A leader’s ability to assess individual performance, diligence and ensure fairness in treatment can only be secured through effective and frequent communication. In a virtual team environment where interactions are more scheduled and planned, spontaneous communications that offer deeper insight can be lost. Leaders are therefore more explicitly required to reach out and stay in touch with team members and ensure key points are covered in their conversations.
A relative of one of our team members was considering joining such a team recently. During the interview process, discussions were held about what the workplace might look like for a remote employee. While some benefits were noted when discussing this potential workplace, the ideas of loneliness and disconnection mentioned earlier in this blog also emerged. Ultimately, the lack of opportunity to benefit from the direct exposure of working face-to-face with more tenured colleagues, the inability to connect directly with new colleagues, and the perceived requirement for constant monitoring by a direct supervisor, swayed this relative away from the job opportunity.
It is interesting for us to pause and reflect as we live through this period of time, and to see what we can learn and take away from the experience. We now turn it over to you to observe, learn and have some fun trying to bring your “forced” virtual teams to life, while satisfying the human need we describe for connectedness and community.
In the spirit of connectedness and community, we would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. We are here for you.