Be Someone Real on the Virtual Team
When we lose the advantage of grabbing a coffee together or going to lunch, it helps to find different ways in which to build a good rapport with people you may never have met in person. How can we do that?
- Be accessible online. Every team is different, but most teams I work with use IM and email pretty constantly throughout the workday, as well as what used to be considered "off-hours." I log into IM or Skype whenever I'm available, just to let other team members know that they can reach out to me if they need me. I make an extra effort to log in and be accessible online whenever my project work is at a peak. On one of my projects, one of the developers seems to do the same thing. It's both helpful and reassuring to know that if I hit an issue, I can reach out easily and find him. In a physical office situation, showing up for work on time and consistently at the office is the norm, but for virtual teams "showing up" means being accessible online.
- Chance encounters. The other way I try to show up and become someone "real" to others is by travelingcreating an opportunity to meet people in person whenever possible. One team I've been on for awhile now has a group of people who travel regularly, and there's been a fair amount of joking and chatter about who has managed to meet team members in person. If I'm traveling, I ask people if they'd be willing to meet me somewhere in person. It can be fun to connect faces to the voices we hear in conference calls. I realize that this isn't an opportunity for some people; and, of course, many teams consist of people from different countries, whose chance of in-person meetings is slim. Still, if you're on the road, consider trying to meet members of your virtual team.
- Be consistent. Part of being a dependable resource on a project is being consistent. I believe that consistent communications and consistent behavior breed trust. If you want people to depend on you, demonstrate consistency in everything you do. If something in your life is affecting your work, tell your team members. It's best to share that sort of personal information with your team, so that they understand what's going on with you. That way, if they notice a difference in your behavior or communications, they won't conclude that you're inconsistent or unpredictable. You don't have to tell everyone all your life's stories, but you can "be real," sharing aspects of your life and current issues as needed, while still being professional.