Group meeting via Google Hangout

Become a better virtual teammate

In Work Life by JD Dillon

Remote work is a fact of professional life. Thanks, internet! I’ve spent the past 10 years working on and/or managing virtual teams. Whether members were distributed across The Walt Disney World Resort, the continental United States, or the world, many of the same challenges always arose.

This is especially true if the majority of the team is not remote – meaning they all work together in a single physical location most of the time. If you aren’t required to work remotely very often, you may not develop the habits and sensibilities necessary to engage virtual teammates. Odds are you are going to join a team with a remote member at some point in the near future. Therefore, its important for all professionals – regardless of location – to become great virtual teammates.

Here are 4 quick tips for becoming a better virtual teammate when you typically work from the office.

Remember they exist …

Out of sight, out of mind definitely applies. Virtual team members will quickly realize if you only call on them when you need something. They’ll also notice when they are left out because involving them in a project or activity would be a bit more challenging. Treat your virtual teammates just like your office-based peers. If you would invite the people in your office to something, invite the remote folks too. Give your virtual teammates the opportunity to decline involvement based on their location. When selecting team members for a project, don’t let location become a deciding factor. All else equal, then use proximity to influence your selection.

Imagine they’re sitting there all alone waiting for you …

It’s pretty easy to be late for meetings nowadays. We’re all super busy and running “back-to-back” is commonplace. However, while you can tell people are running late for a physical meeting, virtual team members are left guessing. Did they forget to dial me in? Is the meeting cancelled? Am I on the wrong conference line? If you’re running late for a virtual meeting, don’t just assume the other participants will be there when you arrive. Drop them a quick note so they know what’s going on in the “real world.”

Treat microphones like people …

Many conference rooms aren’t very well wired for virtual meetings. Most have a simple speaker phone sitting in the middle of a long table. In other cases, one of the participants in the room uses their laptop to engage virtual participants. Either way, the audio source is in one very specific location. If you aren’t sitting next to it and you fail to speak up, everyone on the line has to strain to hear you. When participating in a group meeting that includes remote team members, direct your voice to the audio source like its a person – regardless of who you are actually talking to. This will not only make your virtual peers feel included, but it will also save you the hassle of being interrupted and asked to speak louder.

Make time for OTHER conversations …

Virtual teammates often miss out on pleasantries. Good mornings. How’s it goings. How was your weekends. It’s pretty difficult to bump into a virtual teammate in the breakroom or on the way to lunch. As the office-based team member, you must make the necessary time and effort to engage in these types of conversations to foster improved interpersonal relationships. Be mindful of when you last spoke with your virtual peer. Arrive early or stay late during a meeting to have a quick update chat. Schedule time now and then with your remote team members just to talk about anything other than your current work projects and priorities.

If you work from the office, what tricks do you use to ensure ongoing effective collaboration with virtual team members? If you’re the remote employee, what challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?