In their September issue, buried within an article about women in the workplace, I found a comment about an important element of virtual team dynamics.
"More difficult is the culture shift that requires workers not to unconsciously punish colleagues for being out of the room."
Behaviors and attitudes by those in a central office need to be inclusive of those located in other locations. Most slights are unintentional, but they can still be damaging to overall team morale, productivity, and cohesiveness.
See if you can spot 4 missteps in the following short example.
Scene: Central NYC Office, majority of team members in the conference room with handful of virtual team members from across the US on the conference speaker phone.
- Mary (NYC) Meeting Facilitator: "Good Afternoon everyone. Glad you could join us for our monthly lunch meeting. Help yourself to sandwiches on the side table. John, you're first up in the agenda. You mentioned you had some handouts you wanted to share?"
- John (NYC): "Yes, I'll pass them around now."
- Peter (Seattle): "Do you have those in electronic form that someone could email out now?"
- John (NYC): "Oh, right, sorry about that Peter, I just finished it before the meeting and meant to email it out before I went to the copier. Let me just step out to ask Ellen to send that around. Be right back."
- Mary (NYC): "Let's skip ahead to the next item on the agenda and come back to John in a minute. Brrr, you can really feel that air conditioning when it kicks in, can't you? Okay, I'm looking for ideas for our next employee engagement survey. Anyone have anything?"
- Susan (Phoenix): "I have an ..."
- Mike (NYC): "Here's something we did last year..." (proceeds to share)
- Mary (NYC): "I like it. Anyone else?"
- Susan (Phoenix): "Well, in our office..."
- Lauren (NYC): "I heard they had some success over in IT with..." (proceeds to share) This continues with sharing from members in the room, and Susan gives up and disengages.
- Mary (NYC): "Okay, let's go back to our first agenda item and John's handouts." Meeting continues.
#2 Very subtle, yet still common, is a greeting of "Good Afternoon" when it's morning for those on the phone. It denotes the bias toward those in the same room rather than being welcoming to all.
#3 The company catered lunch is only being served to those in the room, which is logical and practical, but it's the kind of injustice virtual team members can come to resent if it happens frequently.
#4 Technological challenges are at fault for the last one. No one is intentionally talking over Susan. When the air conditioning kicked in, the ambient noise was enough that the speaker phone stayed with the room, never letting up to allow the NYC team members to hear Susan. In this case, the onus is on Susan to let the group know what happened or else it will occur again and again.
If you're leading at the executive level, these examples are not your issues. You have competent assistants to take care of meeting materials and you use senior staff conference rooms with up to date equipment.
But this is what's happening with the teams that report to you if they have virtual team members, and that makes it your issue, too.
The good news is that these kind of slights are low-hanging fruit on the larger Virtual Team Challenges tree. With a little training to bring awareness, the team can turn this around and prevent future "punishments" to those not located in the central office.