Overcoming Isolation in Virtual Teams: How to Foster a Sense of Community and Belonging
The possibility to work remotely has become more than just a perk that some companies might offer. For many, it is now nothing less than a minimum requirement to even consider a job. However, there are certain challenges for managers of such teams, as remote team members may be prone to feeling isolated. In this article, I want to explore how to overcome this sense of isolation and how virtual teams can create an environment that encourages connection and collaboration.
What is virtual team isolation?
Every virtual team setup is different. Some teams might all live and work in the same city but choose to work from home on certain days of the week and come together in the office on other days. Some virtual teams, however, may be spread out across multiple locations and thus won’t have the opportunity to get together in a physical space as much. The feeling of being isolated from your team members is unsurprisingly a more common issue in fully remote teams.
Since at VISPA, we don’t have every team member living in the same city, I can speak from my own experience. We are using the following seven principles and strategies to foster an inclusive environment for all our team members, regardless of where they are working from.
1. Create a team canvas
This may prove useful for physical and virtual teams alike. The goal of a team canvas is to map out a team’s purpose, goals, values, and norms. It will help establish a shared understanding of what the team is trying to achieve and how they will work together. Creating a team canvas is a great way of bringing team members together and helping them in developing a sense of identity and purpose.
2. Schedule regular check-ins
Regular check-ins with team members will provide an opportunity for them to connect with one another and discuss their progress or current challenges. These check-ins don’t necessarily always have to be work-related. Sometimes it’s also a good idea to give team members to chitchat and talk about their overall well-being. This will pave the way for team members to develop a sense of trust and familiarity to prevent them from feeling isolated in the long run.
3. Celebrate successes
Much like physical teams would celebrate work-related successes, virtual teams can do the same. Whenever team members achieve a milestone or complete a project, it’s important to acknowledge their efforts and celebrate their successes. There is no one correct way in showing appreciation. You could write a simple e-mail to your team, give them a shoutout on social media channels or even throw a virtual party.
4. Encourage informal communication
Informal communication provides an opportunity for team members to form personal relationships and can create a feeling of belonging. This can, in turn, increase the overall job satisfaction of team members. Moreover, it poses a more flexible and fast form of communication than formal communication channels.
5. Provide opportunities for feedback
Giving team members the space to voice concerns, share ideas, and provide feedback on the team’s performance will create a sense of trust and transparency. It allows the team to be more engaged with one another and to continuously improve team collaboration.
6. Use collaboration tools
A big part of why virtual team members may feel isolated is the lack of personal contact. Messaging apps like Slack or Teams have done a great job in improving real-time and informal communication in virtual settings, however, in the long run, those will probably not do a great job in mimicking the conversations you would have with your colleagues in a physical office space. Virtual collaboration tools, like video conferencing, or better yet, 3D virtual spaces, like VISPA can help in translating the sincerity of in-person interactions into virtual ones.
7. Foster a culture of inclusion
Last, but definitely not least is the task of actively creating an environment in which everyone feels valued and respected, regardless of their background and experience. Training sessions, (virtual) team-building exercises, and regular check-ins are just a few ways to achieve this. Fostering a culture of inclusion is not a one-time measure but requires the continuous effort of all team members involved.
At the end of the day, managing a remote team isn’t too different from managing a team in an actual office space. Because fostering a sense of community and belonging is necessary for any team, regardless of their setup. The rise of virtual teams just highlighted the need of nurturing an inclusive and trusting environment even more.