How to Create a Virtual Office for Any Business

In order for any team to survive and thrive, there needs to be a culture of inclusion, collaboration and respect as the manager of a remote team, developing and promoting this type of culture is an especially important task.

Setting Up Your Virtual Office

When coworkers aren’t physically in the same place, there are fewer opportunities to foster interpersonal interaction and connection. So it’s important to be proactive and creative, really, and effective remote teams should feel pretty similar to a team with a physical office. Humans are social creatures who want to feel safe and have a sense of belonging. The key here is relationship building. Creating a positive social vibe will help your team members build relationships with each other. Building strong relationships across your team can lead to an increase in psychological safety, strength and attachment to the team and organization and elevated performance outcomes. You may be asking yourself, how do I create an inclusive and productive work from home culture? Let’s check in with Debi Faris. Debby is Rulership director of Global Web Strategy. She’s been leading a team one hundred percent remote for more than two years and wants to share her tips on how to create an inclusive virtual office.

If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be working full time for my home office, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I’m an extrovert. I’ve always had cross-functional roles, and I worked in an office setting very comfortably for many years. So it an uncomfortable choice for me when I move to a new city and have to transition to working remotely. But now, nearly three years in, I really appreciate the opportunity to work remotely and get asked about how to do it effectively all the time. While remote work has grown in prominence and popularity in recent years, I know it’s still a really awkward idea for a lot of people. Making sure a team feels really connected and supported is one of the responsibilities of a leader that demands some new strategies when you’re working remotely. I stumbled a lot and I still have a long way to go to become the best virtual manager that I can be. But I’ve learned a lot along the way, too, through trial and error, through research, through the knowledge of others. And I have some tips to share now before getting started. One note on technology I’ll be mentioning zoom in as communication channels. We use Zoom for video meetings and BlackBerry instant messaging. You don’t need to have this apply the learnings to your situation no matter what technology you use to start. My first tip is to be open and available to your direct reports. When you work remotely, you miss out on things like the spontaneous conversations that happen when you arrive at your desk in the morning or swiveling your chair at any time to ask someone a clarifying question, seek out ways to make up for those things. It shouldn’t feel any more interactive to ask for a zoom than it does to have a so-called blabby meeting in the office.

Let your team know you’re around and accessible even though they can’t see you. Here are some suggestions to put into practice. Use them to replace the quick questions and problem solving chats that happen casually in a physical office. As a manager, you might need to be the first one to do this to set the right tone. If you find yourself going back and forth on slacker email with one of your team members casually suggest, hey, want to hop on a call, the check is out. Consider having longer or more frequent one on ones, then two people in an office might schedule. This can vary a lot based on how proactive someone is in communication, their level of work experience, their tenure at the company, nature of work and so on. Make up opportunities to check in with people. This is especially important if you haven’t heard from them in a while, are concerned about them or if they’re introverted. And lastly, after a big presentation, consider connecting with a team member right after the meeting to talk about it. This mimics that experience of walking out of a meeting room and debriefing in person. It can be to discuss small things that were funny or to discuss feedback and next steps my next to make time for informal bonding. In your meeting schedules, it takes longer to get to know one another when you don’t sit together and getting to know each other is essential to building trust. So it’s really important to make time to have conversations that aren’t all grounded in work projects. These conversations probably won’t happen as organically as they would inside an office, so you have to be a bit more intentional about making them happen as a manager, you should be proactive and diligent to carve out time for both individual and team bonding. Here are some suggestions to put into practice and individual. Well, start your regular one on one meetings with each of your team members by asking about their day or following up on something they’ve mentioned in the past. If this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, keep notes and a list of conversation, starting questions. Remember that you can slap your team members about non-work things, start the week with that, how is your weekend slack or checking in to see how someone’s week is going later that week? Here are some suggestions to practice at a team level.

Is a Virtual Office For You?

Set up a recurring virtual team lunch or a morning coffee hour where team members can just hang out. My team often uses hours as an opportunity to share photos and stories from our vacations or other life events. Use the donut app for slack. It randomly pairs up team members for coffee chats. That helps people in the team who don’t necessarily work together very often to get to know each other more personally. It also shows that they don’t need to have a specific project to discuss in order to take time to chat out five minutes at the beginning of team meetings each week for team members to share something. My team started out by taking turns each week to share a video tour of each of our home offices next to plan for virtual team activities. Distribution of teams come in different flavors. Chances are your team could be made up of some remote workers and some people working in an office, all of which could be in different time zones. Your team specific makeup will factor into the best solution here and the keys to be really thoughtful about each person’s circumstances make an effort to have additional virtual team gatherings. So resume. Don’t just wait for the rare occasion when you’ll all be in the same place and be creative. Now, I’ll admit these can be kind of awkward if you don’t have a plan, but it doesn’t take much effort to put some structure behind them. And you can always recruit volunteers who are particularly social or creative to take the lead. Some suggestions for virtual team get togethers include baby showers. There are a ton of fun games you can play, like guessing the baby’s arrival date, the birth date and so on. My team has played a baby version of The Price is Right Baby Madeleines and a bunch more holiday parties for any holiday. You can put on some festive music and eat festive treats together, maybe even represents or share different cultural traditions, charitable causes. My team once made crafts together a resume that we sent to an organization that supplies them to children’s hospitals.

Another team I know decided to each make a donation to the charity of their choice and just spend time together sharing their chosen charity and why it was important to them. There are always birthdays, working anniversaries and so much more to celebrate. Again, just be creative, next tip, be thoughtful to show your gratitude to your team. Any manager should do this remote or not, it’s just extra important when you’re remote to make sure you’re deliberate about thanking your team members for a job well done or going above and beyond what they’ve been asked to do. There’s a danger that an employee will feel that their efforts are going unnoticed when they’re not there to physically see them putting in extra hours or getting recognition from their stakeholders. So make an effort to let them know that you virtually see it and you’re grateful for it. Here are some suggestions to put into practice. Send unexpected thank you notes or small gifts. These can be electronic or sent in the mail, make time and one on ones to simply say thank you and recognize work that is challenging, meeting unexpected obstacles or exceeding expectations. And lastly, at the end of a big project, hold a short team meeting just to blow off steam and maybe reflect on the results or what went well in the process to replicate next time. My final tip on building an inclusive environment is creating a culture of overcommunication. Now, my first tip was about making sure you seem very open, available to your team. And now my last one is about making sure your whole team operating model is really built on a culture of transparency. This is the best way to make sure everyone feels like they’re in the loop and therefore equally included. In the beginning, people might feel like they’re over communicating, but I think they’ll soon find that everyone around them really appreciates the messages and they’ll be encouraged to continue. Here are some suggestions to put into practice. Use a shared one on one document with your team members to keep track of project progress, laughers and ongoing feedback.

Why You Need a Virtual Office

This will help keep both of you on the same page. You might want to implement daily or weekly standups on Slack, especially if you have more junior team members. These stands up are just a place where members can share the top three ish things they plan to accomplish in that time period. Be diligent about setting your own slack status and letting your team know when and why you’ll be out of pocket during regular business hours. Set the expectation that your team members should do the same whole team meetings on a regular basis and give everyone in the team an opportunity to choose the topics and to contribute content. For team members who are more reserved, it will help to give them time in advance to prepare something to present.

That’s it for my tips and there’s just one last thing I want to mention. I know that it might take time to become an effective remote leader. You’ll have to learn a lot through trial and error. These recommendations are meant to give you a starting point. You’ll want to collect feedback from your team over time to see how you can improve your own virtual offices.

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