Healthy balance for virtual work teams is critical to long term success. Prioritizing survival as the most important or only priority has its consequences according to this article.

“Reduced social interaction, increased workloads, and lack of well-being and mental health supports” contribute to half (49%) of the workforce looking to quit their job despite the global uncertainty according to the Hays Canada survey. The article suggests even something as simple as regularly talking with our employees and asking how they are doing is a good start to showing our teams that we care about their well-being.

How Social Interaction Impacts Workplaces

According to this article, reduced social interaction can lead to a feeling of social isolation and lack of well-being. Isolation and poor well-being contribute to half of the workforce looking to change jobs. On the other hand, great team collaboration and strong social interaction is powerful as it strengthens social bonds, builds trust, motivation, and reduces the feelings of loneliness.

Feelings of isolation are a natural by-product of a fully remote workforce if leadership is not deliberate to counter or minimize the downsides to being fully remote. But how do we effectively collaborate and build social connections virtually while minimizing the effects of increased workloads or the much talked about ‘screen fatigue’?

How to Maximize Virtual Connection and Collaboration While Minimizing Virtual Downsides

Even with capable and smart individual team members, building strong virtual team relationships is challenging. It requires coordination and deliberate strategy to obtain. Even if you figure out virtual team collaboration well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have created an environment for authentic social interaction.

Authentic social relationships are often what is missing from planning virtual interactions, as the organic conversations or ‘water cooler’ talk do not happen unless you utilize technology effectively. This HBR article highlights 4 tips for effective virtual collaboration.

  • Use regular meetings for strategy, creativity, agree on goals or brainstorming.
  • Share documents for feedback.
  • Work ‘side by side’ if you need to ask questions or are avoiding something difficult.
  • Message away with team decisions on how often and for how long. If a problem is not easily solved through a chat, pick up the phone.

We would add to this scheduling time or making space in your online meetings for connecting with your colleagues and ask about how they are doing.

Choose a Channel of Communication

There are many different channels on which your team may choose to communicate. Email, phone, text or chats,  conference calls with or without video, project management and collaboration tools and more. Being deliberate about which tools and how and for what types of communication you will use each type of communication tool will help you and your team to be most effective.

Being deliberate about a specific communication tool for a specific type of communication will minimize the downsides of fatigue and overwhelm. It is frustrating for example to be sending 50 emails back and forth when a phone call would have eliminated many of the back and forth emails by engaging in a conversation. 

The whole idea or purpose to build more or better team collaboration and social interaction is not to always be available on every possible channel, but instead to be deliberate and clear about the goals you set together. Once clear goals are established, decide as a team which tools you will use for different types of communication and collaboration needed.

Sticking to using each communication tool with the intention that you decided on will focus the team to minimize the potential extra noise. Make sure to include time just to check in personally with some time for just building team relationships and having fun. Fun benefits the team and the individual team member’s well-being.


RELATED: How Important is Well-Being Within Your Team?


A Theory Behind Deliberate Communication and Social Tools for Virtual Teams

There have been many articles and reports of screen fatigue and many people are trying to juggle home and work life in the same physical space, so being mindful of the method we use to communicate with the added stresses of 2020 is critical for the people on our teams. Media Richness Theory poses that ‘different forms of communication have different levels of richness in the information they provide’. In other words, sometimes what we need to communicate is relatively straight forward and doesn’t require a quick response.

In other cases, sometimes there is a large amount of uncertainty or the topic has the potential for human emotion to be involved and benefits from a form of communication in which data is exchanged in real time both in sight and sound. Email for example is a ‘lean’ communication tool and a virtual face to face is a ‘rich’ communication tool. Depending on what is needed from the communication, choosing the appropriate mode of communication can lessen the burden of fatigue which is a way to deliberately look after your team’s well-being.

Having a conversation with your team recognizing them for the challenges they face and deciding on a communication plan that will minimize the downsides of remote work and maximize and strengthen social connection shows your team that you care about their well-being and social connectedness to the team. 


RELATED: How to Run a Virtual Meeting


Balance – Both/And

Like with many things in life, balance is key. Balancing the upsides of connectedness and collaboration and the upsides of a remote workforce is not an either/or choice. It’s a both/and deliberate choice. At Summit, we are finding some teams come to us because they need to swing the focus back to solid team relationships and connection. They have been working and focusing so hard on change and survival to the detriment of the connectedness of the team.

These teams might benefit from downloading our free 10 Virtual Icebreakers guide or consider virtual team building experiences such as Here’s to YOU! or Play it Forward. In both of these programs, teams take time to compete, collaborate, and engage in some fun challenges. Teams are rewarded for their hard work and spend time having fun and celebrating together.

For other teams we talk with, they are choosing to deliberately invest in leadership development and soft skills training to build resilience, well-being, and take a break from over-focusing on tasks. These teams might consider High Performance Teamwork or MBTI.   For every team finding a healthy balance looks different. 

We’re Here to Help

We’d love to talk with you about what finding a healthy balance in your team dynamics might look like and brainstorm ideas to build or strengthen healthy team relationships, resiliency, and communication. Contact us to learn more about how we can help strengthen your team’s social interaction and felt sense of well-being.