With more and more organisations giving employees the opportunity to work remotely each year, one of the topics I am frequently asked about is regarding how culture management operates in a virtual environment.
It's a topic I have blogged about previously - so let's take a practical example from when a client asked me just that. Many business units in organisations he leads are spread across the world, and employees physically sit inside the country organisation. Communication is through email and phone calls, and meetings occur at most twice a year. Many leaders face this challenge, including those who are leading a functional group (HR, Finance, Marketing) who sit in a local organisation but should also have affinity with the larger functional team. Working arrangements may mean that some team members may work from home, or spend much of their life at client sites.
Culture is so strongly influenced by identity, in the sense that individuals will want to fit in to the group they feel identified with. Peers are an important influence on behaviour, and in a structure like this individuals may be unclear who they really count as their peers. Leading a virtual team is like living without one of your five senses. One element of human communication, rapport building and influence – the face to face encounter – is missing from the equation.
And, as with those who do not have use of their eyes, or their ears, the other senses have to adapt and become much stronger to compensate. What does that mean in practical terms. Here are three simple ideas I have found help with leading virtual teams and building a common culture.
Virtual teams who build strong cultures dedicate time to accentuating the mechanisms they do have available to them to build shared values, norms and connection. Do you have ideas to share based on what has worked for you?