This post covers the 'A' in the Virtual, not Distant® model. To download the PDF covering the seven aspects of virtual teamwork, click here.
Statistics like this one (which I know I keep quoting, but in a blog called Virtual, not Distant, I think it’s ok) always make me think of the lonesome team member, stuck at home, missing all those wonderful water-cooler moments. The chat about the weekend, the gossip about colleagues, the last series of Game of Thrones.
Rarely do I think of someone missing on knowing whether there are plans for the team to grow, whether a new communication process is about to be introduced or whether plans for a new project that has been discussed for ages have been scrapped.
These very much work-related, non-social examples can have an effect on that sense of isolation. They can also make us feel undervalued. This doesn’t just happen only when we work with virtual teammates, but the effects can’t be counteracted by the social aspect of the workplace. And so, like much of our leadership practice in virtual teams, we must be deliberate in showing appreciation.
Before we move onto these more subtle components of appreciation, let’s remind ourselves of how important it is to use the underused two-letter word: “Thank you.”
Think about it:
In 2010, Wichita State University in the US, surveyed 1,500 employees and found that “the most powerful motivator was personalized, on-the-spot recognition from an employee's co-workers and managers”.
In May 2014, Monster surveyed 2,000 employees in the UK. 58% felt like they didn’t get thanked enough at work, 54% felt underappreciated and 41%, felt demotivated as a result.
Not Just a Thank You
Showing appreciation does not require big gestures. Yes, you can have employee/team member of the month schemes and equivalent, but regular smaller gestures such as saying “thank you” (or emailing it, or posting it, or creating a JPG) can also go a long way. I often think that the buzz of receiving an award lasts for days and then routine takes over while short little buzzes of adrenaline when someone thanks you can keep you going for months.
But to show that we appreciate people's work and behaviour, we don't need to constantly be rolling out the two-lettter word. Feeling appreciated, which often goes hand in hand with feeling respected, is not just about explicitly being reminded about how valuable you are to ta team.
- It’s about being involved in decisions that affect you.
- It’s about being part of communication that affects your team.
- It’s about feeling like you can contribute to create something bigger than yourself.
Developing team identity and shaping the culture in a way that creates the conditions for internal motivation to kick in is hard in virtual teams. How, when and why you show appreciation will signal what kind of behaviour you want to encourage, what your values are and, let’s face it, how you’d like to be treated yourself.
Do They Know You’re Listening?
Listening is rarely quoted as a way of showing appreciation. Sure, in the short term we might get a kick out of receiving an extra amount of cash (or gift vouchers if you’re in the UK, they’re very popular here), but knowing that your opinion counts can be even more motivating.
If we’re having a conversation real time, as we’re trying to make decisions, sometimes we can’t recall everything that was said. This is where the asynchronous conversation that takes part between members of virtual teams can be a benefit over discussions happening face to face or over a webcam.
If you’re involved in a conversation where decisions are being made, where people have put the energy, interest and time to be involved, file away these discussions for later. An honest thank you after a final decision has been made will be very welcome by everyone who put energy and time into the discussion. Just as importantly, but sometimes overlooked, is to let people know that a decision has finally been made.
An even greater gesture of appreciation will be referring to any of those ideas that were generated in the discussion, if the occasion arises. Or if any of the rejected options suddenly become viable, pull them out and refer to the person who first put them forwards. Give credit where credit’s due and show your team members that it’s worth caring and being involved in team conversations.
Keep Them in the Loop
Feeling like you have no say in the decisions made for your team crushes your feeling of autonomy and can be demotivating – but there are times when you can understand why taking these decisions is out of your control.
However, there is no way of understanding why decisions that affect you don’t get communicated. The deadline has moved, why did nobody tell me? We’ve been awarded a new account, why did I find out through the company newsletter? There’s a new communication process in place, why haven’t I been introduced properly to it? Am I not supposed to use it?
Big gestures might signal that you are thoughtful but might still leave me feeling you don’t know how to help me do my work. If I see you every day, this might be counteracted by spontaneous thank you gestures such as picking up a chocolate bar on the way back from your lunch break. Or taking someone out for a coffee because you see they’re having a rough day.
In the virtual environment a lack of communication might just lead to withdrawal and a feeling of being under-appreciated. That’s why you need to be constantly looking out for opportunities to show genuine appreciation and regularly review how your actions (or lack of them) can affect your team members.