Why Becoming a Virtual Team Challenges Our Identity

You are part of a "buzzing" team.

You tend to have coffee breaks at the same time. On Fridays, you go out for lunch together.

You have your own whiteboard in your section of the open plan office. You have nicknames for each other, that only your team members use.

You know each others' moods, each others' work rhythms.

And then, oh shock.

Your company's (bad) results are announced and the rumours begin. In this day and age, it's not worth maintaining such a large office building. Those with location independent jobs might well have to start working from home.

What will happen to your team?

What will not being together in the office do to your team spirit?

It won't work. It just won't work.

And you? You are a people person. You're used to bouncing ideas off your team mates. People describe you as "warm". Where will all this warmth go when your main mode of connection becomes a screen?

Change Affects How We See Ourselves

Going remote, or virtual, or introducing flexible working, however it's being labelled, is a change programme. And often this change will affect our identity.

How we connect with others defines who we are and how we want to be perceived.

"If I'm an approachable manager with a desk next to my team members, many of whom are used to asking me questions throughout the day, how will I continue to project this "openness" when my team members are no longer around me?

How will I sense which of my team members is having a difficult day?

It's clear. If I only have technology to connect with my team, I will cease to be the warm, supportive manager I've always sought to be."

Introducing a new way of working where we replace human company with a screen will bring with it practical problems (as well as many advantages, but here we're tackling mainly problems) but it will also raise issues of a very human nature.

If We're Not Together, Will We Still Feel Like a Team?

Team members who are used to being together all the time might be afraid that precisely what they like about the team (that sense of camaraderie) will disappear when they go remote. That they will get used to working individually, without any help from others, becoming a solitary figure with no social life at work.

This fear might manifest itself as resistance to:

  • Making decisions unless we're all together. ("I want to be a good team member.")
  • Using technology for social chat. ("That's not the kind of professional I am.")
  • Using video for important conversations. (I need to be in the room with someone to be comfortable and open up.)

When we make the transition to virtual, we'll need to unpick our current team processes and start adapting them one by one.

  • How will you adapt your weekly catch-ups?
  • How will you maintain a sense of connection between you?
  • How will you create room for spontaneous conversation?
  • How will you check in with each other to know that you're on track?

If possible, if your team can still have access to an office space, keep your office in mind as "another tool" and define how it might be used best, in parallel to your other communication tools.

What Kind of Professional Are You?

As you "let people into your home" (or your favourite café, or your new co-working space) through your video calls, you might need to re-define who you are as a professional.

  • What degree of informality are you comfortable with?
  • Will you need to consciously separate your workspace from your homespace or are you happy integrating both?
  • How will other peers see you, now that you don't go into the office every day? (The real question here is, "Will what they think affect you at all?")

When we make the decision to go remote or when we are forced into working as a virtual team, we're not just replacing the office with technology, we're changing how we interact as human beings, how we project ourselves and how we share what makes us human.

Be aware that in asking others to change to this way of working, you might be affecting who they are at their core. Make the transition one step at a time and review, review, review.

(Owls from Pixabay.)