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Engaging remote project teams during the coronavirus

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With the normalisation of virtual meeting platforms and working from home during this difficult period of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it is essential to enable remote working and project team collaboration. If working from home and remotely is new to you, then have no fear. The presence of virtual project teams has a prominent place in the modern day project roadmap for any forward-thinking team and organisation.

While these tools are fantastic at bringing teams together and opening up much needed team dialogue, participating in sessions can be socially challenging. If you have ever been on a call with an offshore team and spent the first few minutes in awkward silence while looking at the array of smiling but worried faces, you are not alone.

Over the years I've participated in a variety of virtual teams - all with their own unique ground rules and delivery styles. Whether it’s a team that mandated the use of video, or a team which started each call with the same round robin introduction each week, the awkward feeling remained. This awkwardness at the start of each virtual meeting is difficult to shift especially when the focus is heavily task orientated, and the social nuances and cues are missing. Here are my top three tips to guarantee success during your virtual project team meetings:

1. Schedule a virtual icebreaker

Investing time at the start of a project sets a crucial foundation for success. Ideally, team members will be physically in person at a mutually convenient location, when this is not possible, the alternative is a virtual icebreaker followed by a kick off. I’d recommend splitting the icebreaker so there is focus on building emotional intelligence within the team. This helps in team rapport and understanding of the different personalities that make up the team. This is key. The team should be considered as unique pieces of a puzzle – each on their own cannot complete the wider project, but together they bring strength through unity and alignment. This may not be necessary in every virtual meeting when members are comfortable with each other, but light introductions are a great way to keep remote teams engaged.

2. Remain flexible

Flexibility is paramount for a healthy and happy team. In the same way that project teams who are in front of each other need informal chats and exploratory sessions to bounce ideas, so do remote teams. The general thinking and practice includes engaging with remote teams for formal meetings or stand-up sessions which have agreed agendas – but what if we thought about things in a less structured and more proactive way? Initiate quick discussions or idea sharing opportunities via informal video calls. The opportunities for this style of working are endless. Flexible agendas in virtual meetings will help remote teams feel at ease; not everything has to be formal all the time.

3. Embed sustainable engagement

A great way to ensure that your team maintains momentum and motivation throughout the project is through the introduction of casual virtual sessions where the team simply engage. This is different from a meeting, but a place, such as a group chat or conference calls where you can build positive relationships with team members by creating a fun forum to get to know each other. Sharing aspects of your character, your likes, dislikes and simply what makes you tick, provide great opportunities to get to know team members on a deeper level.

Remote working has been a trend for a long time with many team members across cities and continents. If it’s new to you it can be daunting. But with these simple tips you can maintain an engaged team which aids communication for your project and helps you feel like people are around to support you when the need arises.

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