It’s no surprise the world of virtual communication is becoming the prominent form of teamwork in today’s culture. From remote working to mobile offices and video conferencing, the trajectory of team communication seems to be heading towards–if not already arrived at– an entirely virtual world.
In January 2000 I joined a virtual team. This was my first experience working virtually. For the next 7 years I learned and grew to appreciate the integration of technology into my daily routine. One early takeaway was that I needed to build a strong social network as most of my working day was spent alone, connected to a phone or computer; unless I was meeting in person with clients. I still lean into some of the friendships I developed over two decades ago today. While there are certainly strengths and pitfalls to the virtual approach to ministry and work, it’s become our everyday norm.
The question we’re now faced with is this: how do we embrace this virtual norm while avoiding its pitfalls? Whether you lead a church plant, an established congregation or serve in a network role, I would imagine that your work utilizes technology differently than it did pre-pandemic. Let’s discuss some of the models and tools–as well as the challenges–that accompany virtual communication.
As a leader and coach, I’ve found it necessary to provide the tools for my team’s communication. Without a clear understanding and expectation of how we will communicate, details can get lost and messages can get crossed, especially when you’re not meeting face-to-face. It is important to establish the mode in which you plan to communicate with your team members and commit to using that specific method for internal communication.
Some of these tools include Slack, Trello, Asana, and Basecamp, to name just a few. Each of these platforms enables you to communicate internally, assign tasks with deadlines, and share project ideas in one space with your team members.
The appealing nature of the virtual world is the array of benefits that come with it. Some of those benefits include:
Flexibility: The ease of choosing your own schedule and working style from a number of different locations. This can boost your productivity and focus. When one works in the same space everyday, it can be easy to become mentally “stuck.” A lot of virtual and remote work can enable one to choose their own hours, thus bringing more balance to work and personal life – especially if one has other commitments with family or loved ones.
Fewer Distractions: Many people thrive when working with others, but others need to be able to work alone to complete tasks. Not being in a shared workspace can help some team members give their full attention to a project.
Cost/Time Effective: Without an office or on-site workspace, there is no need to pay for a building or office location. One can simply work from any location, including their home. Less time and money is wasted because there is no commute time to work, no overhead, and greater balance for team members, allowing them to work more efficiently.
Lest we forget the pitfalls, there are plenty of challenges that virtual teams face when it comes to working efficiently. Understanding these challenges ahead of time will help to prevent these issues from causing major disruptions in teamwork and productivity.
Some of those challenges to virtual teams include:
Decreased social interaction/team experiences: We noted above that many people work well in solitude. They have fewer distractions and can thrive when given the space to use their creative skills. However, some teams are more creative when people are working together and interacting with one another on a daily basis. Working with a team in a physical location helps to build strong bonds and strengthens the team as a whole. Many team members that thrive on social interaction can often find themselves feeling isolated and lonely as they spend each day working without people around them. It is essential to evaluate the needs of team members on a regular basis.
Accountability/self-discipline: Along with working alone comes the reality of unmonitored work time. Because of this there is often the need to self-motivate to get the work done. There is a tremendous amount of responsibility to be self disciplined when working on a virtual team.
Missed communication: Even with the most up-to-date platforms, there will be times when communication is lost or overlooked. When team members do not meet regularly, there is opportunity for deadlines to be missed and for ideas to be misconstrued. The dependence on technology can pose a challenge that limits teams from being consistently on the same page. Communication is a major factor in healthy teams and must be prioritized in order for teams to operate efficiently.
Let’s return to the question we asked at the beginning: “How do we embrace this virtual norm while also avoiding its pitfalls?”
I believe if we commit to being aware of the challenges and take into consideration how team members operate on an individual level, our teams will thrive. When we see red flags and challenges that arise, addressing them immediately can prevent burnout and miscommunication.
Here are three questions to help you to reflect on and consider the best way to serve your virtual team:
1. What is your current team model?
2. What is the ideal team arrangement for your team and its ministry?
3. What benefits do you see in working virtually? What do you need to watch out for?