The Coronavirus epidemic has fundamentally changed how we live our lives. The way we socialize, the way we celebrate significant milestones (like anniversaries or birthdays), and the way we travel are all things that have changed. Even the way we earn our living has changed. Now, many of us have started to work at home. We now have to work in a virtual environment.
To some people, working from home seemed to be a very appealing situation. But now that it has become a reality, it turned out to be a lot more complicated than we thought it would be. The dreams of working from your bed in your pajamas while eating a bowl of cereal were just dreams. They are far from reality.
Studies show that working from home is a lot more stressful than working in an office. It’s more stressful, mainly because of all of the other obstacles that are in your way.
The Challenges of Working in a Virtual Environment and How to Solve Them
The main challenge of moving into a virtual work environment is managing the work-life balance during the day. That is not surprising, because now you have to work in the same physical place where you eat meals, sleep and sit on your couch binging on Netflix shows.
This one big challenge, managing your work-life balance, can be divided into smaller challenges.
Communication is a critical key to a successful business operation. And sadly to say, it is one of the aspects of a business that gets heavily affected by working virtually. At first, you might think about all of the online communication options and think to yourself that communication will be SO easy. However, virtual communication differs significantly from face-to-face communication.
In the virtual world, we have varying preferences in communication. Others like emails, some like a more interactive, instant messaging system. Moving your team to a virtual environment means you will need to be more deliberate in your communication to ensure everyone is included.
Use all of the available tools at your disposal. The internet has no shortage of software you can use for effective team communication. Some communication methods are more interactive than others. Still, it’s up to your team to decide which software will fully satisfy the team’s needs. Some software has more features but comes with a subscription cost. That cost is relatively reasonable if your team needs the extra features. A great example of this is Slack. They have a free version that satisfies most teams’ needs and offers some additional paid features.
Utilize various features of communication tools. As was mentioned above, people have their preferences when it comes to virtual communication. Most prefer being plugged into instant messaging all day, while others like being notified that someone sent them a message as an email does. With that in mind, learn to adapt to what makes the team more productive.
There are group chats for general announcements or group communication and direct messages for personal conversations. You can use the mention function most communication tools have to reach the person you want to chat with directly. You can also use video calls for a more face-to-face approach. As of now, Zoom is the leading video call software in the industry. It allows you to conduct virtual business conferences in the comfort of your own home.
These are just a few features you can utilize to make team communications more flowing and effective.
One of the beauties of working in a virtual environment is having the ability to work anywhere. It gives a sense of freedom, knowing that you can have a change of scenery when working. However, this becomes a problem when it comes to having an organized work-from-home environment. And being organized is an essential tool in keeping you and your team motivated and productive.
Having a constantly changing work environment disorients the mind. We should have a specific place designated as a workspace. This is a little psychological hack that makes us more productive and less prone to distractions. Whenever we are in that one place we call “the workspace,” the association the mind has built with that place makes it automatically ready to get tasks done.
A small, fold-able desk goes a long way.
Not all of us have large homes where we can set up an office. However, even just a small desk where we can organize our office materials can be highly effective. It can even be just a foldable desk that you set up in your bedroom.
Once the habit of setting up a small desk in your bedroom is firmly in your mind, it will become a signal that lets your brain know to prepare for work. Having a designated workspace helps clear the line between your professional life and home life. It also makes it easier for you to walk away from work at the end of the day because work is at that workspace.
Routines and Schedules
Having the flexibility to schedule your workday is another excellent feature of being in a virtual work environment. Because your boss can still reach you even if you are not at your desk physically, you have the freedom to choose when to start working or when to take breaks. Though it doesn’t sound like it, that freedom increases productivity (Yeah! It sounds crazy!).
This does not mean that you and everyone in the team will work only when you feel like it; the team must still be in sync and act as one unit. You should always be able to communicate with everyone on the team smoothly, or else you might feel out of touch.
So despite having the flexibility of scheduling your workday, you should still create a workday routine and schedule.
Set periods of work time in the day.
The principle here is the same as having a designated workspace. You should have a specified work time to build the habit that certain hours are for working.
You have the freedom to choose when to work; you still need to create a rhythm in your day to day living. Setting a designated work time also helps draw the line between work like and home life.
Leadership Challenges in a Virtual Work Environment
So far, the challenges discussed are for any member of a virtual team. The leader of the team has an altogether different obstacle. Let’s look at this challenge.
Keeping up the Morale
As we already mentioned above, communication is a challenge when a team used to working in the same place transitions to virtual.
One of the significant aspects of working in a physical office is the “water cooler chats.” That may seem counterproductive, but it bonds the team. That bond may diminish in a virtual work environment. Taking away the interpersonal relationships can lead to loneliness, which can lead to stress. Stress is one of the greatest enemies of businesses.
Initiate communication, communication, and a lot more communication.
This may seem obvious, but you, as the team leader, must initiate the communication and bonding within the team. Take the lead in making sure that positive work culture develops, even virtually. Positive work culture is a great way to boost the morale of the team.
Merely talking to the boss can also boost the morale of individual team members. According to a study written by Andrew Koppelman, showing your team members that you care and engaging in small talk with them will make them feel appreciated and essential.
So take the time to catch up with your team members often. Engage in chatting with them individually. You might be surprised when this small amount of effort yields tremendous results.
Yes, there are challenges in working in a virtual environment. But the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that working from home increases productivity. As long as you take steps to develop the skills to work remotely, you will be happier and more engaged in your work, either as a member or team leader.