Ask any employee today about their co-workers and many will describe colleagues who are located in a different building, city, culture or time zone. The business environment is continuing to change as technology, globalisation, and new generations reshape the ways in which we work.
Virtual collaboration in particular has transformed the ways in which people connect, access information, share knowledge and transfer learning into practical action. Over the past few years, we have seen a growing trend in our client organisations’ curiosity; exploring a blend of virtual and face-to-face learning and development solutions to accommodate declining budgets and the increased complexity of getting individuals in the same place at the same time to engage in leadership development learning.
Susan Gray, senior consultant and GM Latin America - Impact USA, shares her top tips for blending development solutions:
- When incorporating virtual environments into your programme, occasional face-to-face communication and connection is still vital to boost virtual team interactions. Consider the critical stages where live, in-person connections might create a strong foundation for virtual follow-up in a learning journey.
- Regularly scheduled, meaningful connections (even in the absence of face-to-face) like phone, email, etc. can build and sustain trust if there are shared expectations of time, topics and output.
- Translating English to English. If English has been selected as a global “communication language”, recognise that it can be a difficult language to interpret (even for native English speakers) without the benefit of body/facial cues. Purposefully over-communicating intentions and clarifying written communication may be helpful especially in the early stages or when there are moments of heightened stress.
- Shorter deadlines help to create momentum and sustain engagement while creating a shared mindset for success. Think about building in weekly reporting structures/ project updates to drive meaningful connections.
- Due to the nature of globalisation and the need to accommodate multiple time zones in the virtual world, many individuals in a virtual/blended environment may find themselves engaging beyond typical ‘working hours’. As a result, work-life balance may be a critical topic that needs blatant discussion and support. Identifying stress and creating release strategies to anticipate and avoid ‘virtual burn-out’ is helpful. This process in itself can foster strong relationships, while promoting mutual accountability for maintaining quality output with a healthy work-life balance.
- Avoid information overload and aim for balanced information sharing. Are people sending too many emails? Or perhaps too few? Set team expectations and frequent check-ins to assess engagement levels of participants. ‘Hyper-communication’ can be a real issue, where individuals can get addicted to the pace and speed of response time in virtual environments. Leveraging effective email management systems and providing a common ‘place’ or methodology to showcase status updates, share feelings of engagement, inform others on current workloads and describe ‘emotional availability’ are all critical.
Read more about Impact's approach to experiential learning in the virtual world.