Being Real In A Virtual World

Over the last week I have been part of a number of conversations in which people lamented that decisions were being made in their workplace – decisions that affected them directly – without any clarity about why. And the people saying this to me are long-time employees in relatively senior positions themselves, but they were each left confused and unsettled about what had happened. If you’ve ever been in this situation yourself, you might recognize the feelings that go along with it.

Of course, some personnel decisions need to be made behind closed doors, and appropriately so. But many do not. Management decisions that affect others can always be a source of confusion and concern for employees who were not involved in the decisions, but this is more evident than ever in a virtual work world. It is emotionally easier to make decisions about reorganizations – sidelining, removing, or eliminating employees – if the decision-makers don’t see those who are affected in person at all. Where employees might already feel isolated, and without the possibility of simply bumping into each other in the hallway and catching up informally, decisions on personnel changes and reorganizations can feel even more secretive, and be even more unsettling. Employees who don’t feel secure in their role are likely to isolate further, and to make decisions in their own best interests, which may involve looking for work elsewhere.

On a more local level, think about your interactions with the rest of your team. How do your decisions affect others on your team? Or, if others are able to make decisions that affect your team, how included are you in those decisions? How does this level of inclusion – or exclusion – feel to you as a team member? How do you think it feels to others on your team?

How could we each work to be more inclusive in our decision-making this week?

This Week’s Tip:

Try some inclusive decision-making this week:

  1. Hold meetings by videoconference, not phone. Body language and facial expressions carry so much information that are missed if information is shared by phone, email, or group chat. This can help to determine how team members are feeling and what they’re taking away from what’s being shared.
  2. Invite contributions from others. Countering the siloed isolation of a virtual work world takes more effort than anyone would expect. Be as open as you can be about your team’s work and challenges, and invite contributions and ideas from everyone on the team.
  3. Create a shared “Ideas Space.” Where possible, create a space online to keep track of the team’s ideas. This will keep ideas from being forgotten or pushed to the margins, and allows team members to develop each others’ ideas further (“Yes, and…”).
  4. Connect with your team more than you think you need to. Countering the siloed isolation of a virtual work world takes more effort than anyone would expect. When you make decisions that affect others, find ways to connect with your team more than you think you need to – including individual check-ins if possible. Outline your thought processes and the steps taken to reach your decision. You could also help people feel seen and appreciated for their wins by hosting your own Good News Jam at work!
  5. Communicate out (and up!) more than you think you need to. Similarly, your team’s successes and day-to-day work may get overlooked in a more siloed virtual environment. Take regular opportunities to report up to others in your organization (including those higher up) to let everyone know what your team is working on.

Try this out this week and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear how it goes!

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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