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What to do on your first virtual meeting

This week, because of the current situation, I held the first virtual meeting with my Toastmasters club. Being forced to move a meeting that has always taken place face to face, and moving it to virtual, is not always easy.

Members of my club had not been very enthusiastic about it. Some had never used zoom, some others were wondering how we would interact with each other virtually.

There are obviously things we could no longer do:

  • We could no longer shake hands when introducing someone of thanking them for their speech or evaluation
  • Look around at the audience was no longer possible
  • We could not really move around the ‘meeting room’

 

However by using a few ‘tricks’ you can ensure that everybody feels involved, part of something and that everybody enjoys their time during these virtual meetings (have a look at my previous article for general tips on working from home).

Spend a few minutes explaining the tool

Make sure you explain the basic functionalities of the tool so that first time users do not stress unnecessarily. In my case, when we used zoom, I shared my screen and showed people where they could mute  and unmute themselves. I also showed them the different views they could have (gallery view versus speaker view). I also explained them the ‘Chat’ option and how they could message everyone or one single person. 

 

Look at the camera

This is counter intuitive but when you are speaking in front of our computer, we have a tendency to look at people. However, to really connect with people, you need to ensure you look into the camera, and NOT at the participants. It takes a bit of practice to think about doing so every time, but it works. People feel like you’re talking to them when you really focus on your camera, and not on the people who are on your screen. 

 

If someone seems a bit lost or is not engaged

When you are the host and you see someone who seems to be struggling with something (they cannot mute themselves, or they do not remember where the ‘Chat’ button is, make sure you help him/her via chat and guide him/her. If nobody is talking, you can take over and talk the person through explaining the steps he/she needs to take. Make sure you keep the conversations going whenever possible, asking questions and/or making jokes in between. 

 

During our first virtual session, we got very creative. 

In Toastmasters meetings, there is always someone keeping track of the time. In face-to-face meetings, we usually use green, yellow and red cards (or some clubs use mini ‘traffic lights’) to let the speakers know how much time they have left. Virtually  in our session last week, the time keeper used different backgrounds (green, yellow and red) to show the time left.

To vote for the best improvisation and the best speech, each of us sent our vote to the Toastmaster of the evening privately, That is how participants got to understand and put in practice the use of the chat option.

 

Before closing the meeting, I did a round table to ask impressions of participants. 

Everybody was very positive. Some even said they did not expect the meeting to be as good as it was. We also identified a few areas for improvement, which we’ll implement during our next virtual meeting.

Virtual meetings do not have to be bad. You simply have to make sure everybody is involved and that they have all the necessary knowledge to use the tool properly.

This article was also published on Linkedin.

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Tips for working from home

Working from home. The coronavirus is now forcing people to do so in some countries.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about how to manage / lead a virtual team (for those of you who missed it, here is the link).

With the current situation with the coronavirus, the advice I mentioned in my article is still valid and even more critical.

When you were managing a team onsite and suddenly, everybody is forced to work from home, you are now dealing with other challenges and another dynamic.

Here are a few more advice I’d like to give in these challenging times

Keep communication going

In normal circumstances, you hopefully had regular one-on-ones and team meetings with your team members. Now, you’re all working from home and do not see each other. Make sure you keep the communication going. Set up a chat group so that you can greet all your team members every morning and ask how they are doing. You can use this chat for casual conversation or to ask business related questions. You can also use this chat group to ask who needs help and who can help (maybe some team members live in the same area and can help each other with groceries, or taking the dog for a walk). The most important is that your team members still feel they can contact you (or anyone in the team) if they have questions or concerns. 

Be flexible

With schools or kindergartens closed for a few weeks, some people will have their children at home. This means they may be struggling attending some conference calls or send certain reports/mails at times previously agreed. Try to show some empathy and be flexible. If they cannot deliver a report by let’s say 10:00 AM, they may be able to deliver it by 14:00. In these exceptional circumstances, show some flexibility and understanding, People are dealing with these issues the best way they can, they will appreciate it if you show some flexibility and allow them to do their job with some changes in their schedule.

Implement virtual ‘breaks’

If you were having some regular coffee breaks with your team members, or if you legally need to provide breaks to your team members, why not use this 5/10/15 minutes break to meet virtually? Have a video conference call or use the chat group I mentioned earlier to give people the opportunity to speak about anything but work. Try to bring some fun. Share something funny you saw on the internet (a picture, a small video etc.) and encourage everyone in your team to do the same. This will help you all relax a bit and recharge your batteries. 

Remember

This situation is unprecedented. This represents a change for everybody. It is a change for you, whether you are a manager or a team member. Everybody deals with change in different ways. Everybody has to adapt to this new situation, even if it is for a short period of time. 

Make sure you are all supporting each other, that you show empathy and understanding. 

⭐️⭐️⭐️ Together we are stronger ⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

#vlvcoach #leadership #management #virtualteams #remoteteams

 

This article was also published on Linkedin.

How to best manage a virtual team

How to best manage a virtual team?

Managing a team is never easy. If you were an individual contributor and have been promoted to a (team) manager role, it’s even more difficult. You need to ensure you do your job. You also now have team members / direct reports to take care of.

 

As a manager, you need to ensure that each team member knows their roles and responsibilities. You need to put in place short, medium and long term goals for the team as a whole as well as for each team member. Providing regular eedback and having performance reviews in place are also part of your responsibilities. You also need to make sure your team members further develop themselves and that they stay motivated etc. etc.

 

But what do you do when the team you manage does not sit with you in the same room or office? What do you do when your team members are spread across the globe? You have to deal with different time zones. Your team members speak other languages (and therefore are not necessarily native English speakers). They come from different cultures, religions, background, age, etc.

 

Managing a virtual team definitely brings its set of challenges. However, there are ways to overcome them…

 

  1. Have regular meetings, ideally via video conference

Like in any team, it is important to have regular meetings with your team members.  Make sure you have weekly 1-on-1 with your direct reports. This is an opportunity for them to provide their highlights, lowlights/challenges and tell you their next focus. You can help them prioritize, give them guidance and provide them feedback on how they are doing.

Make sure you also have a regular team meeting (ideally weekly as well) with your direct reports. This is your chance to provide updates and ensure everyone is on the same page. These meetings give them the opportunity to discuss challenges they may face. Try to find a time that suits all time zones so that some of your employees do not have to be up in the middle of the night to attend your team meeting!

Don’t forget to have yearly performance reviews. This milestone is very important as it allows you to have a more in depth conversation with your team members.  You provide constructive feedback on what went well and what can be improved. Together with your employee, you set up an action plan to ensure they have something to look forward to and can develop themselves further in the next year.

  1. Communication

I am convinced that 90% of the problems we have in the world are due to mis-communication and mis-understanding. Communicating clearly is even more important when you have people who are not native English.

 

When you manage/lead a virtual team, make sure you communicate regularly. There is never too much communication! Make sure that you communicate clearly and concisely. If you use abbreviations, make sure you spell them out, especially if you have new team members on board. And if you have made a special announcement, make sure you send an email afterwards to everyone, so that people who may have not been able to attend, can be up-to-date with the latest developments.

 

Since your team is virtual, keep in mind that some people from other cultures may be hesitant to ask questions or provide feedback. It is therefore very important to give everybody some time to think, to react. Tell your team that it is ok to ask questions or provide feedback! This will not only show that you are willing to listen to them but also that you are open to suggestions, ideas, etc.

 

  1. Humor

Humor is a tricky thing. It can be a great way to develop relationships however it can also break them if not done properly. What is funny for you may not be funny for someone else, especially if they do not master English, or do not have the same references as you. Remember that when dealing with people from different countries and cultures, you have to pay extra attention not to offend anyone. So use humor carefully.

 

Don’t try to make some ‘play on words’ or use some TV or historical reference, as people who do not live in your country will almost certainly not get it. If you really want to use some humor, best is to start with yourself.

 

Pay attention to some of your gestures if you are trying to put some humor! I remember once crossing my fingers to wish someone good luck, and some of my team members in Germany were a bit confused as in German they say – translating literally – ‘I press my thumbs for you’. My gesture looked like something completely different and if I had not noticed their facial expressions, my joke could have been offensive to them. Fortunately, I could paraphrase what I said and everybody laughed. but this taught me a valuable lesson at the beginning of my professional career.

 

If you can and budget allows, try to visit all your team members once a year. Meeting people face-to-face after dealing with them for weeks or months virtually is such a rewarding experience. They will not only make you feel at home, they will do their best to show you a piece of their country or culture and this will build the team even more.

By doing these ‘basic’ steps, you will have the opportunity to build a real team; a team where people will feel part of something, where they all are involved and can contribute, as if they were sitting right next to you.

 

As JT McCormick once wrote, your direct reports then become true direct supports!

#vlvcoach #leadershipdevelopment #communication #remoteteams #globalleader #professionalwomen

This article was also posted on Linkedin.

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Managing a virtual team

“I have been offered a job abroad but I don’t know if I can do it. Managing a virtual team is completely different than managing a team that is physically located around you”

 

This is what one of my clients told me when she reached out.

 

Yes, managing a team virtually is different.

You do not see or hear each other every day

Sometimes, you may have communication issues as some people may not be fluent in English (or another language) or because of the time difference.

You may be struggling with team performance…

 

But it is not impossible!

Nowadays, we can be connected to each other in so many ways

We just have to be creative in our way of doing things

And we have to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes

 

Just like in a ‘normal’ team

Take time to know your people

Listen to them and ask them for feedback

Involve them in your decision making process

 

And before you know it

Your team will be engaged

They will be working hard to achieve goals

And having fun with each other! 

 

Have you ever managed a virtual team? 

If so, what did you do to build the team and improve/sustain performance?

 

I would love to hear your feedback

#vlvcoach #leadership #teamwork #team

This post was shared on Linkedin.

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How an escalation can be something positive

I was in an all day performance review meeting when I got an escalation. My boss had received an email requiring my immediate attention.

My training and evaluation specialist had been working on a new test for new hires (NH). We had started to pilot it in the UK.

What happened exactly?

The test results were bad.

Not because of the NH themselves. They were bad because we had used the same target as the ‘old’ test and this test required new ones.

The problem was that these NH test results were closely linked to the ‘yes/no’ hiring decision. We had to hire many people in a short period of time and the tests were helping us define who was fit for the job/who could make it or not.

With this new test results, all NHs (+/- 20) seemed to have failed while they had not.

To be sure we were not letting go some of the good potential NH, we had continued to use both the old test and the new test in parallel, but the ‘damage’ had been done… People started to panick when they heard how ‘bad’ the results were,

HR escalated to the UK Site Manager. The UK Site Manager then escalated to the EU Manager. And finally, the EU Manager brought this issue to my boss’ attention.

To make things worse, the EU Manager was actually the backup (the real EU Manager was on holiday). Since this whole situation was new to him, he tought my boss should be made aware…

So when my boss told me: ‘You have an escalation!’, I left the room and went to talk to my specialist to get a better understanding of the situation.

How the situation was solved

My specialist wanted to resign as he felt he had made a big mistake.

I did not accept his resignation and told him I was also responsible. I should have appointed a project manager to help him implement this new test. This person would also have communicated the different steps and timeframe to all stakeholders.

I also told him to stay positive. This was a learning experience for both of us: we did not fail but learned a lot.

I then called the UK site manager and the EU manager. I explained the situation to each of them, what we were doing to correct it and how we’d proceed in the future.

The EU manager apologized to me – 3 times. He said he overreacted. He said he should not have made an escalation and should have checked with me first.

I told him the same thing that I told my training and evaluation specialist:

You actually never lose / fail: you win or you learn 😊

#vlvcoach #leadership #Womenleadership

This blog was also posted on Linkedin.