Last week I started posting about how to use social networking in a business setting. This week, I’m continuing that discussion with some principles that apply to social networking, and to online connections in general, and in the virtual part of the business world more generally. Are you a salesperson answering questions for potential customers? A thought leader helping people navigate the complexities of your field? A worker finding yourself constantly involved in endless Slack threads? A team leader trying to establish a successful work team online? Keep these principles in mind and you’ll avoid most of the perils of an online presence. This post is part two of a two-part series. These principles are adapted from my new book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, published by Harvard this month. Please support this blog by picking up your own copy here.
Establish the ground rules. In person, we establish norms and ground rules with a good deal of unconscious body language. We select leaders, roll our eyes when someone behaves foolishly, and maybe even make the throat-cutting gesture when it’s time for someone to stop talking. Virtually, you have to do all that consciously and deliberately – and with great tact.
Establish safe sidebar chat. If you’re part of a global team, you probably have a weekly staff meeting via audio conference, or something similar. That format is not particularly well-suited for dealing with contentious, emotionally-fraught personnel issues that inevitably arise. Better to have a particular safe room for those to be discussed. Decide whether or not you want to make it anonymous. There are pros and cons either way.
Celebrate the wins. We’re all moving so fast these days that we don’t take the time often enough to celebrate successes, milestones, achievements, and Fridays. Online, especially for an ongoing team, these sorts of celebrations help to cement the team together. Don’t neglect them.
Find ways to share non-work moments. Whenever world heavyweights get together to negotiate they start with a meal. Food has deep emotional and cultural significance, besides its important role in keeping us alive. So even though you’re virtual, find ways to talk about and share food. You might video your national meal, or talk recipes, or what people eat on holidays. I just learned the other day, for example, that both Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving – at different times and for different historical reasons – with turkey. Who knew? And why? What’s so great about turkey? I’ve got more work to do here. But it will be fun finding out.
Take turns educating the rest of the team. If you’re a salesperson, allow potential customers to teach you something. If you’re a team, share out the training – and make some of it fun. How to make the best popcorn? How to train a parrot (legally obtained, of course, and not endangered) to talk? How to hand off a baton on a team relay race? These are all things someone can teach virtually. As well as, of course, the serious stuff. We all love to get a peek behind the scenes and learn how something works. As a salesperson, going transparent as much as possible is a powerful way to create virtual trust and differentiate yourself from the competition.
Finally, make huge allowances for different styles, habits, and practices. Even as you’re enforcing necessary group norms, you still want to set up a big tent for differences. The online channel magnifies rather than minimizes the need for recognition of all the sorts of human differences time, space, and culture can create. It is far better to err on the side of overcompensation for any potential differences than it is to do less.
What guidelines do you follow in the virtual workplace? What has worked well for you, and what spectacular failures have you observed? Let me know in the comments.
Speaking of comments, thanks for the feedback about how often you’d like to see posts on this blog. I’ll be moving to once a week soon.