COVID-19 Pulse Check: Are Virtual Teams Clicking Together?

A woman sitting in front of a laptop


Thanks to COVID-19, many organizations are now virtual teams working from home, and internal communication is more critical than ever. It’s also more difficult. Proof’s employee communications experts met recently (and remotely!) to discuss some common employee challenges and how to handle them.

Can you hear me now?

By now, most organizations have identified technical approaches to virtual collaboration. But just because you’ve set up a Zoom account, don’t expect teams to naturally click in a way that makes the sum greater than its parts. First, stick to the ground rules of good meeting management: Create and share an agenda beforehand; only invite those who need to be there; insist that participants prepare; finish with next steps and accountabilities. Now add an extra measure of patience — what used to be implicitly understood in person may need to be made explicit over the ether. Pause regularly to allow questions from those you may not see. Watch for cues that people may be having trouble hearing or are tuning out. At Proof, we’re coaching clients on effective remote communications approaches and techniques.

I’m confused. What am I supposed to do?

Some organizations have made hard decisions and temporarily furloughed staff or reduced workweeks. Others re-mapped their purpose temporarily – from making cars to ventilators. Courts and schools have gone online. The tried-and-true playbook of “how we do things around here” is out the window. What’s next?

One thing is clear, nothing will be “back to normal.” All companies will have to create a new playbook, put new norms and guiding principles in place but stay true to their values. In some cases, this means going back to ground zero to reframe their purpose with a current lens. Why are we here? For essential workers, this may be very clear right now. For others off the front line, it may be less obvious. Connecting work to a higher purpose will help us all get out of bed in the morning, and no leader should assume this is obvious to all employees.

I’m feeling down. Is it even possible to stay positive right now?

In a global pandemic, we can expect colleagues to go through episodes of anxiety. Will their family be okay? Will the economy rebound? Will they still have a job? Communication shouldn’t just be about getting the job done. It’s about a sense of shared identity and community. One positive result of the COVID crisis is that we’re learning more about each other: families, friends, pets, hobbies, homes are now, quite literally, in the picture. These human touchpoints are the lifeblood of productive and resilient teams. So, get everyone to turn their video on. Unmute. Chit-chat for a few minutes before a meeting. Empower social champions who like to find creative solutions for virtual fun, be it Thursday Happy Hour, birthday celebrations or yoga classes. Make sure the digital water cooler is always full. Our colleagues at Proof Experiences are creating dynamic virtual meetings and events that educate, inform and engage people.

We don’t know where we’re heading. How can we get anywhere?

A unique challenge of the COVID crisis is that business leaders don’t necessarily have a course for the future. Operational decisions, like opening offices, are not always in their control. Supply chains are uncertain. Travel is nearly impossible. While employees may not expect an exact roadmap or even a final destination, they need updates they can trust. The 2020 Proof CanTrust Index reveals Canadians place great emphasis on needing their leaders to be competent and do the right thing. But overall trust in CEOs has plummeted from 55 per cent in 2018 to 38 per cent in 2020, and Canadians give their employers a dismal C grade for building trust.  This doesn’t bode well for business recovery.

For organizations to come out of this successfully, trust in their leaders is essential.  Our Proof trust research reveals that teams with a higher degree of trust in their leadership are more agile and better able to navigate uncertainty. We heard a client say after their company’s virtual town hall: “I submitted a question anonymously during the live chat. Guess what? The CEO replied right away!” This was a moment of truth. And a moment of trust.

“Organizations should be intentional about creating trust-building moments,” says Proof CEO Bruce MacLellan. “Creating a regular cadence of communication touch points builds positive, resilient teams that share their challenges, reframe where they see the opportunity, push on and innovate.”

Winston Churchill famously said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We are in a crisis, and an outcome is the remote workplace. Overcoming its challenges and harnessing its opportunities starts with sound leadership, communication and trust.

Natalia Smalyuk

Guest Contributor, Vice President, Corporate Reputation & Financial Practice, Proof Inc.


Sharing is caring


Get in touch and let's start a conversation.