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  • Writer's pictureSusan Bower

How to Do Virtual Well: Embracing Telework in the Time of COVID-19

I’m not a Gen-Xer, raised in a digital world where taking selfies are second nature. But I’ve learned over the last year how to embrace being on a virtual team and using telework applications. We all might need to do so sooner than later given the rise of social distancing requirements that COVID-19 is making necessary.

Remote workers can feel more isolated than on-site workers and the risks of boredom and poor communication will grow with more self quarantining. So, whether you and your teammates are temporarily working remotely, or you find yourself on a geographically dispersed team, it is important to leverage great new tools that make working virtually seamless and successful.

My favorites for virtual collaboration are Microsoft Teams and Zoom. I admit that at first Teams seemed confusing and an unnecessary added step to my daily work. But after diving in and changing my mindset a bit, I’ve discovered this really can be an entirely new - and possibly better - way to work whether or not you are at home or in the office.


How to Be a Virtual Team Pro

1. Be seen: Get a webcam and use it on every single call or meeting and encourage, or insist, that your team members do the same.

Who’s experienced the child that lasts less than two minutes on a phone call but could spend an hour on a video chat with you? Humans process visual information much faster and better than auditory, and video lets us connect on a personal level. When I see my team, the sense of distance is removed. Making virtual eye contact means closer connections. Zoom allows my team to easily connect, see each other and share visuals at the same time.

To create the best video call experience:

  • Make sure you have the light source in front of you to brighten your face

  • Position the camera at eye level

  • Use headphones for better sound

  • Invest in a quality video camera for sharp images

2. Change to chat: Migrate most of your conversations and collaboration to a virtual platform like Teams, and stop using email for conversations

Our inboxes rapidly fill with clutter, spam, and endless daisy chain email streams. Sometimes it can take hours to sort through everything. The beauty of team-based conversations versus emails is that you can join in on your terms – when you are ready. This allows you to have a one-on-one chat, a small group conversation, or a public discussion about a project or task.

With a virtual team, the team-based chat is the primary communication medium. It is you stopping by your colleague’s desk to ask if they know how to do this or that. It’s working with your project team to solve a problem or collaborate on a deliverable. It’s offering quick kudos or support on their work.

Here are my three best practices to optimize chat features:

  • Use the @name feature to quickly get someone’s attention for important messages

  • Save email for external or more formal communications

  • Install the app on your phone – it’s so easy that way

source: Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams Demo page

3. Have fun: Reach out to your co-workers and teammates even for non-work-related reasons - whether it is a high five or a query about their weekend plans.

Research shows that high levels of trust lead to better team performance, especially important in virtual teams. In-person teams rely on interpersonal relationships and face-to-face interactions: Water cooler talk brings us together, but our virtual world we need to come together in different ways:

  • Be purposeful in reaching out to team members not sitting next to you

  • Send a direct message (DM)

  • Use the Teams conversation page to post a funny meme

  • Throw a virtual party!

Consulting Team Holiday Party

4. Learn new efficiency tools: Think about how you and your team can work simultaneously, seamlessly, and purposefully.

Being virtual means you must figure out how to get work done, together. Collaboration can be tremendously efficient and effective because MS Teams integrates seamlessly with all Office 365 products. This point was driven home to me in a recent interview prep session when six of our team members were working on the same PowerPoint presentation at the same time! No more saving different versions of the same file and trying to merge them into one.

Of course, virtual collaboration means new rules and protocols for achieving success. It took me a bit to find the shortcuts and the do’s and don’ts of collaborating in the cloud. At first it felt like a bombardment of distractions until I realized it wasn’t a technology problem so much as a boundary problem. Every notification does not need an immediate response.

My suggestions include:

  • Scheduling focus time

  • Adjusting your notification settings

  • Establishing the rules and norms your Team needs for working together

5. Unplug: Recharge, relax, and refresh in your off-work hours – whenever those are.

With mobile devices and widely available Wi-Fi, it is so easy to be always “on” and constantly checking your phone - or even just thinking about doing so. Research shows it is important to unplug. We think we do this, but do we really?

Thriving in a virtual work setting means setting clear boundaries:

  • Use your status to let team members know when you are off-work

  • Purposefully disconnect to engage with family, friends, and for personal growth

  • Don’t forget to get outside; fresh air and natural light does wonders for your physical and mental well-being

In just the last two weeks we have seen more companies, including my own, encouraging telework to help mitigate exposure to COVID-19 and making all of us part of the solution. Over the last year I’ve learned to master a number of techniques that make my remote work rewarding and productive. If you’re new to teleworking, these techniques will go a long way to ensuring your remote experience - and those you collaborate with - will be equally fulfilling.

What about industries where it’s more complicated to work from home – like healthcare? That’s for another blog, but I’ll say one thing…. robots



1. Grenny, J, Maxfield, D. (2017) “A Study of 1,100 Employees Found That Remote Workers Feel Shunned and Left Out “

2. Brooks, S., Webster, R, Smith, L, et al (2020) “The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence”/ The Lancet.

3. Bigelow J, Poremba A (2014) “Achilles’ Ear? Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory Modality.” PLoS ONE 9(2): e89914.

4. Vanderkam, L. (2014) Six Ways to Look Great on a Video Call. Fast Company.

5. Microsoft 365 Team. (2019) 5 ways to make group chats the best place at work.

6. Breuer C, Hüffmeier J, Hertel G. Does trust matter more in virtual teams? A meta-analysis of trust and team effectiveness considering virtuality and documentation as moderators. J Appl Psychol. 2016;101(8):1151–1177. doi:10.1037/apl0000113

7. Paul, (2016) “Unplugging from work”. The Everette Clinic.

8. Singer-Velush, N. (2019) Why unplugging from work is more work than we think. Microsoft Workplace Insights.

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