Strategic Planning with a Virtual Team Requires Good Lines of Communication

Val Gordon

Val Gordon, who lives in Connecticut will be overseeing strategic planning for a InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry based in Madison, WI with staff all over the country. Previously, she worked on a college campus overseeing InterVarsity’s program there to engage students. In that role, she worked out of a home office and spent much of her time on campus.

Val GordonShe also co-authored Breaking the Huddle, a book for ministers, with two others doing the entire collaboration via conference calls.

For the strategic planning, Val is collaborating with a team of likely 30 people across the country to discern the key initiatives and plans. Some of them will be located at the Madison headquarters, but others will be across the country. She plans to continue to working out of her home office in Connecticut but will be traveling to Madison for meetings.

How is this new role different than what you’ve done in the past?

I am working with folks primarily located in Madison while I work remotely. Typically I have worked with others who also work remotely so it’s a different challenge to be the only one not on site.

What do you value about working remotely?

I like working from home. I like the flexibility. You use your time more efficiently. When you’re on the phone, there is an expectation that you won’t be on as long so you can plan those meetings fairly tightly.

Recently, I had to do some debriefs of teams. We did some live ones and spent two hours on them. Then we did some with a video call that lasted just 90 minutes. We got more information and covered more ground on the shorter calls. I think people were more focused.

Is there a disadvantage to video and phone communication?

There is perception that video doesn’t build relationships, but that hasn’t been my experience. In fact, I worked on a book with two other people doing all of it with conference calls. I saw one of the other authors once or twice a year, but I didn’t meet the third author in person.

The reality is that you don’t need to see another person to develop a good relationship.

How do you establish and build work relationships across a distance?

You need regular touch points, even if it’s just ten minutes here or there to check in. And it shouldn’t be only about work. Ask a question just as you would do if you were meeting face to face.

When I lead meetings, I make a point of doing some personal catch up. Everybody gets a couple of minutes to talk so we can see what’s going on our worlds. Those sorts of things help build a connection.

How did you stay connected with the home office when you were on campus?

On a daily basis, our campus workers are really on their own. This is a job that can’t be micromanaged. You really have to be a self-starter and a risk taker. You have to be able to structure your time without a lot of direction.

But there is a lot of reporting. Every month, every semester, every year they give a report so their supervisors will know what’s happening. It’s important to have that sort of system for accountability.

What is your advice to someone who will be working remotely?

You really need to be clear about what needs to be done. I set my own deadlines. No one is asking, but I know how much I need to get done to feel satisfied.