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Bridging the Divide
Improve staff satisfaction with virtual face-to-face interactions
by Kurt Cable, Jay Doughty and Tammie Schultz
Interpersonal interaction is a key principle of high-performing teams. Previously published data show that teams spread out geographically do not have as many opportunities to interact face to face.1 By holding virtual speed-networking sessions through a series of plan-do-study-act cycles, our team was able to increase staff satisfaction by 64% in three months.
The team consisted of 11 experienced project managers working in six locations across two states, with the majority located outside the organization’s main headquarters. The distance between team members was significant and left some team members feeling isolated and out of touch with their fellow teammates.
The team met biweekly by telephone and web conference. A survey was administered to measure employee satisfaction, and the results showed that the team’s satisfaction level was low. All employees in the unit were asked: “How satisfied are you with your team’s face-to-face interaction?” A standard five-point Likert scale (very satisfied, satisfied, neutral, unsatisfied and very unsatisfied) was used, with five being very satisfied and one being very unsatisfied.
The data were quantified and served as the baseline for the study. Participation was 100% and the mean score was 2.4 out of five for the baseline survey. A virtual solution was identified as a possible way to improve team morale and satisfaction scores, with the goal of increasing team member satisfaction to a mean score of 3.4.
The method employed was a round-robin style of scheduled virtual meetings between two team members so each team member could interact with as many colleagues as possible in 60 minutes. A total of six 60-minute sessions were held. At each session, a team member was given a list of colleagues to interact with virtually through the use of video conferencing software. Each round of the session lasted no more than six minutes. The topics to be discussed were left up to the team members participating in each session.
After six virtual sessions in three months, a second survey was conducted to determine whether team satisfaction changed. The satisfaction score of the second survey was a mean score of four, a 64% increase from the baseline measure and well above the goal of 3.4. Therefore, team members clearly felt more connected and satisfied after the virtual face-to-face meetings.
One participant commented: “Being able to talk face-to-face with my colleagues made a huge difference in how I felt overall about the team and even the department.” Another participant said: “The personal connection of being able to casually discuss my project made me feel more part of the team.”
Several lessons were learned after the study, such as up-front training on how to use the video conferencing software is highly recommended. Also, having technical support available during the meeting is important for addressing any issues that surface during the meeting.
For a successful outcome, every employee must fully engage in the virtual sessions—it’s not just up to the team’s supervisor. Additionally, the study found that employees not only engaged at a business level, but also at a personal level. The findings showed that virtual networking and face-to-face discussions increased the feeling of team satisfaction. Overall team members felt less isolated, more connected and more unified as a team rather than a collection of individuals who shared a common reporting structure.
- Charlene Solomon, “Trends in Global Virtual Teams,” RW3 CultureWizard, 2016.
Kurt Cable is a unit manager at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. He received a master’s degree in healthcare administration from St. Mary’s University in Winona, MN. Cable is a member of ASQ.
Jay Doughty is a senior project manager at Mayo Clinic and received a master’s degree in healthcare administration from St. Mary’s University.
Tammie Schultz is a project manager at Mayo Clinic and received a bachelor’s degree in information systems management from American Public University in Charles Town, WV.