INTERACT Framework for Effective Virtual Work Functioning

July 20, 2020
Alfred Presbitero, PhD

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way we work. Our physical movements have been restricted and so we found new alternatives of working – working virtually. But how do we ensure effectiveness when working virtually?

We put together a framework, anchored on a number of studies, to help human resources and organization development practitioners as well as team leaders and supervisors in ensuring productivity while working virtually. We present to you a snapshot of the INTERACT Framework for Effective Virtual Work Functioning. The full details of the framework will be shared in the Trendwatcher Learning Series 11 on 6 August 2020 (10am – 12noon).

I – Identify the upsides and downsides of working virtually
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we have now found ourselves to be working in the comforts of our homes. We no longer worry about traffic jams and the long commute to the office. We have also found greater flexibility in terms of when we work (and when we take our breaks). However, there are also many challenges associated with working virtually. Unlike face-to-face mode of work, virtual work is more prone to miscommunication. Some researchers have also surfaced the potential for “zoom fatigue”. In the learning session, we would provide you a checklist of these downsides and offer practical tips in managing these downsides of working virtually.   

N – Notice individual and contextual differences
Working virtually can be influenced by individual and contextual differences. Some people may be more proficient in the use of online work platforms than others. Some would also be influenced by the societal culture. For instance, the Philippines has been found to have high-context societal culture. High-context societal culture tends to have indirect manner of communication. In such societal contexts, “reading between the lines” is very important. Another aspect of the societal culture in the Philippines is high power distance which makes ordinary people feel distant to those people in power. Such element of societal culture can have implications for virtual work functioning since some may inhibit from speaking up and sharing their ideas particularly in virtual work meetings where the bosses are present. We would share with you some practical tips on how to notice and manage these individual and contextual differences when working virtually.

T – Take perspective when working virtually
Given the individual and contextual differences that might be present in your virtual teams, it is important to take perspective. Perspective taking is the understanding and appreciation of other people’s viewpoints. Perspective taking has been found to positively impact interpersonal relating, helping behavior, improved negotiation and conflict minimization. While perspective taking can be challenging given our own personal biases (both conscious and unconscious), it can be learned and developed. So how do we build perspective taking in virtual work? We will share with you how in the learning session.  

E – Engage actively in virtual work
Like any other work, virtual work requires engagement. Engagement can be displayed in terms of devoting time and attention to the work being done. Engagement can also be displayed by demonstrating that one is “present”. For instance, in virtual meetings, one can display engagement by intently listening, acknowledging what others are saying and contributing valuable inputs when needed. However, with the potential distractions at home, engagement can be affected. Passivity can also be experienced and can be a trap in virtual work functioning. We would provide some practical tips to avoid this passivity trap and increase engagement even when working from home.    

R – Reach out, react and respond with respect
Virtual work is naturally remote, hence, when things are unclear, reach out! When things are unclear, react! When things are unclear, respond! The virtual nature of communication can pose a lot of issues. Hence, it is critical to reach out when there are concerns that are unclear; or react when you don’t feel comfortable about what you heard or see; and respond accordingly with much respect. We will share with you some effective strategies to reach out, react and respond with respect to your virtual colleagues and supervisors.

A – Accommodate and help each other
If accommodation is important for face-to-face work, all the more it is needed for virtual work. Accommodation entails understanding and adjusting one’s action to help others who are in need. Everyone has different ways of coping with a crisis such a pandemic, hence, accommodation would go a long way. We would share with you different approaches on how you can show accommodation to your co-workers, supervisors and other stakeholders during this very challenging time.   

C – Collaborate and coordinate effectively
Virtual work implies that all work are done online. There are no paper print-outs and everyone is sending emails, sharing softcopies of documents, sending instant messages, etc – all these could be overwhelming. Hence, it is important to have processes in place for collaboration and coordination. There are many options for project management tools and softwares and it is important to choose that one that works for your organization. If these tools and softwares are not options as some may be too pricey, you can develop your own internal virtual work mechanism to ensure that all tasks are monitored and all deadlines are met. We’ll share with you some practical tips.      

T – Trust and thank each other
Finally, trust is very important in virtual teams. Trust has many dimensions but what seems to be most important and practical for virtual teams is cognitive-based trust. Cognitive-based trust is a rational process that develops over time, as such cannot be expected to form right away. It can be challenging to develop but there are ways to do this. We can share with you how. Also, always show gratitude to your workmates; say or write “thank you” and it would make a big difference.

Alfred Presbitero, PhD is the Lead Strategist of Asia Pacific Management Experts, Inc. and is a world’s leading expert in the field of international human resource management. He lectures in Melbourne’s Deakin Business School (Australia) and is in the Editorial Board of The International Journal of Human Resource Management. He obtained his PhD in Business Management in Sydney, Australia.