Empathy and Trust Across Virtual Distance – Part 2

Posted on 11th October 2016


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I would like to build on last week’s post about empathy and trust in virtual teams. I will walk you through an exercise that leverages the concepts of physical, emotional, and operational distance that we explored last week.

Exercise: Analyzing My ‘Virtual Constellation’

First, on a blank sheet of paper, draw a circle surrounded or ‘orbited’ by six other circles. Leave enough space that you can write a name inside each circle, and draw lines connecting the middle circle to the orbiting circles, like spokes radiating from the hub of a wheel. This is a simple representation of your ‘virtual constellation’. Next, write your name in the middle circle, since you are by definition at the center of your own virtual constellation. In the orbiting circles write the names of your ‘virtual stakeholders’, five or six key people with whom you have virtual working relationships.

Once you have the names, your next task is to analyze your virtual relationships individually, using the concepts of physical, emotional, and operational distance. I recommend that you use a simple 1 – 5 scale, with ‘1’ indicating low distance and ‘5’ indicating high distance. In this model we want lower numbers, since they indicate ‘less’ distance and imply closer collaboration. The type of scale you use isn’t that important, though: the key is to ask yourself three questions about each of these virtual relationships:
1. What is my physical distance from this person? (1 – 5?)
2. What is my emotional distance? (1 – 5?)
3. What is our operational distance? (1 – 5?)

Once you have done this analysis for each virtual relationship you may begin to see patterns: for example, low numbers may indicate a ‘good’ emotional distance with someone whereas higher numbers for operational distance may indicate a ‘poor’ operational situation, with frequent misunderstandings, delays, or mistakes. This would imply that you should work to maintain the personal relationship that you have created and improve the operational situation between you: it shows you where to focus your efforts. Do this for each of your virtual stakeholders. We know that physical distance won’t change unless someone moves to a new office, so in this framework our focus will be on improving emotional or operational distance.

We are looking for two outcomes from this simple exercise: first, a more nuanced understanding of your own virtual distance challenges; and second, a simple plan to improve your virtual relationships based on the insights gained by disaggregating virtual distance and working through the constellation exercise.

Good luck, and until next time…