COVID-19 aside, the global remote workforce was already forecast to boom over the next few years, and we expect that the virus will fast-track this transition.
Organisations who develop strong remote team structures now will better weather this storm and stand out when the threat of this virus recedes.
Working remotely is booming, however, it comes with management challenges such as a lack of connection, culture and communications.
Despite these challenges, working from home is a trend that is highly valued by prospective employees.
COVID-19 aside, the global mobile workforce is set to increase from $1.52 billion in 2017 (39.3% of the global workforce), to $1.88 billion in 2023 (43.3% of the global workforce) according to a study by Strategy Analytics.
And according to a 2018 survey by International Workplace Group (IWG), 70 per cent of professionals work remotely at least one day per week, while 53 per cent work remotely for at least half of the week.
All the same models of team effectiveness apply to remote teams but in some ways even more, because they are subject to the tyranny of distance and the geographic, cultural and linguistic challenges that it brings.
Effective virtual teams are guided by astute leaders who establish in the group clear processes that support positive team dynamics.
Shared Culture and Connectedness
Positive company culture is integral to employee engagement and job satisfaction. It increases employee loyalty and is linked to higher rates of productivity. Shared context helps foster trust and interdependency, leading to open communication, teamwork and collaboration, factors that are vital to effective teams with remote workers.
There are various ways leaders can foster collective identity and understanding in virtual teams. To create a culture of performance, purpose, and meaningful work, start by discussing team culture together. Finding out what matters to individuals will help to create a culture appropriate to the team.
In virtual teams, social distance causes a lack of shared identity. A common complaint of remote workers is that they find building trust and connection with their colleagues challenging. This can mean that workplace politics are more prevalent, and conflict is trickier to resolve.
Despite being remote, shared responsibilities, collective decision making, and regularly engaging in conversations will help develop cognitive interdependency. Encouraging a culture of information sharing and collaborative tasks assists in developing transactive memory.
Healthy workers are happier and more productive. A common complaint of remote workers is they work more hours, don’t take breaks and have little clear distinction between home and work life. Discuss these issues as a group and find strategies to encourage healthy habits. Consider investing in wellness app such as mindfulness meditation for the team. Meditainment Online! can be done anywhere, anytime and is proven to promote positive thinking, good sleep habits and relieve stress.
Strategies that increase a sense of belonging and inclusiveness can be as simple as socialisation rituals such as celebrating birthdays. More difficult to do when working remotely but not impossible.
Collective social purpose has positive effects on team bonding, creating a shared identity.
For remote workers, most interactions are done over the phone or via technology. Lacking in body language and immediate response leaves this type of communication open to interpretation, which in turn causes confusion and anxiety. Further, remote teams often span various cultures. This creates considerations around tone, writing style and even choice of communication tools. Humour or a lighthearted quip may seem appropriate in one culture but rude in another.
Creating an opportunity for individuals to voice how they prefer to communicate and in turn, to develop an understanding of the preferences of others can significantly assist in establishing effective communication protocol and choosing the right communication tools.
Video conferencing instead of voice calls can help bring some body language into a conversation. Taking steps to develop shared norms of communication can increase its predictability and certainty.
Virtual teams will continue to increase however it is essential that worker engagement and team building strategies are in place. Because, by fostering shared culture and developing a transparent protocol of engagement remote teams can thrive.