Building Cohesion in a Dispersed Group

Team Leaders is increasingly facing the challenge of managing members of their team that are situated in different locations. This is a result of the growing trend of telecommuting and remote working, which allows teams to be based in different cities, states or even countries. The advantages of having a remote team are well known, but it is also true that there are several difficulties associated with this type of working. The flexibility that comes with remote working may be beneficial, but it can also lead to a decrease in the team’s morale. As a Team Leader of a remote team, it is therefore essential to make fostering cohesiveness your main priority in order to ensure the success of the team.

The Effects of Physical Separation on Virtual Teams

In 2023, Princeton University academics published a research paper entitled “Reducing Psychological Distance in Globally Distributed Teams”, which explored the impacts of geographical and heterogeneity (diversity) distances on the perceptions and interactions of members of geographically dispersed teams. The findings of this study provide valuable insights into the challenges posed by operating in a globalised environment.

Psychological distance is an important indicator of the emotional bond between an individual and an object or another person. When we consider those that we know well, we are less likely to make sweeping generalisations about them and instead view them as a distinct individual. However, when the person in question is further away physically or culturally, our tendency is to stereotype them rather than to perceive them as a unique individual. This psychological distance can have a significant effect on how we perceive people from different backgrounds or cultures.

So, how can you strengthen bonds within a distributed team?

Methods for Fostering Cohesion in Dispersed Teams

In the current climate, leaders of teams dispersed across various locations must re-evaluate their strategies for fostering unity and camaraderie among members. In an office setting, the water cooler and Friday night happy hours are effective tools for employees to develop organic relationships. However, this is much more challenging to achieve when working remotely. To ensure that members of a dispersed team can still feel a sense of belonging, it is important for leaders to devise strategies to foster this connection. Doing so will not only make collaboration more enjoyable, but it will also lead to improved productivity and communication. If you are looking to bring together a virtual team, here are seven strategies to consider:

1. Working together virtually

In today’s increasingly digital workplace, virtual team-building activities are a great way to build relationships and bring people together in distributed teams. As you consider the future of your business and staff, it is important to remember that everyone has different interests and hobbies that you can use to your advantage. For example, at Works, video games are a popular pastime; organising a regular game night is an excellent way to socialise and get to know each other better. Furthermore, you can also arrange online screening parties and beer tastings to discuss favourite films and drinks with colleagues. Geographical separation should not be seen as an obstacle, but rather an opportunity to come together and learn about each other’s interests.

2. Making the appropriate hiring decision

Recruiting organisations such as ours have a great deal of experience in sourcing suitable applicants for remote IT roles, requiring those individuals to possess the correct characteristics and professional qualifications to be successful in a digital workplace. It is essential to select people who have a capacity to work autonomously, demonstrate leadership and display excellent communication capabilities, while also being able to accept constructive feedback. Additionally, personal time management and organisational skills are a must-have for these roles.

It may be advantageous to offer an employee a trial period of remote working, and the best way to commence this is to provide them with a set of instructions on what is required of them and by when. To ensure they are capable of meeting the expectations of the job, it is sensible to conduct further tests during the trial period, as it is easy to work hard during this time. Once they have become established in their role, it is essential that their performance is monitored; if they are failing to meet deadlines or avoiding contact, they may not be suitable for remote working.

Time is required to bring the team together once it has been formed.

3. Social Interactions in Isolation

One of the potential issues with virtual teams is that conversations can be limited to just business matters. Without the opportunity for casual conversation across cubicles or chance meetings at the water cooler, teleconferences often move directly to the agenda. To prevent this, it is important to make sure to set aside time for small talk during video chats. Just like in an in-person meeting, everyone should feel comfortable engaging in informal conversation until the chair brings everyone to order.

Using professional social networking sites like LinkedIn and Yammer can be a great way to stay in touch with your team between meetings, or even to organise informal ‘virtual coffee breaks’ online. Jason Thompson, creator of 33Sticks, successfully implemented an internal marketing campaign to encourage his staff to join the social networking service Yammer. He likened it to a ‘virtual water cooler’, helping to foster a sense of togetherness among his remote workers.

4. The Environment of Workers Working from Home

Research conducted at Princeton University has suggested that providing more information about the environment team members are in could be beneficial in bridging the gap between them. It is recommended that when joining a video conference, the background chosen should be plain and professional, as most people tend to not want to reveal too much of themselves.

One way to increase the sense of camaraderie and solidarity among colleagues is to arrange virtual tours of each other’s homes or workplaces. This can be done through video calls or other forms of online communication, allowing team members to become more familiar with one another. Alternatively, team members can be invited to submit personal photos to be shared during a meeting. This will give everyone a chance to introduce themselves and discuss something of interest from their lives with the group, helping to create a stronger bond between colleagues.

An alternative to beginning a call could be to start off with an icebreaker question or poll to get a discussion going about the shared interests and areas of expertise within the group, as well as the individual members’ views and opinions. This could help to create a more engaging atmosphere for the conversation.

5. Difficulties communicating due to a language barrier

When attempting to create a virtual team based in multiple countries, language barriers may present a challenge. While many remote employees may have a good grasp of the English language, there may be difficulties in understanding accents, colloquialisms and technical terms. To ensure a smoother collaboration, it may be beneficial to establish a set of standards for the language to be used during conference calls if team members have different native languages.

It is good manners and beneficial to all concerned to have an agenda in place prior to the meeting and to share any presentations or documents in advance. In order to ensure that all those involved are able to concentrate and stay engaged in the conversation, it is useful to incorporate periodic pauses and summaries throughout.

6. Honoring Differences (literally)

It is essential to foster an atmosphere of acceptance in order to have a productive remote working team. Having a diverse range of cultures in the group can provide many opportunities to celebrate different occasions and festivals. Doing this can help create a strong sense of understanding and mutual respect between members of different backgrounds. Alternatively, if time is short, having a member of the team who is based locally can be a great way to document the event for the rest of the virtual team to appreciate.

7. A synthesis

It is essential for remote teams to have a sense of team identity in order to create a sense of unity and raise morale. A shared identity, such as a name, motto or even a ‘coat of arms’, can be particularly beneficial for bridging the gap between remote workers and helping to promote productivity. Teams that are able to create a sense of identity for themselves are more likely to be successful compared to those that do not.

Establishing a collective identity can be a lengthy process but uncovering the answer to the question of ‘Who are we?’ could provide the first steps towards understanding ‘What do we do?’. Developing a team identity could be aided by utilising techniques from the areas of sales and marketing.

As the world continues to shrink due to technological advancements, a shift in the administration of virtual groups is taking place. With more than 80% of employees showing an interest in telecommuting at least part-time, having a positive reputation for its virtual culture is an advantage that can help a company attract the most talented individuals seeking work from home. Consequently, there is a need to establish new methods of communication that can facilitate this change.

At Works, we understand the challenges of managing a geographically dispersed workforce. We provide a service that enables businesses of all sizes and locations to take advantage of their dispersed staff and convert it into a strength. Our solutions are designed to help you manage remote workers more efficiently and effectively. If you would like to hear more about how we can help you, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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