The trend of remote work and telecommuting has resulted in a challenge for Team Leaders to manage their team members located in various locations. While having a remote team presents numerous advantages, there are also several challenges associated with this type of work arrangement, including a potential decrease in team morale due to the flexible nature of remote work. As a Team Leader managing a remote team, it is crucial to prioritise building team camaraderie in order to achieve success.
The Impact of Geographical Distance on Virtual Teams
A research paper titled “Reducing Psychological Distance in Globally Distributed Teams” was published in 2023 by Princeton University scholars. The paper examined the effects of geographical and diversity distances on the interactions and perceptions of members of globally dispersed teams, providing valuable insights into the difficulties associated with operating in a globalised workspace.
The level of psychological distance serves as a crucial indicator of the emotional connection between a person and an object or another individual. Our tendency to stereotype rather than recognise the unique qualities of an individual is heightened when that person is physically or culturally distant from us, as we are less familiar with them. The level of psychological distance plays a significant role in shaping our perceptions of people from different backgrounds or cultures.
How can you enhance the connections within a dispersed team?
Approaches for Building Unity in Distributed Teams
Amidst the current situation, leaders managing teams dispersed across various locations need to assess their approaches to building team unity and rapport amongst members. In a traditional office setting, water cooler conversations and Friday night gatherings can be effective in facilitating natural relationships amongst employees. However, this is a lot more challenging when working remotely. To ensure that members of a dispersed team still feel a sense of belonging, leaders must design strategies to cultivate this connection. Not only will this make collaboration more enjoyable, but it will also improve communication and productivity. If you are seeking ways to bring a virtual team together, here are seven strategies to consider:
1. Collaborating Remotely
Given the shift towards digital workspaces, virtual team-building activities offer an effective way of fostering relationships and connecting the members of distributed teams. As you consider the future of your business and staff, it is essential to recognise that each individual has unique interests and hobbies that can be harnessed to your advantage. For instance, video games are a favourite pastime amongst the team at Works; setting up a routine game night serves as an excellent opportunity to socialise and get to know each other better. You can also organise virtual screenings and beer tastings to discuss favourite films and drinks with colleagues. Rather than perceiving geographical distance as a hindrance, it should be viewed as an opportunity to come together and explore each other’s interests.
2. Hiring the Right Candidate
Organisations like ours specialise in recruiting suitable candidates for remote IT positions. These individuals require specific qualities and professional qualifications to succeed in a digital workplace. It is crucial to select candidates who possess the ability to work independently, exhibit leadership qualities, display strong communication skills and be open to constructive feedback. Additionally, they must have excellent personal time management and organisational skills to fulfil these responsibilities.
Providing an employee with a trial period of remote work can be beneficial. The best way to begin this is by outlining the expected requirements and timelines. Conducting further assessments during the trial period is advisable to ensure that they can meet the role’s expectations. Additionally, it is essential to monitor their performance once they have settled into their job. Failure to meet deadlines or maintain communication may indicate that they are unable to handle remote work.
Forming a team is just the first step; it takes time to establish unity amongst its members.
3. Socialising while in Isolation
Virtual teams may face the problem of restricting conversations to solely work-related topics. Unlike in-person interactions where there are opportunities for casual discussions around the office or during chance meetings, virtual meetings often jump straight to the agenda. To avoid this, it is crucial to allocate time for small talk during video calls. Similar to an in-person meeting, all participants should feel at ease engaging in informal conversation until the chair calls for the meeting to begin.
Professional social networking platforms such as LinkedIn and Yammer can serve as useful tools for staying connected with your team between meetings or organising informal ‘virtual coffee breaks’. Jason Thompson, the founder of 33Sticks, successfully implemented an internal marketing campaign to encourage his team to join Yammer, a social networking service. He likened the platform to a ‘virtual water cooler’, fostering a sense of togetherness amongst his remote workers.
4. Work-From-Home Environment
A study by Princeton University has found that sharing information about the environment in which team members work can assist in bridging communication gaps. During video conferences, it is advisable to choose a plain and professional background, as many individuals prefer to disclose limited personal information.
Organising virtual tours of colleagues’ homes or workplaces can help build a stronger sense of camaraderie and solidarity within the team. This can be achieved through video calls or other online communication means, enabling team members to become more familiar with one another. Alternatively, colleagues can share personal photos during meetings, allowing everyone to introduce themselves and discuss topics of interest from their lives, fostering a stronger bond among the group.
A potential alternative to starting a call is introducing an icebreaker question or poll to initiate a discussion about shared interests, areas of expertise within the group, and individual opinions and perspectives. This approach could help to create a more engaging and interactive atmosphere for the conversation.
5. Overcoming Communication Difficulties Caused by Language Barriers
When establishing a virtual team spanning several countries, language barriers can pose challenges. Although many remote team members may possess an adequate command of the English language, misunderstandings may arise when it comes to accents, colloquialisms and technical terminology. To foster a more seamless collaboration, local jargon and dialects should be avoided, and it may be helpful to set language standards for conference calls if team members have different native languages.
Having an agenda in place before a meeting and sharing presentations or documents in advance is a common practice that can benefit everyone involved. To maintain everyone’s attention and participation during the conversation, it is helpful to include periodic breaks and summaries.
6. Respecting Differences (Literally)
In order to establish a productive remote working team, fostering an environment of inclusivity is crucial. Having a diverse range of cultures in the team provides opportunities to commemorate different occasions and festivals, promoting mutual respect and understanding among individuals from various backgrounds. Alternatively, when time is limited, a team member based locally could document the event for the virtual team to appreciate.
7. Bringing it Together
To establish a feeling of unity and boost team spirit, remote teams should cultivate a sense of team identity. Shared team identities, such as a name, motto, or even an emblem, can be highly effective in bridging gaps between remote workers and encouraging productivity. Teams that succeed in creating a sense of identity are more likely to succeed compared to those that do not.
Building a collective identity can be a time-consuming endeavour. Finding the answer to the question “Who are we?” may be the first step in understanding “What do we do?”. Techniques from sales and marketing may be helpful in developing a team identity.
With technological advancements continuing to shrink the world, administering virtual groups has undergone a shift. More than 80% of employees express interest in telecommuting at least part-time, making a positive reputation for virtual culture an advantage for companies seeking to attract top talent. As a result, it is necessary to adopt new communication methods to facilitate this change.
At Works, we recognise the difficulties of overseeing dispersed workforces. Our service empowers businesses of any size and location to leverage their remote team members as a strength. Our solutions are specifically designed to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your remote workforce management. If you would like to learn more about how we can help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.