Are Remote Teams at a Disadvantage?

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The search for remote jobs has increased by 460% in the last two years because of COVID-19 and shifting employee attitudes on the nature of work. With the virus spread getting under control and more people receiving vaccinations, companies are starting to call their workers back.

Many employees will choose to return to the office, others won’t. Remote or hybrid work may become the new norm for some as they try to retain talent. But, managers are wondering what this means for their team in the long term? Will remote or hybrid work destroy collaborative teamwork?

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Working Remote vs. Office: Which is Better?

A new study released by Atlassian addresses the state of teamwork in the remote environment. Critics of remote work have been insisting for months that teamwork is suffering. They’ve used this claim as the basis for returning to the office as soon as possible because without close physical proximity their teams can’t innovate. But how important is an employee’s physical location?

Atlassian, an Australian collaborative software company, surveyed over 1,500 professionals in Australia and the United States. They asked remote, hybrid, and in-person workers whether they felt healthy, partially healthy, or unhealthy.

Although the percentages varied slightly among the work environments, researchers found no significant difference between office and remote workers, declaring that “healthy teams can thrive anywhere.”

In the United States, for instance, 56% of remote workers scored their team as partially healthy. When asked the same question, the number of office workers rating their team as partially healthy was 57%. And 54% of hybrid workers also characterized their team as partially healthy.

Here’s where the results got interesting. In both cases of office and remote workers, 17% of employees said their teams were healthy. This new data clearly demonstrates that location doesn’t affect the overall health of a team.

READ: How to Move from Conflict to Collaborative Learning

What Factors Influence Collaborative Teamwork?

If physical location and work modes don’t affect the success of a team, then what does? Atlassian found that organizational culture, team inputs, and effective team processes determined whether a team worked well together.

Surveyed employees said their teams were healthier within a culture of trust, respect, and open-mindedness. They also thrived with “clear and well-defined team roles” and team processes that “set clear goals, engaged all stakeholders, and dealt fairly with conflict.” Ultimately, a company’s culture had a bigger impact on successful teamwork.

The study also indicated that innovation was more likely to be present with companies that supported collaborative teamwork by implementing the structures mentioned above.

A majority (82%) of teams felt that different viewpoints and perspectives were respected by company leadership, which put them in the right frame of mind to innovate.

Ways To Promote Teamwork Virtually

Switching from office to remote work can be challenging for managers. There are strategies and technologies to help with the process.

Here is a list of things managers can do to lead a healthy remote team:

  • Check-in frequently: with a lack of face-to-face interaction, hold regular video conference calls to touch base with employees.
  • Keep employees informed: always err on the side of over-communicating to ensure no confusion or ambiguities.
  • Implement remote technology: start using software like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google Hangouts to promote team collaboration.
  • Set expectations: be clear about all work expectations having to do with items like meetings, submitting work, seeking clarification, or engaging in collaborative activities.
  • Cultivate a sense of purpose: always share the “why” with employees, so they understand why something needs to be done.
  • Support your team: understand the obstacles your employees face and work with them to find effective solutions.
  • These strategies can be effective for any work modality. But, they’re required for a team that doesn’t meet in person.

READ: Meeting the Challenge of Building Trust with Remote Teams

The Healthiest Teams

Remote or hybrid work in no way impedes collaboration or team health. In fact, the survey data pointed out that 68% of healthy teams were remote or hybrid. Location is less important than how a team is organized and how each member works together towards a common goal. If a remote or hybrid work team is reporting conflict or a drop in productivity, chances are they were already experiencing problems before the switch to virtual.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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