We face a major leadership challenge today: finding a ‘new normal’ in the midst of the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic. How do we help teams effectively collaborate when more people are working remotely?
At one point in my career I managed a global team of 75 people spread across a dozen cities and five continents. While it is challenging, collaboration with a highly-remote team is possible. Remote collaboration requires a deliberate approach and ongoing monitoring.
The good news is that the elements of collaboration itself will not change, though the way in which we approach collaboration and teamwork undoubtedly will. We will have to change our approach to collaboration when more of our team is working remotely, but the fundamentals are the same.
Let’s consider nuances of remote working for the three most important elements of collaboration (based on research from our High Performance Index):
- My team is clear on how our work aligns with organizational goals and objectives
- Other teams respect our opinion and listen to what we have to say
- I have positive workplace relationships
1. My team is clear on how our work aligns with organizational goals and objectives
Being clear on what we need to do and why it is important is critical for collaboration. It is much easier to enlist support from other teams when we can also connect their support to the overall goals of the organization.This is especially true when people are working remotely.
With the new normal of COVID-19, many organizations are now focused on a different set of goals than they were four months ago. Many companies have shifted from growth mode to survival mode but do not know how well their new set of goals are understood by everyone else in the organization.
How can you improve alignment with people working remotely? Disciplined team meetings where teams review the status of ever-evolving ‘supporting lines’ is critical. Supporting lines are commitments between teams in support of the organization’s most important cross-functional goals. Regular conversations about the scope and status of these commitments are even more important for remote teams.
2. Other teams respect our opinion and listen to what we have to say
This element of high-performance is 72% correlated with collaboration, an incredibly strong relationship. One of the biggest challenges for remote teams is communication. Google’s Aristotle study concluded that an even distribution of conversation time for each meeting participant helps teams create psychological safety and perform better. As a person who is often guilty of talking more than his share in meetings, it is a constant challenge to remember that others are not participating. It is even harder to notice when people are not participating if they are not sitting in front of you.
One of the concepts we used at Mobify was ‘if one person is remote, everybody is remote’. Everybody in the room had a computer in front of them and their camera on, not just the people who joined remote. This helped us see each other and it really helped everyone feel engaged and respected. If all teams use this approach to online meetings, especially when a meeting is of a contentious nature or involves cross-functional teams, it will help people feel seen, heard and understood.
3. I have positive workplace relationships
Humans depend on interpersonal connection. Clearly that is more challenging when we are physically remote. A couple of years ago a leader shared a creative idea for a team event involving local and remote employees. The concept involved a team painting evening where people buy paint, brushes, canvases (and allegedly red wine) locally. The team then joins a video conference, watches an instructional painting video together and everybody stays on the video conference while simultaneously creating their masterpieces (and perhaps drinking the wine).
While it is more challenging to build strong workplace relationships remotely, it is definitely possible. Our research shows that the most important factors in creating positive workplace relationships are team collaboration and people being clear on how their work aligns with organizational goals and objectives, which takes us to the top of this post.
This is all connected. Perhaps we can help your team cultivate collaboration in a very uncertain world.
If you would like to learn more about how you can improve collaboration, take our 5-minute SupportingLines High-Performance Index™ Leader Evaluation and we will provide a free debrief of your results.