The Extreme Challenges of Remote Teamwork

Remote Teamwork

Google, American Express, Uber, AirBnB, Zillow and Twitter are but a few of the companies that recently announced extended- or even permanent- telecommuting policies for their employees. According to the Brookings Institute, up to half of American workers are currently working from home, more than double the fraction who worked from home (at least occasionally) in 2017-18. While this switch to remote work is due to Covid-19, it’s commonly expected that telecommuting will extend long past the pandemic. 

This has changed the professional landscape in unprecedented ways. From massive- and fast!- investments in IT infrastructure and increased cyber security, to video conferencing platforms and digital etiquette. One aspect, though, that is often overlooked- and yet critically important- is remote teamwork training. Millions of people in the United States alone (let alone around the world) are suddenly working apart from their team. From project-based teams- to teams across different divisions- these groups are now struggling to navigate communication, project management and more from a distance. 

Imagine all the different teams that you may work with on a weekly or even daily basis. In our field of corporate learning and training, there might be an Instructional Designer, Subject Matter Expert, Project Manager, Solutions Architect, Graphic Designer and more all working on the same project. Further, within the company at large, that same team has to work with the Sales Team, the Marketing Team, the Client Services Team and the IT Team, amongst others. In short, we are a world in which teams are pervasive throughout all aspects of an organization. 

Once used to walking down the hall to ask a quick question, or brainstorming together in a conference room, teams now must navigate the challenges of geographic distance, and even different time zones. Raise your hand if you’ve struggled to coordinate a meeting across PST, MST, Central and EST…let alone with our friends and clients across the pond. It’s more headache inducing than the New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle. And then there’s the infamous- and hilarious- conference call bloopers and etiquette; over three million people have laughed at the Conference Call in Real Life parody. 

In short, working with remote teams is no cakewalk. But- there are solutions. We must approach virtual teamwork training as we do with any other corporate L&D strategy. We have to first acknowledge the need and then proactively seek solutions to the problem. We must invest in remote teamwork training just as we do for say- leadership training, sales training or on-the-job training. 

But we also must be cautious about the type of remote teamwork training. For, teamwork training often gets confused with team building. Team building is focused on role clarification and building bonds amongst team members. While this team bonding is undeniably important, it fails to truly teach teams how to work effectively and efficiently together. Teamwork training, on the other hand, focuses on improving the knowledge, skills and abilities of teamwork itself, with the ultimate goal being improved team performance. 

Bottom line: team training provides teams with the skills to engage in effective teamwork processes. 

What are these skills? Most often, the KSAs associated with high-performing teams are:

  • Role clarification 
  • goal setting
  • identifying work priorities
  • group problem solving 
  • team coordination
  • interpersonal relations and understanding
  • consensus building
  • conflict management

The challenge is: how do you effectively teach these skills in a remote environment? It is often debated if interpersonal skills can be learned virtually. Well, here at WeLearn, we say yes. Yes, these skills can unquestionably be taught and learned online. 

We’re fortunate to have Dr. Kate Hixson as a strategic partner. Kate paved the way for remote teamwork training during her tenure at NASA, where she developed the first of its kind model for astronaut teamwork training, delivered completely remotely. We’re excited to bring this model to our clients, and help you to strengthen your remote team performance. 

If you would like to chat with us more about how you can create a high-performing remote team, feel free to reach out. We’d love to help!

By Kate Hixson

Overview
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    A recent US census estimated that 5.2% of US workers (8 million people) worked remotely. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, that number has unquestionably multiplied. But is remote work as strange as it seems?

    Major companies like Twitter have embraced the trend in remote work and have actively made working from home a permanent change for their frontline talent. With so many opinions on the future of work, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. This post will guide you through the possible pros and cons of remote work and help you find the best fit for your team’s professional development goals.

    Is Remote the Right Learning Philosophy?

    A Loss in Creativity: In a recent article, Kevin Roose of the New York Times warned key stakeholders and workers that ditching the office could lead to feelings of isolation, a decrease in employee engagement, and a loss of innovative thinking.

    Before making the switch to fully remote work, weigh the importance of teamwork at your business or firm. Studies actively illustrate the innate power of working with people face-to-face, and employees collaborating on a project together in the same room may be motivated to solve problems faster than remote teams.

    Employee Burnout: Remote workers could feel more pressure to always be available and productive in their supposedly “more relaxed” work environments. Be wary that your remote team might be taking shorter breaks and fewer sick days than an office-based one, and consider how that might impact their ability to create their best content.

    If you are the kind of boss that wants your employees to stay healthy, happy, and motivated, consider creating strict boundaries. Set a “no text after 8 PM” policy, and try your best to grant your workers the weekends they deserve. 

    The Pros of Employee Engagement at Home

    Happy Workers, Healthy World: The average commute of an American hit over 27 minutes in the past year. While at an office-based job a commute is inevitable, a remote position grants employees more freedom to spend time on things that matter, such as their health and family. Surely your team will feel better after a 27-minute walk with loved ones than nearly half an hour spent in traffic!

    If you want to take a look at the bigger picture, consider the environmental benefits of remote work. More than ever before, your company has the chance to lower the number of cars on the road and help reduce harmful Co2 emissions.

    Equality In The Workplace: Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where 86% of employees believe physical appearance matters, and 73% actively believe it impacts a person’s competency on the job. Working at home places emphasis on an employee’s ability rather than their wardrobe or looks.

    Working remotely may motivate female or minority team members to be more productive, as they will be experiencing far less sexual harassment or office-bullying. Zoom might be tiresome, but in the end, it unifies us by how imperfect we all look at home.

    Questioning Workplace Culture

    Face-Time is Overrated: Recent reports have shown that American companies spent 54% of their time on email, meetings, administrative tasks, and office-based “interruptions”. Michelle Ruiz of Vogue recently referred to the obsession of face time and challenges its importance.

    In her article, Ruiz suggests that face time is the ultimate “mirage, the symbolic appearance of working (going to meetings, chatting with co-workers) but not getting much done.” So, if you want your team to feel more comfortable and focused on working rather than putting on airs, consider remote work.

    Positive Productivity: While managers need to be aware that their team might be taking on more as remote workers, it’s not always a bad thing that employees are inspired to push themselves.

    In Stanford University’s two-year remote work productivity study, researchers followed 500 employees after separating them into their respective “remote” and “office-based” groups. The remote working group didn’t feel the need for as many days off, and results showed a work productivity boost equal to a full day’s work.

    The Future of Work: Uncertain But Promising

    While it is impossible to predict the future of work, the surge of remote working has provided companies and employees with more options than ever before. To encourage the best work possible, try making the office an optional space for employees to choose based on their preferred working style.

    Let your workers know that whether they are in the office or their living room, they are still relevant to the company and appreciated for their efforts. Share your story on remote working with us here at WeLearns learning development blog! We would love to hear your thoughts, and move together through these unprecedented times.

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