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

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