Remote Teams Need Active Management to Remain Cohesive

Remote Team

Remote work may impact an organization’s culture in insidious ways, eroding trust, social cohesion and information sharing. To ensure their workforce continues to operate efficiently, creatively and productively, employers must actively manage changes to team dynamics.

Researchers from the Advance Workplace Institute and the Centre for Evidence Based Management reviewed 35 studies and 10 analyses covering some 715 academic papers. They determined that dispersed work affects the frequency and quality of team communications, its levels of consensus and conflict, and the amount and quality of social interaction. This, in turn, affects the team’s performance and outcomes.

Remote work can erode trust, social cohesion and communication. That's why employers must actively manage to maintain successful team dynamics. #HR #HRTech Click To Tweet

“Virtual working is here to stay, and this brings serious challenges for managing the modern workforce,” said Andrew Mawson, managing director of the consulting firm Advanced Workplace Associates, which founded the AWI. 

Indeed, 77% of HR leaders expect the shift toward remote work to continue, even a year after COVID-19 substantially subsides, according to the Conference Board.

Remote Teams are Social   

The social aspect of remote work is critical, the report said. By that, it means areas such as trust, psychological safety and the sharing of skills, experience and knowledge. In particular, trust and communication “lie at the foundation” of how remote teams come together.

At the same time, trust, social cohesion and information-sharing are subject to the most strain in the world of remote work. So, they must be proactively managed if remote-work efforts are to succeed. Managers must understand the differences in how employees react to working virtually, as opposed to on-site, and help team members respond to those differences and operate in ways tailored to their remote-work environment.

Finally, the report notes that every member of a virtual team has the potential to be a leader. “Home-based employees respond well to more transformational management styles,” it said, and recommends creating a strong team structure, involving team members in the development of goals and decision-making.

“Organizations increasingly need to harness their knowledge resources as opposed to controlling and ‘managing’ them,” said Mawson. “When we are working in a more virtualized model, old models become more difficult and we need new understandings and practices to deliver success in a virtualized world.”

Active Management

Many companies have been pleasantly surprised by how well their remote workers have performed since the COVID-19 pandemic gained steam in March, but the challenges of effectively managing dispersed teams have become steadily more apparent.

Recently, the ratings and review firm Clutch found that nearly two-thirds of employees—63%—spend less time socializing with colleagues either in-person or online since businesses moved many employees to remote work. Videoconferencing may have gained traction as a way to collaborate with colleagues and staying in touch with teams, but many workers say their corporate culture has taken a beating over the last several months.

And while employers have provided greater access to communications tools since March, they’re failing to maintain the sense of comradery and cohesion they maintained before the virus appeared, Clutch said.

“Unless you have proactive plans for building trust and accountability within your workforce, and unless you have a robust digital infrastructure to tie individual effort to high-level business strategy, your tech solutions will only take you so far,” said Laura Butler, Workfront Senior Vice President of People and Culture, writing on Diginomica.

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