Human Resources

The Key to Building Effective Teams in 2021

10 March 2021

6 min

4 characteristics of successful teams in today’s remote work environment

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many felt the need to go into survival mode. But the time for just ‘waiting it out’ has officially passed. There is work to be done—and nothing is going to slow that down. With so many people now working remotely, strong teamwork and collaboration are more important than ever.

In this article, we’ll provide a few tips for building effective teams in today’s fast-evolving business environment.

Humility is essential in the face of change

In the face of so much unprecedented change, leaders within organizations have learned they don’t have all of the answers. That they, like all of us, are constantly learning and adapting to change. And one thing has become clear: New challenges require new perspectives.

The best practices we once leaned into at work—as organizations, teams, and individuals—no longer hold up 100% in a remote work environment. Fortunately, this opens up the opportunity to think and do things a bit differently. How we approach teamwork and managing remote teams effectively is one such area where organizations can really excel in the year ahead.

4 tips for building effective teams today

Managing remote teams is never easy, let alone amid a pandemic. But now with a year of work-from-home life under our belts, we’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to build effective teams today. So we thought we’d share a few tips with you based on our experience.

1. Recognize the challenges of the situation

Working from home hasn’t necessarily become easier, as employees have had to embrace this as the new normal. For example, those with families at home or in shared living arrangements still face added challenges in juggling a healthy work-life balance.

In fact, setting clear boundaries between work and personal life has been one of the biggest challenges experienced by now-permanent distributed teams. As a manager, you need to lead with empathy and talk openly about the situation. It’s important to give your team the space to be honest about their challenges and work towards solutions together.

Additionally, to avoid your team members from feeling isolated or working in their own “silo,” be proactive and transparent in how you communicate and encourage your team to use technology creatively. All of this will foster a greater sense of teamwork and collaboration.

It’s also important to keep in mind that you can’t simply replace once in-person interactions via video or chat. That is a recipe for sensory overload. For starters, add fewer meetings to your team’s calendar, hold regular 15-minute 1:1 feedback conversations, and encourage employees to take full advantage of the tools available to them to keep in touch with each other and share information throughout the day. This will ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Finally, be sure to set clear expectations around what you need from your team. Remote work doesn’t change the fact that everyone on a team must stay accountable for their own part in achieving various personal, team, and organizational goals.

2. Focus on team culture

A company’s culture is an important part of the employee experience. From All Hands meetings to company picnics, a company’s culture has multiple ways of trickling down to employees, ensuring that everyone feels connected and unified around a common vision.

The same can be said for teams. Fostering a sense of camaraderie is a great way to break down the walls that inhibit collaboration, innovation, and productivity. In fact, 55% of high-achieving teams have a culture of sharing details about who they are and what they do outside of work (compared to only 17% of low-achieving teams exhibiting the same behaviors). Sharing in this way creates a sense of vulnerability that builds trust and mutual respect, a common trait of today’s most effective and successful teams.

Achieving this kind of connectedness can be a challenge when working remotely. But it’s not impossible. Extra care must simply be taken to maintain a cohesive team dynamic. This requires everyone, especially managers, to be mindful of how they communicate, deal with frustrations, talk through challenges, and define expectations.

With so much of our communications being mediated via technology today, it can be easy to forget there are, in fact, other humans on the receiving end of our words and actions. We should ask ourselves, “If I were there in-person, would I say that or act like that?” This is a great way to avoid little hiccups from becoming bigger issues that can undermine a team’s success.

3. Take care of your people

When there are a lot of different things going on—much less on tight deadlines—it’s easy to stay more focused on tasks and less on the interpersonal aspect of work. This is accentuated in a remote working environment, where managers must take an extra step to bring the human element back into the team dynamic.

Measuring progress and productivity only by how effectively everyone gets through their to-do lists is a sure-fire way of falling into a task-oriented trap. This can be detrimental to a remote team’s long-term success. In fact, in the most extreme cases, it can also further alienate people behind the technology that’s actually there to help them work together.

That’s why keeping a regular cadence of touch bases with your employees is a first step in ensuring that work progresses and stays on schedule. But it’s also an opportunity to connect with your employees as real people in order to keep a pulse on how they’re coping.

Many people are struggling right now, whether they show it publicly or not. Asking a question as simple as, “How are you doing today?” can go a long way towards reminding your employees that you actually care about them and their welfare.

4. Foster communication and collaboration

Set aside time to communicate and collaborate with each other. Be intentional about it but don’t overdo it.

As time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has grown by 50% over the past two decades, it has also meant that many people now spend up to 80% of their day in meetings or dealing with requests. This leaves very little time to do strategic work. Or even have the time to think about the work that needs to get done.

Collaboration in a remote environment requires striking the right balance between creating opportunities for everyone to remain engaged and motivated while also ensuring they have plenty of time to tackle their to-do lists with as few interruptions as possible.

When the pandemic first hit, it was easy to understand why so many team meetings, video calls, and virtual happy hours were happening. People just wanted to feel connected to each other.

But today, with remote work now the new normal, we must be much more mindful about how we take up each other’s time. For example, if you’re scheduling a meeting, does it require the entire team? Or is it better as a 1:1 discussion? These are the kind of questions you need to ask now to ensure you don’t send your team into collaboration overload mode.

Same team, different environment

At the end of the day, the same general rules apply to building effective teams today as they did before the pandemic hit. There are just a few areas where managers, especially, need to be more proactive in ensuring that technology becomes a true catalyst for teamwork and collaboration—and not an invisible wall that adds even more distance between remote workers.

These are just a few tips to help you maintain a successful, productive, motivated, and happy remote team during these pandemic times. Knowing that every team has its unique nuances and challenges, be sure to adapt these ideas according to what would work best on your end.

Remember, no one is expected to have all of the answers today. We’re all learning as we go, as we continue to confront the challenges of this crisis head-on. But you’re not alone. Our team of HR experts is here to help your team survive and thrive.

To learn more about the key trends shaping HR and the world of work in 2021, be sure to download our latest eBook today!

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