Oh! How to reconnect remote teams | Thomas.co

In this blog, author, TEDx presenter, facilitator and futurist Lisette Sutherland talks to us about why teams today have ‘frog in a bucket’ syndrome, employee engagement is at rock bottom, and what we, as individuals and organisations, can do about it. 

What’s changing about the way that teams interact?

Since the pandemic, organisations have grappled with three significant challenges: an excess of meetings, a sense of disconnection from the team, and decreased engagement levels.

In the transition from physical to virtual workspaces, we have to adapt our methods of connecting and interacting with others accordingly.

But there is a lack of guidance on fostering personal connections and maintaining the culture of an organisation in a virtual environment.

Suddenly, we have to make explicit all the implicit agreements that we had when we worked together in the office. Team building is not going to happen over a big pile of nachos at the office anymore.

How can we reconnect remote teams?

1. Understanding Personal Engagement Needs: The key to combatting employee disengagement starts with us. Creating a personal user manual allows us to explore our needs and preferences introspectively. Questions like "What do I need to be productive?", "How do I like to work?" and "What communication style suits me best?" help us gain clarity. Recognising and respecting the diverse communication preferences of our colleagues, such as the way we deliver feedback, is equally essential.

2. Tailoring Motivational Strategies: Team members have varying motivations that must be understood and catered to. Some individuals are driven by solving challenging problems, while others value the relationships they form with colleagues. Understanding these nuances helps create an environment that taps into everyone's unique motivations.

3. Establishing Team Agreements: Creating explicit agreements about team behaviour is vital to ensure alignment and foster a sense of cohesion. These agreements address questions like response time expectations, responsibilities during non-working hours, and preferred communication tools. The team can create a supportive and inclusive working environment by defining these norms collectively. 

4. Visualising Teamwork: Moving from physical to virtual workspaces necessitates new ways of visualising our work together. Virtual offices and visual management systems can help facilitate this transition. Virtual offices, accessible through our browsers, allow team members to see where others are located and enter virtual rooms for discussions. Visual management systems aid in mapping work and visualising its flow through the organisation.

5. Streamlining Information Management: Effective information management is crucial, especially as visual and virtual documentation multiplies. Studies show that employees spend 1-2 hours daily searching for information. This means that establishing efficient systems for storing and retrieving information is increasingly important.

6. Developing Comprehensive Training Videos: Creating comprehensive training videos helps support continuous learning and development in a remote work environment. These resources provide team members with on-demand access to valuable insights, skills, and knowledge, helping them stay up-to-date with industry trends and company-specific processes. Training videos serve as a valuable tool for skill enhancement and professional growth, contributing to overall success in the virtual workspace.

Gallup research suggests that just 20% of employees are engaged at work. Why is this? What do you think is behind this disconnect between employers and employees? 

Burnout has become a significant concern with the widespread adoption of remote work. Despite the convenience of working from anywhere at any time, creating a sustainable workflow for individuals, teams, and leaders is vital. Hybrid work requires it’s own unique approach, just as radio and television differ in content design. Unfortunately, many organisations neglect to provide adequate training on facilitating online meetings, using new tools, preventing meeting overload, and modern-day work methods. Consequently, burnout rates have risen.

I asked a team what would make them feel more engaged at work and built a word cloud of their answers. I was struck by the difference between their answers and the techniques leaders used to improve workplace engagement. The word that came up most was ‘transparency.’ People wanted to understand how their work fit into the bigger picture and the company goals. They also wanted more empathy from leadership, and more psychological safety. They wanted clear roles and a common language. If you focus on what actually motivates your team, you will increase their engagement.

How do companies need to evolve to improve engagement?

To improve engagement, companies need to prioritise open and transparent work environments. Encouraging employees to share their work progress fosters group cohesion and understanding. Utilising tools like Jira, Confluence, Trello, and virtual whiteboards like Miro can facilitate transparency and collaboration. Emerging technologies like virtual offices and augmented reality goggles (like Apple AR goggles for example) provide exciting opportunities for enhancing remote teamwork and presence.

What impact do these measures make on hybrid teams? 

Leaders must involve the team in decisions related to team culture and engagement. Rather than making assumptions, leaders should directly consult team members on their needs and preferences. People don’t recognise how uncomfortable they are in their hybrid work environment, it’s a bit like the fable of the frog that slowly boils to death.

When people see and recognise that things can improve, it motivates change. Teams that actively engage their members tend to become outliers in their organisation in their cohesion, happiness and productivity. People imagined that remote work would be pyjamas and drinks with umbrellas; but that’s just not the reality, even if that reality is virtual. 

Be proactive about your hybrid success

Start and take a proactive step towards remote work success by downloading our 'Remote-First Success Kit.’ It includes valuable insights on personal user guides, optimizing hybrid meetings, and effective team-building strategies.

About Lisette Sutherland

Lisette Sutherland is the author of the Work Together Anywhere Handbook and host of an award-winning podcast about remote work. She facilitates workshops on various remote working topics like hybrid working, better online meetings, and virtual leadership.

Lisette has given presentations at a wide range of events, from conferences all over the world, to podcasts, online meetups, telepresence and virtual reality, and then back to earth for a TEDx talk in Kaunas, Lithuania.

She was as a member of the EU/US Transatlantic Expert Group on the future of work brought together by Bruegel and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Her company, Collaboration Superpowers, provides individuals, teams and managers with a roadmap for working together anywhere – successfully through online, interactive workshops by licensed facilitators worldwide.