Virtual Teams

Remote Community building a leadership priority

We’ve been running remote teams training for over 25 years now and our programs are often based around 4 main Cs – cooperation, communication, control and community.

When we first developed the training in 1994 there was already some early research into telecommuting and home working and it showed clearly that the major concerns that individuals felt about remote working were around their sense of team spirit and social connection to their colleagues and the business  and also how they stayed visible when working remotely.

Despite this being individuals’ number one concern, we learned to put the remote community building content at the end of our programs. If we talked about community too soon then experienced managers tended to roll their eyes or consider it a bit fluffy. Even though the community tools were very practical and actionable the acceptance of the need to use them was lower

We introduced some simulations early in the programme that made the point very clearly that establishing community is essential to successful activity. We then focused on more concrete and immediate things such as simplifying cooperation, cutting out unnecessary meetings, building a plan to communicate in an engaging way through technology and balancing control and empowerment.

Exercising effective control and performance management was always high on line managers’ objectives in attending the programme. This was despite the fact that, in normal times when we have fewer distractions, remote workers were found by research to be consistently more productive then people based in an office.

Once we had established our credentials by dealing with the “hard” management issues in the training we were then able to get away with talking more about community. By the end of the training nearly everyone had got the message and moved community higher up their leadership agenda.

It looks likely that the current crisis will bring about an enduring change in our attitude to building community. After the initial shock of getting set up to work from home it has become clear that the human factors – building community in our language – is what has brought sustainability and real resilience to this current situation. Managers are much more attuned to this as a focus area now.

We often finish our remote teams training with an exercise asking people what they remembered about their favourite team experience, whether at work, school or in sports. We asked them if they had to choose one factor that made that such a good experience, what would it be?

Globally about 80% of the factors that people identified were about community – the spirit, fun and the learning. Only 20% were about the activity and achievements of the team.

We expect much higher acceptance of the need to build community first from managers after their experiences in 2020.

How have you focused on community during this period?

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