Many businesses have found it necessary to adopt a remote work policy due to the effects of the pandemic. However, this could wind up being more than a temporary measure. We may not witness a return to normal business operations or individual lifestyles for some time.
Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, remote working arrangements had been gaining in popularity. Now, more companies are seeing it as an integral part of their future operations. Having shifted their existing personnel to remote work, many companies find that their next step would be hiring and onboarding new members remotely, maybe even from around the world.
Your team may share the same outlook and seek to expand its remote operations. But the challenge of working remotely with people you know personally is different from that of adjusting to new colleagues you’ve never met. This is how you can make it work.
In sports, teams have a concept of chemistry. Athletes coming together will tend to struggle initially. They have different preferences and backgrounds. Personalities may clash. There could be arguments over who gets to play a central role, or who has to carry out the dirty work. It takes time for coaches to work out the differences, help players adjust to one another, and develop good team cohesion and understanding.
Team chemistry isn’t limited to sports. It extends to any collaborative setting, such as the workplace. And its development is facilitated by social interactions. That includes deliberate efforts by leadership, such as team building, but also spontaneous, informal conversations. These could take place during breaks, in the office lounge, at events, or anywhere employees happen to be in the same place at the same time.
People feel more at ease with one another over time due to the frequency of these interactions. And those are the things you’ll miss when bringing new people on board to work remotely.
A challenge of communication
Resolving technical problems can seem complicated, especially if you’re the one doing the job. But from a leadership perspective, it’s simple. You call the database administrator (DBA) for your Microsoft SQL Server. They may take the system offline to do whatever they need to do, but within half an hour or less, everything is back to normal.
Human issues can’t be resolved so easily. You may have an idea where the problem lies or how to approach it, but you also need soft skills. People aren’t mechanical parts; you need to get their buy-in for action. Individual employees need to be made aware that the problem exists and needs to be addressed.
With a team of remote workers, the focal point of this challenge rests on communication. As a rule of thumb, it’s said that less than 10% of our communication is verbal. The words we speak are a fraction of what we actually want to say. Humans use nonverbal communication to convey their messages and interpret what others are saying.
When you take your communications online, those nonverbal cues can go missing in action. Ever tried to sound funny in an email or chat? It can be hard to convey humour without being explicit, which often ruins the fun. But if you’re chatting or corresponding with people who know you well, they can glean the intent of your message based on experience.
Leadership from a distance
The obvious solution to this communications challenge is one that’s also been rapidly improving in recent years. Video calls and conferences enable you to interact with remote workers and relay a lot of those missing nonverbal cues.
But you have to be judicious in your use of these tools. Every time you bring the team together or call people individually for a one-on-one, it takes time out of their schedule. And when people work remotely, this imposes on their flexibility. Remember, they are often working from home, especially with pandemic-enforced restrictions in place. You could be interrupting rest, household tasks, family time, or disrupting their preferred work hours. This becomes even more of an issue when working across multiple time zones.
Rather than increase the frequency or duration of video meetings, be efficient and purposeful with the allocated time. Don’t limit the agenda to work matters. Those can be touched upon, with the details handled in greater depth via a pre-meeting email thread or a post-meeting debriefing chat.
Spend some time during calls to get the team warmed up to its new members. Go out of your way to name-drop people and share anecdotes about them, and inject fun and personality into online interactions. You’ll have to do more to offset the changes in communication that accompany remote working. But, it will enable your team to have better chemistry and accommodate new members in the future.