COVID-19: your remote team needs physical closeness

It’s been six months since employers sent their teams home and now it’s time to put their companies back together. The forced work from home experiment appears to have been quite successful.

COVID-19: your remote team needs physical closeness

Work is getting done, everyone is proficient at online collaboration and video meetings, workplace politics is at an all-time low and teams are less stressed from the daily commute.

The result is that many companies are considering keeping the status quo, and their teams out of the office. But before you do, consider this: the beliefs and behaviours that determine how you and your team engage with each other and the outside world, your company’s culture has been severely disrupted.

Cultural adaptability

Culture impacts your people’s performance, and therefore that of your business. Culture is a hard thing to build, and not easy to fix, so must be nurtured, constantly. Now more than ever your people need your leadership and each other, but can this be done remotely?

Harvard Business Review reported in August this year that its research into corporate culture during COVID-19 reveals that cultural adaptability, the parts of your business that reflect your ability to innovate, experiment, and quickly take advantage of new opportunities, is what fosters business sustainability.

It means that owners and managers need to start thinking about how they restructure their businesses, with a particular focus on rebuilding culture and the need for interpersonal collaboration.

During the pandemic, research by 451 Research, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence found that 35% of workers surveyed said they felt more productive but not more engaged, stating that they were struggling with anxiety, not feeling focused and a lack of alignment with their work team. Roughly 55% said they were both less productive and less engaged working from home.

People miss their place of work. Research by Cezanne, a UK-based HR consultancy reports socialising with colleagues as the thing most people miss due to remote work. The others are; office banter and jokes, meetings and collaboration with colleagues face-to-face, structured routine and the general office environment.

So, if office culture and connection is missing how do we create something new that’s adaptive, continues to foster innovation, success and sustainability but still offers the benefits of remote work?

Essential emotional moments for team members

It’s well-documented that people, and culture, thrive in the creative and collaborative environment that a workplace offers.

So, if your people aren’t coming back to work full time, a hybrid approach to engagement must be considered to enable more and better collaboration within, and across, teams. All those things you did before COVID-19 to maintain your culture have to stay.

The kind of impromptu meetings that you would’ve done just by yelling over the cubicle, stopping by or bumping into someone at the coffee machine; all of that informal stuff now needs to be done formally, and it leaves a trail.

– Jerry Davis, University of Michigan 

However, the office still provides essential emotional moments for team members so the most important thing to action now is bringing your people together, formally and informally, on a regular rotational basis.

Look at the current ways your teams collaborate to identify what’s working and what’s not, then together plan the way forward to build a stronger approach to teamwork, being quite clear in creating a team pact that face-to-face engagement will be an essential part of the plan.

For many businesses, this will require a phased approach; establishing a rotation system, ensuring optimal health and safety protocols at all times and providing teams with a guarantee that their wellbeing remains your primary priority.

In conclusion

You have to start before your teams feel too distant from each other and your culture is lost, but always be mindful and supportive of individual needs.

Be flexible. Give people the freedom to operate independently and collaborate with colleagues when necessary.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: the office of the future will be an innovation hub; a place where teams meet, collaborate, strategise, get excited, get creative, share and thrive in the culture of the organisation and then leave to do their part of the work from home.

Published on bbrief