As the business world continues to adjust to the circumstances brought about by the pandemic in 2020, new opportunities for how to build a team and meet goals and deliverables have emerged.
The past year’s challenges have presented numerous opportunities to reflect on how teams connect and how workflows can be maintained and improved with increased numbers of remote workers.
So what are the keys to getting the most out of your team in this brave new world? How can you make the most out of the new realities of the business world?
A New Approach to Team Building
Traditional team-building activities like a team happy hour or attending a sporting event together haven’t been available in the pandemic era. They won’t be viable options as long as the number of remote workers stays higher than pre-pandemic levels.
So what can you do to foster strong bonds among your team? There are several strategies that you can apply individually or in conjunction with each other.
Small Activities Each Day
When working with remote teams, a daily check-in meeting is a must. It gives you face-time with your whole team and lets you set goals and objectives for the day. As part of that meeting, try carving out a few minutes for team building.
That can be as simple as asking silly prompt questions of the team. You can run daily scavenger hunts where you name weird or interesting items that people may have in their homes and see what people come up with.
You can make up three or four questions and ask them to a different team member every day. Think of them as a miniature version of the questions at the end of an Inside the Actor’s Studio episode. When everyone has answered your questions, let someone else come up with new ones and start the process over again.
These little activities are easy to do on a video conference and help your team get to know each other better and invest in their relationships with each other, even though they can’t see each other in person. When a team is working for each other — and not just for a company — they become more invested in the outcome of their efforts, and that investment always pays off.
Create a Special Event
While small activities during the workday can do a lot to build your team even when they aren’t in the same room, big team-building activities are also still important. Special events where the only goal is fun.
A little friendly competition can be great for a team. Split up into groups and move trivia night out of the pub and onto zoom. Many trivia companies can create custom trivia experiences that incorporate your industry alongside questions about sports, history, and pop-culture.
Boardgame simulators have seen increased traffic over the last year as well. You can get your team around a virtual table for games like Apples to Apples or Uno with minimal cost.
Of course, there is more than one way to play games as a group. Not every game involves playing against each other. Dungeons and Dragons-style role-playing games have seen a massive uptick in popularity lately.
These team-building activities will do a lot to help keep your team invested in each other, but how can you make sure their work stays as strong as their interpersonal bonds?
Managing Workflow in the Modern World
The key to optimizing workflows with a remote team is structure. While some offices can be distracting, our houses can be even worse. That’s why clear structures for team meetings, time management, task management, and communication are so important.
Without the daily commute into work, a team meeting to start the day is a great way to maintain a sense of normalcy for your team. If you have team members in multiple time zones, you may want to figure out a time for these meetings that isn’t inconvenient for the team.
Regular team meetings allow you to give progress updates, set daily and weekly goals, engage in short team-building exercises like some of those mentioned above, and remind your team of procedural changes to workflows.
These meetings also allow team members to resolve any communication mishaps that may have occurred — although, with some later suggestions, those mishaps will hopefully be rare.
When your entire team is in the office, keeping everyone on-task and monitoring their time is relatively simple. But when your team is remote, it’s a bit more challenging.
You want them to work during regular hours, but you don’t want to flood them with video calls, emails, and instant messages, making sure they do what you pay them to do.
A secure, web-based time tracking system can work wonders. It fits into a structured routine well (pour your coffee, go to your work area, clock in) and remind team members that they are working even though they aren’t in the office.
Task Management and Communication
Task management is an essential part of maintaining and improving workflow with a remote team. When people work remotely, the number of programs and procedures used daily in the office can be put in stark relief.
When you can’t just walk over to a coworker to make sure the two of you aren’t doing the same project, how do you maintain efficiency? What’s the best way to contact each other? How do you maintain version control on a document? How many tasks are tracked on Slack? On Basecamp? On some other tracking program? How many tracking programs are you using?
That’s a lot of questions to think about. Taken individually, they present some clear strategies to keep your workflows tight and efficient.
Establish communication priorities
Emails can get lost in the shuffle or ignored if a few people constantly hit reply-all. So make those the medium for your low to medium priority communications between team members.
High-priority team communication should go through an instant message. Choose one messaging system for your team. If messages are coming at team members from seven different directions, it’s easy to lose track of what is happening. Keep it clean. Having everyone on one system allows you to bring in other team members if needed and limits confusion.
Establishing this hierarchy of communication helps your team recognize priorities and minimize miscommunications. But even this communication structure has its limits. There is still a chance that team members could get their wires crossed and simultaneously work on the same thing.
To mitigate this risk, using a document management system can be invaluable. A program that allows for version control and set up specific processes for document changes keeps your team from accidentally canceling out each others’ work.
Programs like M-Files can be used to manage tasks, communicate with one another, and establish simple workflows for your team to follow. The structure allowed by this type of system keeps your workflows efficient while making it easier to examine them to find opportunities to optimize or automate portions of your processes.
A Look to the Future
Every team is different. Generally speaking, the rise of more remote work offers an opportunity to examine the structures you have in place in your company. By examining and optimizing those structures to allow your team to stay on task in their own homes, you open the door for improved efficiency and team unity — even though no one is even in the same building!
But the pandemic we are making our way out of will not last forever. People will be able to return to offices safely soon. But that doesn’t mean you should be prepared to eliminate remote work.
If anything, a change in the office may be called for. Some people work better in an office, some don’t. If your workflows have adapted well to remote team members, there is no reason to force the people who work better remotely to return to the office.
Some companies are already looking at shifting their office philosophy to one that provides different environments that individual workers can occupy to be their most productive selves.
Some people thrive at a normal desk. Some are more efficient at a standing desk or a treadmill workstation. Some love the feeling of sitting in a cafe-style environment. Some work best with as few external stimuli as possible.
Get to know your team. Simplify and optimize the structures of your workflows and communications to suit their strengths. Put them in the environment that works best for them and see what they can do for your business.