It’s been almost a year since the COVID-19 pandemic sent us home from the office. With employees working remotely, there are no longer the face-to-face interactions with colleagues and collaborations we were accustomed to. For many of us, it’s been an entirely new way of working.
We suddenly, unexpectedly, had to figure out how to get the work done from various locations, sometimes using different tools.
Yet despite our siloed work lives, we’ve never been more connected. Communicating via team messaging and video conferencing is working. Studies show remote workers are more productive now than they were pre-pandemic.
Teamwork is different now
Team building in 2021 won’t be the same as in the past. We’re still figuring out how to best encourage and promote teamwork among employees working remotely, whether full- or part-time.
We know remote working is likely to continue even after the pandemic ends. PwC’s U.S. Remote Work Survey, published in January 2021, found that remote work has been overwhelmingly successful for both employers (83%) and employees (73%). Less than one in five executives say they want to return to how things used to be, and more than half of employees want to continue working remotely at least three days a week post-COVID-19.
Those are striking statistics, especially when our teams are not working together in the same office. With continued remote and hybrid work ahead of us, it’s clear we need to focus on successful collaboration and teamwork going forward.
Here are five ways for leaders to build stronger teams in 2021:
1. Establish clear goals and responsibilities
The goal of improving teamwork is to achieve the company’s bottom line, but you can’t do that unless they’re clearly defined. Make sure you know just what each employee should accomplish.
When describing an employee’s specific role, try to avoid detailing exactly how they should achieve those goals. Instead, rely on the people you’ve selected and their knowledge of their jobs. Trust them to do what you hired them for, and you’ll often see better results.
2. Make effective communication easy
Remote workers can become siloed and isolated. Businesses need communication systems that are comfortable to use and make communicating easy, so this doesn’t happen.
Unified communications systems combine messaging, video, and phone so employees can easily choose whichever mode of communication feels right for the situation. Workers use communications more when they are part of the same app. When communications methods are on different platforms, there can be mental roadblocks about switching, which means they are less likely to be used. The result? Lower productivity and teamwork.
3. Avoid excess meetings
Sometimes when we can’t meet in person, we’re tempted to schedule more video meetings instead—usually more than necessary. However, study after study shows that too many video calls can be counterproductive.
Make sure you use video meetings in the smartest ways possible. For example:
- Schedule them in advance, so there’s time for everyone to prepare and they are worthwhile.
- Have a clear agenda, set a time limit, and stick to both.
- Keep track of how much time you take away from your team’s workday and make sure it’s not excessive.
When you do have video meetings, consider the details. Maybe everyone doesn’t need to have cameras turned on. Video fatigue is real—so keep video at a minimal level.
4. Know your employees and their strengths
Working remotely with teammates can be challenging. Employees might have different time zones and work schedules, making collaboration harder than in office settings.
Get to know what roles everyone excels at and place them in positions where they can use their strengths to help their team be successful and achieve its goals. When you know your employees, you can consciously create a team’s dynamics instead of leaving them to chance.
Be aware of your workers’ strengths and weaknesses. Are they stronger in strategic thinking or relationship building? Are they someone who executes or influences? When your employees are on teams and in positions that are a good fit for their skills and personalities, they have the energy to perform well. Teams that are a bad fit can zap a worker’s energy.
5. Recognize achievements
Rewarding a team for its excellent work means its team members learn what excellence looks like and know to repeat what they’ve done. Recognizing your employees improves both their teamwork and your company’s culture. In a remote or hybrid environment, this has never been more important.
Gallup says a well-connected team displays three positive characteristics that impact your company’s culture. One is trust, or team members being confident the other members are reliable and dependable. Another is teamwork, which can be defined as an appreciation of other members’ strengths and talents that help the team take on challenges together. The third is a deep-felt, emotional loyalty to one’s team.
Fine-tune the details of how your teams work together, and you’ll see even greater results in 2021.
Originally published Feb 11, 2021, updated Nov 16, 2023