A Guide to Building Remote-Team Unity
In a remote job, the traditional ways we get to know our coworkers and bosses go out the window, but connecting with them doesn't have to.
The Beatles had 21 days to prepare for what would be their last concert, performed live for television from the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquaters in January 1970. With a lot of personalities in the mix, this was a very short amount of time to write and rehearse several songs for millions across the world.
What happened (as showcased in Peter Jackson's recent documentary of that period) was a lesson in how to get things done. Working with people is hard and messy because they're, well, people. But despite significant challenges and interpersonal tension, those Beatles sessions became the foundation for their final, classic album, Let it Be.
Companies today can learn from the Beatles. Much like a band, any small business is reliant on human relationships that get built in layers over time and, once built, will flourish on the strength of those group dynamics or break apart.
Traditional office culture and its impact
It used to be that from the first moment an employee reported to a work location, in-person connections began to happen. That process continuously built on itself in formal and informal ways. Great leaders created cultures where tasks, projects and goals drew the team together in common purpose. The in-between moments of informal connection that happened in hallways, breakrooms and by the front desk added to the personality of the team. Some people went from being work associates to colleagues and, eventually, to being friends.
Even in the most dysfunctional office-based cultures, working together under the same roof created some semblance of unification. If nothing else, the building temperature or the shortage of parking, traffic or the latest football game gave people shared experiences to talk to each other about and break up the day.
Remote-first environments change the way we meet
Research shows that highly aligned organizations significantly outperform their unaligned peers, growing revenue up to 58% faster with more than 70% better profitability. Alignment happens from the top down and bottom up. Moments of casual connection, so mission-critical to team-building, are much more difficult to spark digitally, yet no less vital tools for unifying organizations. In remote-first environments, managers and business leaders must become intentional and creative to replace the hundreds of daily, unplanned and unstructured minutes of casual connections between co-workers. Otherwise, unity softens, and both teamwork and business results will feel the impact.
Five moves any organization can make to unify teams in remote-first environments
Not all conversation leads to communication, but most conversation does lead to connection. If there is common ground or agreement, people tend to find it. On the flipside, people who disagree tend to discover that, too. These are some of the great benefits to proximity. Even if a team isn't highly functioning, there will always be more conversation between people who are under the same roof.
Here are five ways to recreate an environment with casual connections in a remote work setting:
Create spaces for personal sharing. When in-person, it's the time before the meeting starts and after it ends — while people are settling in or gathering up their things — when people tend to share personal information. Meeting leaders need to recreate those spaces online. Considering staggering the start time of a meeting for various participants. Have three people show up early, just so you can catch up. Invite people to join for lunch. To bring their pets. There's nothing wrong with telling people what you are trying to recreate. They may like the benefits of remote work, but are also aware that something is lost, even as something is gained.
Amplify feedback loops. People don't want their work to be in a vacuum. They thrive on feedback. Word-of-mouth is minimized in remote workplaces. On Zoom meetings and Slack channels, share customer quotes from support tickets, social media comments and sales calls. Share positives and negatives. Nothing brings a team together like a problem to solve — especially when it is from another department. Discuss feature requests so that everyone knows what is on your customers' minds. There is no better way to align your teams than to train them on an accurate roadmap that will prepare them to speak intelligently to customers and prospects about your company.
Employ technology that aligns teams. Every team strives to create a world-class customer experience. This is not possible unless every touchpoint and team in the customer journey is aligned. Having teams use the same technology platform promotes team communication and collaboration into the customer journey. Disparate, non-integrated systems with data silos keeps departments from engaging with each other and understanding each other's processes.
Tune in to cohort differences. Gen Xers are often in leadership roles, but tend to be quiet achievers. They can be fiercely private; however, at the same time, they thrive in casual, friendly environments and are generally accepting and inclusive of others. They may be great listeners for the millennials on the team who want their managers to show sincere interest in them as people and are more likely to engage when their managers hold regular meetings.
Maximize infrequent in-person meetings. When an opportunity arises to meet in person, take it. Whether it be a quick lunch during a layover in a colleague's hometown or a full-blown team gathering, use every possible minute of that in-person meeting to converse, engage and be fully present. Individual work can take a back seat for some face-to-face collaboration and brainstorming.
People want to belong, feel connected, and provide excellent service — that hasn't changed.
Businesses may have inadvertently benefited from in-office logistics, but that's over now, or significantly reduced for many companies and cohorts of workers. However, our customers still expect and deserve a seamless journey or they will go somewhere else. As leaders, it is incumbent on us to adapt and lead through the new world of remote work to deliver on that promise to our customers.
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