Team-building needs new strategies for hybrid and virtual teams
by Catherine Mattiske · 16 Aug 2022 · 8 min read
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This article outlines how businesses should approach team-building in the post-pandemic landscape, with 7 strategies to rebuild.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on into its third year, managers continue to face difficult decisions about whether to bring employees back to the office, and if so, how to best handle a return many employees may resist, and how to implement team-building in a scattered workforce.Returning to the office presents the risk of fracturing teams, either because some employees may feel forced to return before they’re ready, or due to the difficulties of navigating hybrid situations for the offices that don’t return to 100% on-site work. Yet many organizations are opting for a hybrid model in which some employees work remotely and others work in a local office. This model requires managers to master the challenges of being both a local and virtual leader.
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Whether you are managing a hybrid workforce or a 100% virtual team, you must be adept with virtual management skills, which are crucial for team-building Virtual management requires a high level of commitment to personal communication with each team member.It also tends to be less directive and more focused on guiding and advising.
7 team-building strategies for hybrid and virtual workforces
The pandemic and the resulting creation of more virtual and hybrid teams present opportunities for managers to practice and hone the skills required to build, maintain, and manage global, virtual, and cross-cultural teams — an essential competency for leading in a global environment. Here are seven important team-building considerations to help leaders navigate this evolving environment:
1. consider not returning to the status quo
Yes, conventional wisdom holds that employees are more productive when physically in the office. If someone had asked five years ago if widespread remote work was a good idea, many managers would have laughed. Still, the law of averages is about large numbers, and your specific team-building context, with your specific employees, may be an outlier. Some employees get energized by social interaction and will likely enjoy coming back to work, while others are quite productive independently and would prefer to stay home.Start by considering what’s best for your specific company, and then what will enable each employee to bring the most value. For example, if you need teams to undertake physical work, they need to be in a physical space. If not, there’s no reason they can’t connect remotely. In fact, a 2021 PwC survey found that 83% of employers believed the shift to remote work has been successful for their company
2. if you are hybrid, prioritize the virtual
Whether you require everyone in-office or not, hybrid meetings won’t be going away anytime soon. Companies will still be dealing with employees isolated for safety after testing positive for COVID, as well as vendors or customers who are skittish about entering crowded spaces. With hybrid meetings an inevitable part of our collective future,it is important to pay more attention to the people who aren’t in the room as a key part of team-building. Meetings that focus on physical participants can cause virtual attendees to feel like they’re sitting in coach while their in-room colleagues are getting first-class treatment. Because of this, effective meetings will adopt a “virtual first” approach, asking questions of virtual participants first, as well as engaging their questions and answers first. Alternatively, each virtual attendee could be assigned an in-room colleague to ensure they are connected and get the files/links everyone else is viewing
3. watch out for zoom fatigue
Since we know hybrid meetings aren’t going away, even for companies that have a majority of employees returning to the office, make sure the convenience of virtual meetings doesn’t lead to a proliferation of meetings that didn’t have to happen. You could even take a page from Citigroup’s book with a company-wide moratorium on virtual meetings on Fridays and outside traditional working hours.
4. embrace agility
COVID, an economy that seems uncertain, and geopolitical instability have all reinforced a single important lesson: Everything can change at any moment. Even companies that require employees to return to the office should be prepared to go remote in the event of changing circumstances. Employees (and the companies that hire them) must be increasingly agile and adaptable. Leaders who are serious about planning for unforeseen circumstances will be very intentional about focusing on agility.
5. build translation bridges, especially for difficult conversations
Some employees are chomping at the bit to be back in the office, chatting around the water cooler. Others would prefer working from home forever. And somehow, managers have to communicate with both types. Everyone fits into a specific set of learning and communication preferences.Our ability to learn at speed, connect with others, and engage in frictionless communication is what I call our Genius Quotient. When team members and leaders know each other’s GQ they are able to elevate connection and better communicate regardless of whether they are in the same office or communicating virtually. Discover your GQ by taking this easy profile at thegeniusquotient.com. (It takes less than 10 minutes to complete!)
6. ritualize being human
Work is rewarding, of course. But still… it’s work. Whether you are leading local, virtual, or hybrid teams, get intentional about creating fun team-building rituals that can bring the group closer together. It could be something fun like everyone naming their favorite song or sharing their favorite “something” at the beginning of every meeting: ice cream flavor, 80s song, childhood cartoon, or whatever seems likely to spark discussion and build camaraderie. Other ideas for connecting include:
- Virtual Celebrations — Team members can celebrate life events of other team members such as birthdays, weddings, baby, or other personal accomplishments.
- Team Member Photos — Distribute a team listing on photos and contact information for team members. Update as new team members join the group.
- Celebrating Milestones — As the project accomplishes milestones, celebrate together.
- 2 Truths and a Lie — An excellent activity for a video conference where everyone can see each other. In this “get to know you” exercise, each team member tells two truths and one lie about themselves, and the other team members have to guess which are real and which is a lie.
- Trivia Challenge — Great for familiarizing people with the company culture, history,and so on, as well as for training on specific tools.
7. make communication constant
Check-in with everyone — virtually, via email, or in person — and ask them how they’re doing. Is every team member happy with the amount of work they currently have? Do they feel overburdened or burned out? If so, how can the organization support them? This helps create a sense of trust, empathy, and connection.
These seven team-building steps will help navigate change, ease worried minds, and smooth the path to maximum buy-in and productivity from your team. Ultimately, it’s not geography that determines success. Effective leadership, clear communication, positive team dynamics, and a shared sense of common purpose are what drive great teams toward success.
Global business educator and author Catherine Mattiske is the founder of TPC — The Performance Company, a leading training and consulting organization that has worked with Fortune 100 companies worldwide. Established in 1994, TPC has offices in Sydney, Los Angeles, New York, London, Singapore, and Basel (Switzerland). The author of more than 30 books, her latest is “Unlock Inner Genius: Power Your Path to Extraordinary Success” (September 2021). Discover more about your Inner Genius at thegeniusquotient.com.