Team building is an absolutely vital ingredient to any team’s success, and it’s not just because we want our reports or team members to get along and to know each other better. Indeed, those are two important aspects of why team building is important. But there are so many other reasons why building a foundation for fostering community among team members is necessary for success. For one, it makes team members feel valued. While we already kind of already knew that, it’s important to point out that making a team member feel valued is likely going to make them happier, and we all know happiness can lead to a better work end product. Team building also helps us communicate with each other better, and clear communication among colleagues working together is potentially the single most important ingredient in working together successfully. A solid team foundation also means that team members often feel comfortable asking for help and delegating work to one another, helps the team as a whole set ground rules and an agreed-upon consensus, and encourage brainstorming which in turn leads to innovation.
But the very nature of team building has changed drastically over the last 18 months. In-person meetings happen far less than they used to happen, and while in-person work is on the rise due to higher vaccination rates, a hybrid work experience appears to be the new normal. Sometimes we’ll be working from home, sometimes we won’t, and the likelihood of everyone being on the same schedule for either of those options is fairly small. So the question must be asked: how, in a kind-of post-pandemic world, can we build a thriving community of workers that work together and communicate with one another seamlessly?
In order to answer these questions, we need to identify the issues individual contributors currently face when working from home. First is morale. When conducting remote work, individual contributors feel like their work is invisible, wondering if their managers are noticing the effort that they’re putting in and are left feeling shunned. This is because they don’t see their managers noticing the effort they’re putting in as transparently or easily. 96% of employers and managers with a work from home workforce alternately say that visibility while working from home is extremely important, more important than if everyone wasn’t working remotely. So individual contributors and freelancers are stuck with a catch-22: they feel like they’re work isn’t being recognized, while knowing that recognition is more important than ever.
This lower morale can also greatly contribute to an innovation drought of sorts. Newer and more creative ideas can potentially be harder to come by because morale might be lower, or generally speaking working from home doesn’t facilitate as many 1:1 opportunities. 1:1s are one of the very best ways to build trust among individual contributors, and trust builds creative flow because everyone feels safe expressing their ideas.
Another issue facing remote workers is that of general inequalities in the workplace. It’s not always easy for every worker at every job in every workplace to work from home successfully because of certain outlying circumstances with their home situation. These circumstances affecting their ability to seamlessly work from home can include everything from network connectivity, household complexities like size of home and number of people that live in it, to overall role complexities. All of this is to say, it would likely be easier for an upper-middle class, single, freelance copywriter to work from home than a single mother of 3 living in a 2 bedroom apartment.
Of course, most of these issues have solutions, the first and foremost being simply getting to know team members better, and helping team members get to know one another better and more deeply. The absolute best way to help us understand our fellow remote workers better is to schedule 1:1s. Not only are weekly 1:1s the best time to connect on expectations and overall work alignment, they also allow for more transparency. And transparency is the one thing that many freelancers feel is missing from work. Remember how invisible remote workers can feel? Being more transparent through 1:1s is the absolute best way to make sure your freelance workforce feels valued. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to give feedback, and allow workers to discuss any issues that may be festering. And there are many ways to structure 1:1s too. Creating an agenda does give us a checklist of sorts to make sure that everything that needs to be discussed gets discussed in your 1:1 meetings, but there are some more open-ended questions that are also great to throw in on a regular basis, just to get the pulse of the person you’re meeting with:
- Are you worried about anything?
- What do you love that you’re working on right now?
- What blockers are preventing you from reaching success on any of your projects?
Encouraging 1:1s among other team members is also a great way to build camaraderie. At the end of the day, if we’re building camaraderie we’re building a team. But 1:1s among team members, especially in the world of remote work which is already untraditional in the first place, allow everyone to get to know one another better.
This goes without saying, but team building exercises can exist virtually and should exist virtually as well. All kinds of virtual activities exist, many of which can be quite deluxe. Given a budget, your and your remote team could take part in everything from a cocktail making class to an online cheese-tasting to an entirely-remote trivia night. Many remote team-building activities, though, can be done on a small budget (especially that trivia night), and some don’t even require a budget at all. A much more work-appropriate version of Never Have I Ever (which also can act as an ice-breaker if need be) is also one of the funnest ways to get to know team members, as everyone shares stories about things they’ve done throughout their life.
Ultimately, in order to solve the problem of building a solid foundation for your team virtually, it all comes back to getting to know one another better, while figuring out methods to boost and lift one another up remotely. In the world of remote work, making a team feel like a team is important. In the world of remote work with a lot of chaos going on in our world, making a team feel like a team by making each individual contributor feel seen and heard is more important than ever.