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“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson.
Phil Jackson, the most successful head coach in NBA history, may not have been able to foresee a world where teams would be collaborating over computers. Nevertheless, his advice still holds up. Leaders and professionals can’t just throw up their hands and blame Covid-19 for their difficulties. There is still business to be done, after all, and to accomplish that work, enterprises still need to foster a one-team mentality. Not only does this make the team better, but it also gives the customer the feeling of being part of a real family.
Moving beyond collaboration
Most businesses have figured out the technical secrets behind collaboration. While employees might be heavily multi-tasking, involved in multiple conversations through the same number of platforms, they’ve met the challenge. Businesses have learned how to leverage virtual meetings, manage projects and discussions through Slack, and have come a long way towards building a foundation for remote work for years to come.
It’s time to move beyond mere collaboration, though. Businesses have done the hard work of keeping employees connected technically; it’s now necessary to keep employees connected emotionally. That can be exceedingly difficult in a reality where managers haven’t even met new hires in person, a full year later. It’s hard to conceptualize just how detrimental that can be to teamwork. Making new employees feel like they’re part of the team is difficult even under normal circumstances; now, leaders need to navigate how to make someone feel comfortable enough to contribute, even if they’ve never physically met their co-workers.
Planning for workplace success
The question remains whether employees will wholeheartedly embrace remote work or whether they’re going to return to the office in droves as soon as they’re able. The reality is probably somewhere in between, a hybrid solution where people come in for specific meetings or events and work from home. Because of this likely future, new workspaces will have to be as connected as employees’ homes have been, with access to all the various collaboration tools businesses have adopted over the past year. Leaders may have to seriously rethink their office space layouts, both in the interest of encouraging social distancing and facilitating collaboration between a split workforce daily.
There’s also the issue of breaking the habit of multi-tasking that’s popped up because of Covid-19. People have grown accustomed to attending a Zoom meeting on one screen, answering emails on their second screen, while at the same time messaging someone else on their phone. All of this has been going on while people have been caring for children, taking care of sick relatives and handling their day-to-day lives as well. Trying to unlearn this habit will be difficult but necessary once there’s a return to some sort of post-Covid normalcy; multi-tasking hurts productivity and could further damage remote teams’ ability to pursue real innovation.
There are a few ways to tackle these problems. Fostering a “one-team” mentality is essential. Encouraging employees to feel like their workgroup is another family can be difficult but necessary. In Austin during the major power outages in February, stories abound of businesses stepping up, checking in on employees daily and leveraging the resources they happened to have on hand to make sure people had water or food. These stories are a shining example of how a company can shift from being a workgroup to being a team.
Collaborating to “surround” the customer
All of this begs the question of how to best plan for the challenges ahead while maintaining a customer-centric focus. It can be challenging to build trust with a client when there hasn’t been a physical meeting. Companies have long relied on personal touches to make sure clients feel cared for. That’s become more difficult, but it’s still not impossible. Instead of making an office call, remote teams could establish more frequent contact with their clients, checking up on them more frequently, reaching out even though they may not have met in person.
Surrounding a client means being available for the client’s needs, focusing on the client and taking steps to make the client feel as though they’re part of the family. With remote teams managing accounts, managers should emphasize over-communication and help employees feel empowered to reach out to clients on a regular basis. There’s a hesitation to over-communicate sometimes, perhaps out of a desire to avoid annoying a client, but it might be just the thing they need in this environment. Creating virtual touchpoints, and using them often, can help recreate the physical connections that have largely been lost.
Sharing insights is encouraged
There’s also an opportunity now for leaders who have found working solutions to share those insights with others. Leaders worldwide are looking for innovative ways to overcome these problems, and it’s complicated because problem sets are continually shifting. After a year of lockdown, many employees who may have been top performers might be battling feelings of despair or hopelessness. Every day seems to bring a new set of challenges. Clients could be struggling too, trying to insert some predictability into a wildly dynamic situation.
Sharing insights across companies or industries can help with that. There’s no telling what piece of advice someone needs to hear or what value they can glean from a seemingly simple statement. Being a transparent leader who’s forthcoming with encouragement, advice and best practices can only help make everyone stronger.
Never stop building the team
The work of building a team is never done. Even when the foundation has been laid, it takes constant maintenance and a desire to keep innovating. The best teams understand that they’re made up of individual members, and those members, in turn, know that they’re part of something larger than themselves. A team that’s reached that level of care and responsibility for each other can’t help but take care of their customers too. It’s difficult in a world that’s becoming ever more digitalized, but that just makes it all the more important to keep trying.