A guide to building remote team unity

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The Beatles had 21 days to prepare for what would be their final concert, performed live for television from the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters in January 1970. With plenty of personalities in the mix, it was very few time to write and rehearse multiple songs for millions of people around the world.

What happened (as seen in Peter Jackson’s recent documentary about this period) was a lesson in how to get things done. Working with people is difficult and messy because they are, well, people. But despite significant challenges and interpersonal tensions, these Beatles sessions became the basis for their final classic album, So be it.

Businesses today can learn from the Beatles. Much like a group, any small business depends on human relationships that are built in layers over time and, once built, will thrive on the strength of these group dynamics or fall apart.

Traditional office culture and its impact

Previously, from the first moment an employee showed up at a workplace, in-person connections started happening. This process has continuously built on itself in formal and informal ways. Great leaders have created cultures where tasks, projects, and goals have brought the team together for a common purpose. The in-between moments of informal connection that occurred in the hallways, break rooms and at the front desk added to the team’s personality. Some people have gone from working associates to co-workers and eventually friends.

Even in the most dysfunctional office cultures, working together under the same roof has created a semblance of unification. At least the temperature of the building or the lack of parking spaces, the traffic or the last football game gave people shared experiences to talk to each other and interrupt the day.

Related: 5 Tips for Hiring and Building a Remote Team

Remote environments are changing the way we meet

Research shows that highly aligned organizations significantly outperform their non-aligned counterparts, growing revenue up to 58% faster with more than 70% higher profitability. Alignment is from top to bottom and bottom to top. The moments of informal connection, so essential to team building, are much harder to trigger digitally, but no less essential tools for unifying organizations. In remote environments, managers and business leaders must become intentional and creative to replace the hundreds of daily, unplanned, and unstructured minutes of occasional co-worker connections. Otherwise, the unity softens and teamwork and business results will feel the impact.

Connected: 6 Ways Connections Create a Sense of Belonging Anywhere With Any Workplace

Five Steps Any Organization Can Take to Unify Teams in Remote Environments

Not all conversations lead to communication, but most conversations lead to connection. If there is common ground or agreement, people tend to find it. On the other hand, people who disagree tend to find that out too. These are some of the great advantages of proximity. Even if a team is not working very well, there will always be more conversation between people who are under the same roof.

Here are five ways to recreate an environment with informal connections in a remote work environment:

  1. Create personal sharing spaces. In person, it’s the time before the meeting starts and after the meeting ends — while people are getting settled or gathering their things — when people tend to share personal information. Meeting organizers must recreate these spaces online. Consider staggering the start time of a meeting for different attendees. Ask three people to show up early, just so you can catch up. Invite people to join the lunch. To bring their pets. There’s nothing wrong with telling people what you’re trying to recreate. They may love the benefits of working remotely, but also realize that something is lost, even if something is gained.

  2. 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 the positives and negatives. Nothing brings a team together like a problem to solve, especially when it comes from another department. Discuss feature requests so everyone knows what your customers are concerned about. There’s no better way to align your teams than to train them on a clear roadmap that will prepare them to speak intelligently to your company’s customers and prospects.

  3. Use technology that aligns teams. Each team strives to create a world-class customer experience. This is only possible if every touchpoint and every team in the customer journey is aligned. Having teams use the same technology platform promotes communication and team collaboration in the customer journey. Disparate, unintegrated systems with data silos prevent departments from engaging with each other and understanding each other’s processes.

  4. Be attuned to cohort differences. Gen Xers often hold leadership positions, but tend to be low-key. They can be fiercely private; however, at the same time, they thrive in relaxed, friendly environments and are generally accepting and inclusive of others. They can be great listeners for millennials on the team who want their managers to genuinely care about them as people and are more likely to engage when their managers have regular meetings.

  5. Maximize infrequent in-person meetings. When an opportunity arises to meet in person, seize it. Whether it’s a quick lunch on a layover in a colleague’s hometown or a full-fledged team meeting, use every possible minute of that in-person meeting to converse, engage and be fully present. Individual work can take a back seat to face-to-face collaboration and brainstorming.

Related: How to Create a Company Culture in a Distant World

People want to belong, feel connected and provide great service – that hasn’t changed.

Companies may have inadvertently benefited from office logistics, but that’s over now, or significantly reduced for many companies and worker cohorts. However, our customers are still waiting and deserve a flawless trip, otherwise they will go elsewhere. As leaders, it’s up to us to adapt and lead the new world of remote work to deliver on that promise to our customers.

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