We tend to think of teams as homogeneous groups of people working in the same space, at the same time, and having an on-site supervisor. This has been the norm throughout history, but with the current technological revolution at full speed, we might want to tweak this definition, or even change it altogether.
Teams tend to be global nowadays and the common denominators of a team are no longer the shared office space and the common working schedule. They tend to be common tasks, goals, deadlines that are carried out by groups of individuals located in America, Europe, and Asia and who work across different time zones.
As teams are becoming more and more globally dispersed, technology becomes the essential glue that connects all members and facilitates communication.
How do employees cope with this new working environment?
Are they ready to embrace it or have they already embraced it?
The paradoxes of remote teams
Studies conducted by Insights show that the reality is quite fuzzy, as several paradoxes have shown up in the research.
Paradox no. 1
Employees want to define and choose their working conditions, but they need to be taught to work in such an autonomous way.
The possibility of working from a coffee shop, your regular pub or the comfort of your own home may seem quite appealing, but it requires a high level of self-discipline that is not natural to many people. Training and support might be the proper solution.
Paradox no. 2
Teams are globally dispersed, but individuals need a sense of belonging and face-to-face interaction time.
We are social animals. Since we are social animals, it is safe to say that we are social colleagues and employees: interaction is the backbone of our working culture. Together we have developed tools, built skyscrapers and eradicated diseases that used to kill millions.
Paradox no. 3
Teams rely a lot on technology, but the truth is that the technology and the support services are not as good as they should be.
Needless to say, for teams that depend on technology, efficient and fast infrastructure and technical support are essential. Companies should invest in technology and treat it as a core element of its business to allow employees to focus on their jobs, not on technical failures.
Paradox no. 4
Sometimes work is done in face-to-face interactions, but some colleagues who are physically distant are excluded from such social activities.
The inclusion of colleagues who work remotely should be taken into consideration especially when employees who work at headquarters have the opportunity to interact daily. Annual or bi-annual team buildings might give all employees the chance to interact and to build a sense of belonging.
Paradox no. 5
Although there is a lot of flexibility, employees still require structure to find a good work-life balance.
With flexibility (and technology) comes great responsibility. FOMO is work-related as well. The temptation of working around the clock is always present, but personal life tends to suffer if one is always on the phone checking and answering emails. Good work-life balance is essential for mental health and productivity.
Being an effective leader of remote teams
With all these paradoxes to address, what leadership profile is better suited for such teams? Insights suggests a TBS model (Trust, Belonging, and Support) that could help globally dispersed teams work more effectively and that could identify suitable leaders.
Trust is essential in a virtual working environment. At this level of autonomy, people need to feel that they are trusted and empowered to deliver results. A visionary leader, who sees possibilities, has a think-outside-the-box mentality and inspires people, might be the right person who can make team members feel that they are trusted and have enough freedom to use their full potential.
If team members feel that their sense of belonging is not satisfied in the virtual working environment, a relationship leader might be the best solution to fill in the social and communication gap. A relationship-oriented leader will foster collaborations, create communities, and cultivate relationships to release the potential of individuals and groups.
Virtually dispersed teams that feed the need for more support will most likely benefit from the actions and the mindset of a centred leader. This leader has a more pragmatic approach to things, focuses on the here and now, has integrity, business acumen, and is tech-savvy.
The best leader is the one who understands his people and inspires them to be the best they can be, even across continents and time zones. As John C. Maxwell said,
A leader is the one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.