Remote, cross-functional, and co-located teams come with pitfalls, such as lack of contact and demanding challenges from family stresses. Winning strategies include establishing strong team relationships, and developing gameplans to hold your remote workers accountable. The goal is to develop strong trust, establish clear structures, and manage social relationships — not to mention, observe for specific behaviours. 

Here are three tips for managing, understanding, and developing strong remote, cross-functional, and co-located team environments. 

Manage Your Teams 

The difference between remote work and traditional office settings is just that — it’s different. Projects are different. Meetings are different. It even makes for different teams. At the same time, it also calls for a different approach to maintain, and even encourage, higher levels of productivity1. One of the benefits of remote work is the smaller team size. Teams that can split into smaller groups offers opportunities for easier communication — and less time standing around the water cooler. 

Working in remote environments does come with its rewards. You get to sleep longer, there is no commute, the kitchen is always open, and pyjama pants are the new normal2. It also advocates for transparency in communication regarding best practices in video conferencing and shorter meetings. This extra time, if used properly, adds the benefit of thought and ability to see yourself as a part of the whole and connected on the bigger picture3

That being said, social isolation is a real issue for remote workers. Add a global pandemic on top of that, throw in some family stresses and disrupted schedules, and you have the perfect formula for acute distress — that could potentially only get worse4. Address this challenge and schedule more face-to-face interactions with individual video meetings. Build stronger relationships with trust and even better communication. When given a chance, offer flexibility and understanding, such as extending deadlines when possible, or accommodating last minutes schedule changes. Make it the exception, and not the rule, but be prepared to make adjustments5

Keep remote employees updated on small and big updates, and ask for the same in return for their own updates or new information. Take and review notes from all communication and video meetings, follow-up on key details and avoid duplications, and share the information in a central drive6. Use this moment to lead versus micro-manage, and allow your employees working in different timezones to give you input on timelines. Start stand-up meetings with an ice-breaker or brag about recent team work. This is the time to unite your team — not divide it. The more you embrace a remote work environment, the more you will see its benefits far outweigh its challenges. 

Establish Clear Structures 

Cross-functional teams offer streamlined processes — team performance can dovetail into individual employee evaluations. Everyone on the team gets to contribute and play a role in the bigger picture. It is also an approach that applauds the workers with proper credit and recognizes individual contributions. 

Cross-functional teams do come with challenges, and a recent study indicated that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional7. The study is based on failed criteria such as poor budget planning, failing to meet customer expectations, and team communication. The biggest challenge is holding the team accountable. You can avoid these common pitfalls and approach cross-functional teams with an outcome in mind — this engages the group to determine appropriate roles. Assign and establish clear structures and define clear roles of team responsibility.  

Cross-functional teams offer deeper levels of collaboration and add a layer of opportunity for internal buy-in and equal voice in projects8. Employees normally working in silos now get a chance to gain valuable input for internal and external perspectives. Not to mention, they now have more access to high-level support and can network with leadership. There is also the opportunity for a clear feedback loop and the chance to encourage an organization to think strategically. It helps you identify the best team leads for projects, and it removes barriers to project success. 

Build Stronger Bonds 

In the COVID-19 crisis, co-located teams offer a chance to build social relationships. As teams operating in the same space, there are many benefits for co-located teams, such as regular face-to-face interactions and the opportunity to develop strong interpersonal bonds. The continuing shift to remote work as the new normal indicates a new range of behaviours9 — including an emphasis on higher levels of social orientation versus remote employees. A risk of co-located teams is the chance that the team will value their social relationship over the work product. They might even be reluctant to speak out on important issues if it affects team harmony. 

The fact is that social relationships and face-to-face interaction matters. It opens dialogue and encourages your team to communicate and feel comfortable with each other. Developing a team with strong interpersonal bonds creates a unique position. It facilitates better relationships and confirms that teams see themselves as part of the team. Be the leader that helps them set and follow boundaries to keep the balance.