Building Teams To Succeed With Remote WorkWed, Nov 18, 2020
Associate Professor, Waseda University Faculty of Commerce
Because of Covid-19, the ordinary has become extraordinary, and many companies had no choice but to shift to remote work, which is supposed to improve our working environment. However, many people are experiencing fatigue from remote work these days, and job efficiency has fallen. Part of the reason could be the peculiarity of the current situation, but an important point to note is that the behavior in the traditional in-person work style differs from that needed for remote work. Since remote work will continue to prevail, I would like to provide some hints on how to work collaboratively from the field of teamwork research.
When working remotely, team members don’t see each other working, and the traditional in-person management and supervision become difficult for leaders. In this kind of situation, instead of managing staff with detailed instructions, providing supportive leadership by giving individuals autonomy and having them manage their work becomes more effective. In a remote work situation, leaders must create a team environment in which staff can make judgments and proceed with their work. Let’s discuss below what to focus on.
Give meaning to the work
“Leaders give instructions on what and how to go about doing something but don’t explain why is that work important or how it relates to the organization’s goals.” We often hear these kinds of complaints from workers. Without understanding “why,” knowing how to make appropriate judgments and perform their jobs to best serve the organization are difficult . With remote work, having leaders clarify the relationship between each job and the organization’s goals or strategy fosters the staff’s autonomy.
Clarifying job responsibilities
To improve teamwork, clarifying an individual’s scope of work and responsibility as well as understanding the purview of their coworkers become necessary. Lack of clarity in job responsibilities lowers work efficiency. Also, when a team lacks a full understanding of who is overseeing what, struggling individuals who need a hand go unnoticed . Since individuals can’t see each other, the kind of support which would be natural in-person becomes difficult. Leaders are advised to use methods such as online meetings to allow the entire team to understand each individual’s role.
Granting discretionary authority
To work independently, each individual should be able to make their own judgments. If individuals need the leader to explain and decide everything to complete their given tasks, their sense of personal responsibility and work performance are both hindered . This is why leaders must grant their subordinates some measure of discretionary authority. The leader should, in discussion with subordinates, figure out the extent of what they can make judgments on and grant them that authority. Those with little experience should be given simple work and limited authority and trained to work independently. Although many leaders feel uncomfortable delegating authority, when subordinates are trusted, they feel more motivated and grow.
Changing the leader’s behavior is not enough to raise the quality of remote teamwork. Staff must also consciously change their behavior, as described below.
Since providing support remotely is difficult, each individual must be conscious of the entire unit and proactively provide support and information to coworkers in need . Workers must talk to each other and make efforts to find those who are behind in their work or need support. It is also important to, using a chat tool, be conscious of creating an atmosphere for the team where it is easy to ask for help.
Understanding the leader’s feelings
Monitoring the workplace should not be solely imposed on the leader. Since overseeing everything is difficult, the staff must assist the leader in monitoring the team’s work progress. As leaders bear responsibility for management and supervision, we should understand that they become anxious when monitoring becomes difficult . By promoting visibility at the workplace with tools such as task management apps, leaders gain a feeling of comfort and win trust . We must not forget that whether leaders can actualize their ability also depends on the support of their staff.
Making rules for remote communication
Filesharing tools like Dropbox and business chat apps like Slack make information sharing possible and easy. However, if too many individuals share information indiscriminately, everyone’s monitors become flooded, making it difficult to prioritize information. Checking onscreen information causes fatigue, and crucial information can be missed. Therefore, some rules are needed to allow smooth information sharing. For example, issues such as locations of shared file storage, organization of folders and files which seem to propagate endlessly, ways of communicating on chat and when to respond, may cause frustration. Identifying points of frustration and agreeing on rules to resolve them will help achieve efficient information sharing.
Surely, many organizations are experiencing inconveniences due to the Covid-19 situation. However, remote work itself should create flexibility in the work style and raise the organization’s competitiveness. This kind of work style will certainly become even more necessary in society going forward. Hopefully, we can interpret this situation as an opportunity to create successful teams even while working remotely, and organizations can unify to implement flexible work styles.
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Associate Professor, Waseda University Faculty of Commerce
Moving to the United States after graduating from high school in 1997, Professor Toshio Murase received a doctorate in industrial psychology from the University of Central Florida in 2011. After postdoctoral work at Northwestern University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, he taught at Roosevelt University in Chicago and assumed his current position in September 2017. His research focuses on leadership and teamwork.