How To Strengthen Team Unity In A Virtual Workplace

Unit. It is one of the most important qualities of a successful team – whether in the office, in the military or on the sports field. But in today’s work environment, which often employs hybrid teams, achieving true team unity can feel easier said than done.

After all, how do you unite a team spread across remote and location-dependent positions? Especially with workers continuing to quit their jobs at a record pace, building a strong sense of togetherness can feel like an impossible task.

Regardless of the exact makeup of your hybrid team, unity—and the increased productivity and retention that comes with it—is possible today.

Build a shared team identity

For better or worse, tribalism is part of human nature. We seek connections within our own group of like people and distrust those who pass for “other”. In a hybrid work environment, this could easily create friction between remote and location-based workers. This can be particularly the case when workers from these separate groups rarely, if ever, interact with each other.

In a recent conversation, Todd Allen, owner and CEO of Midgard Self Storage stated, “To maintain a sense of unity with a hybrid workforce, there needs to be a shared team identity. Remote and location-based employees need to understand that they are part of the same team. They all work towards the same goals – and for the same company. That has to be a stronger driver of identity than where they do their work.”

In fact, research by NYU’s Jay Van Bavel shows that telling people they’re part of the same team significantly reduces negative bias. Leaders need to create a shared team identity that includes both remote and in-office workers. A strong identity as part of the same company should focus on the company’s mission and goals – a key quality that all team members should share.

Emphasize cross-functionality

One of the most effective ways to strengthen organizational solidarity is through the use of cross-functional teams. These teams, made up of both hybrid and location-based team members, should also include people from different functions within the organization.

According to Allen, “Most of the time, a key project will require input from people from a variety of locations and disciplines. This can include internal concerns such as innovation and employee well-being as well as customer-centric initiatives. The more our hybrid and location-based teams can work directly with each other on these projects, the more they understand and value each other – and deliver better results for our clients. Breaking down these arbitrary barriers builds trust and fosters a sense of shared purpose.”

In my own research experience, I have found that working together as a cross-functional team can go a long way in building a sense of belonging, even among team members who may be geographically distant. You can’t show solidarity if you never interact with other employees. Leveling the playing field by re-engaging the entire team for a cross-functional project helps build trust and foster a sense of belonging.

You’ll be hard pressed to find an organization that hasn’t experienced a degree of disruption since the pandemic began. Social connections have eroded and cultural cohesion has been strained.

The challenges of remote working, the clumsy search for a return to the office, the erosion of work-life balance, and the mass exodus of workers fed up with cultures that make them feel devalued have Sense of community among employees continues to erode .

Furthermore, communication in the virtual team mostly took place with our immediate colleagues and was largely focused on the tasks at hand. It’s hardly a surprise that research from Microsoft suggests that cross-functional collaboration has fallen by 25% during the pandemic.

But there is good news. Research by Stanford leadership expert Behnam Tabrizi shows that teams with strong cross-functional collaboration have a 76 percent success rate, compared to just 19 percent on projects with “moderate” cross-functional support. When your team has a sense of unity and belonging, results follow.

Accelerate collaborative learning

To successfully implement across functions and achieve unity between hybrid and location-based workers, a company must have strong leadership with a clear vision. Leaders set the tone for hybrid and location-based worker relationships. Team members follow the behaviors and examples they see—not just the words leaders say.

Unfortunately, traditional leaders, used to an office-only team, can struggle to drive results from remote team members and treat them with the respect they deserve. This is easy to see as industry leaders continue to disparage “working from home” despite the large number of employees wanting the option.

In my own industry, I have found that building leadership cohorts is key to establishing the right approach to a hybrid workforce. These groups of about a dozen leaders work together for several months to consider how to rethink leadership for a hybrid team. Leaders collaborate across disciplines on real-world projects that align with the organization’s strategic goals.

By sharing insights and identifying areas for development and improvement, these leaders build strong cross-functional bonds. They learn through experience how to connect effectively with their peers, and then pass those lessons on to the team through organizational updates and improvements. They can then lead by example and serve as valuable mentors to help remote and on-site employees work together effectively.

strength in unity

Can it be a challenge to unite a hybrid team? Absolutely.

But that doesn’t make it impossible…

By focusing on these crucial activities that can help strengthen relationships between your team members, you empower everyone to work together to achieve a common goal. And when that happens, your entire organization will enjoy the boost.

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