The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally transformed the global business landscape, introducing concepts like 'physical distancing,' 'work from home,' and 'remote work,' which swiftly became the standard for many organizations.
With a public health strategy aimed at minimizing close contact to reduce virus transmission, it inadvertently revolutionized office dynamics. This shift necessitated a sudden and urgent pivot to 'work from home' and 'remote work' models, which required employees to perform their duties outside the conventional workplace, often from the confines of their homes.
Three years after the pandemic, companies have been used to the remote work setup. Even though restrictions have been lifted, some stayed on the remote work setting or introduced the hybrid setup or a combination of both remote work and return to the office.
According to international businessman and founder of ARETI Group Igor Makarov, who has experienced leading multiple teams both pre-pandemic, pandemic, and even today, the change in work setting was more than spatial but demanded a rethinking of how businesses communicate internally and with their clients. Traditional face-to-face interactions and in-person meetings became relics of a pre-pandemic era, giving way to virtual and digital collaborations. This shift not only tested the technological preparedness of companies but also their ability to maintain team cohesion, company culture, and effective management in a virtual environment.
A Leader's Insights on Building Remote Teams
Building a cohesive team that transcends geographical boundaries and conventional office setups presents a unique set of challenges. Makarov mentions that the virtual environment strips away the nuances of face-to-face interactions, making the task of forging strong team bonds more complex, stemming from the lack of casual, organic interactions that typically occur in physical office spaces.
Virtual meetings, while efficient, often miss the informal exchanges that contribute significantly to team bonding and understanding. Makarov emphasizes the importance of intentional communication strategies. He states, "In a remote setting, every interaction counts. It's vital to create opportunities for team members to connect professionally and personally."
Building a team that truly understands and supports each other remotely requires deliberate strategies and consistent effort. This observation underscores that cohesion in remote teams is not a by-product of shared physical space but rather the result of purposeful team-building activities and communication practices.
According to Makarov, bridging the gap between different communication styles and personal dynamics was also challenging in the remote work setup. Misunderstandings can quickly arise without in-person interactions, potentially leading to a fragmented team dynamic.
The Cyprus entrepreneur emphasizes the importance of empathy and active listening in building a seamless team across digital divides. His insights highlight the need for remote teams to develop a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity toward each other's communication preferences and work styles.
He shares, "In a remote environment, listening becomes a superpower. It's about understanding the words, context, and unspoken cues. In my experience leading hundreds of people in multiple teams across the globe, it's hard to listen and take cues from each one. This is where leaders and facilitators play a vital role. They will serve as the eyes and ears to gather insights to build the team collectively."
Leveraging the Benefits of Cohesive Remote Teams
The impact of team cohesion in a remote work environment extends beyond mere teamwork; it is a critical driver of productivity and healthy work culture. Makarov observes, "A cohesive team is the engine of productivity. When team members feel connected and valued, they are more engaged and motivated." This sense of belonging can increase innovation as team members feel more comfortable sharing ideas and providing feedback.
Furthermore, a strong team culture in a remote setting can significantly reduce feelings of isolation and disconnection, common pitfalls of working away from a traditional office. Cultivating a culture where every remote employee feels part of the team is not just good for business but a cornerstone to maintaining productivity and fostering an inclusive, supportive, and resilient work environment in the face of challenges.
The New Era of Work Productivity
As the business world gradually adapts to the 'new normal' shaped by remote work, Makarov predicts a continuing shift towards more flexible work arrangements, where the lines between traditional office work and remote work become increasingly blurred. It will underscore a paradigm shift in how work is perceived and measured, focusing more on productivity and outcomes than physical presence.
"The future of work is not about being remote or in-office; it's about flexibility and adaptability. We're moving towards a hybrid model where the choice of work location is less important than the results produced," Makarov adds.
The entrepreneur also emphasizes the critical role of technology in shaping the future of remote work, making it feasible but also engaging and interactive. He shares, "In recent years, communicative tools like Zoom, which became indispensable during the pandemic, even for me, will continue to evolve and support our work dynamics, making it more seamless and effective."
A Journey of Continuous Learning
Makarov believes no company can be an expert in remote team management as new advancements come every day, and team members' perspective towards work and productivity also changes. In this narrative, he advises businesses to embrace a culture of continuous learning and flexibility.
"Businesses must invest in training their employees to be effective remote workers. This involves not just technical skills but also soft skills like digital communication, time management, and self-motivation," he asserts.
The key to thriving in the future of work is adaptability. Businesses that can adapt to new models and embrace change will have a significant competitive advantage, one that can quickly respond to changes and embrace new ways of working.