Tips to Building a Tighter Team When Working from Anywhere

As company leaders strive to find the right workplace balance (working from home, in the office, and places in between) in this post-pandemic environment, this article highlights specific actions to support tighter teams and better relationships between employees – no matter where Work gets done.

The introduction of remote-work options introduces some distinct advantages over working in an office. For instance, there’s no commute time that eats away at personal and family time. The pool of available talent is not limited to a 50-mile radius of the office, which is an important factor when trying to attract top talent. And when it comes to work-life balance, it’s easy to pop out for a quick doctor’s appointment or to pick up a sick child from school.

But as anyone who has worked remotely for extended periods will tell you, there’s a big downside: isolation. According to a survey conducted in 2020 by ServiceNow, the most common challenge people working remotely said they faced (53%) was feeling disconnected or alone.

This totally makes sense. Humans need relationships to meet our innate needs for belonging and connectivity. (You can read more about the seven kinds of human relationships here.) And because human beings are such social creatures, it’s personally challenging for us to work completely alone. (This is also why tribes, teams and groups can be so much more effective.)

Putting effort into creating tighter teams is time well spent. One step further, according to research from Gallup, team members who say they have a best friend at work are seven times more likely than those who don’t to be engaged in their work and achieve higher quality. For physical work, they are also less likely to get injured on the job. 

Trust Makes Teams Better

High Trust Companies (HTCs) are organizations where people have good relationships with each other and with the group as a whole. They also feel as if they belong, with confidence and certainty that those around them are, well, trustworthy. 

Yet because trust can often be a more emotional, gut-level concept, it’s difficult to evaluate with an easy-to-communicate level of clarity. That’s why models, like the Total Trust Score, can add math to the consideration set and eschew obfuscation (or remove the cloudiness) around specific issues, like how much a leader trusts whether or not an individual is the right person for a project or team. 

To recap, trust has three dimensions (all three are necessary for high-trust relationships):

  • Character: This encompasses a person’s integrity and intentions. 
  • Connection: This includes shared common interests, goals and (core) values.
  • Competency: The person has the right skills, knowledge and experience to accomplish what they’ve agreed to do. 

While Character and Competency are somewhat location agnostic, Connection can be more challenging when the interpersonal, informal moments of a physical office setting don’t happen organically. That means building tighter teams within a Work From Anywhere World™ often requires a bit more effort. With that, organizational leaders should consider doing two things: 1) intentionally create structures and time for team members to build connections, and 2) coach people on how they can best develop strong connections regardless of where their work is performed. 

Action Steps

Creating Structure

  • Conduct meetings as video conferences.
    People communicate with their entire body, even if they’re not aware of it. Our facial expressions, tone of voice, use of hands, and even our posture provide critical context to the words we say. By adding the element of video to meetings, you provide the opportunity for team members to communicate more authentically.
  • Allow space for small talk.
    Provide some space at the beginning of meetings for people to chit-chat and share. This is not wasted time, because it gives team members a chance to catch up with one another and discover connections.
  • Create a dedicated channel for out-of-work conversations.
    Whatever communications platform you use, create a channel specifically for informal conversations. Encourage people to use it. 
  • Meet up periodically for in-person get-togethers.
    WFA is great, but there’s no substitute for in-person communication. Once or twice a year, get the entire team together and make sure there’s time for fun, where people can let their hair down and really enjoy one another’s company. (Here at Ninety, our organization embraces a 100% work from anywhere model, so we’re planning a “Ninetypalooza” to get everyone together this fall.)

Coaching Connections

  • Intentional communication.
    Encourage team members to set up one-on-one time to chat, set up interest groups or even classes on cooking, yoga or whatever interests them. Informal interactions happen much more rarely in WFA than in an office setting — you have to intentionally make them happen.
  • Take care in written communications. 
    Words matter. In-person, body language, tone of voice and facial expressions all provide critical context that helps make our communications more precise. For example, the statement, “I didn’t say you should do that,” can take on seven entirely different meanings depending on which word is emphasized – and much of that emphasis is lost in email or other typed messages.

    Coach your team members to be aware of this, and to craft communications with one another mindfully to ensure that their meaning and intention are properly understood. And as a policy, when in doubt, each person should assume the BEST intention behind each written communication received.
  • Know when to turn to audio or video.
    Sometimes, written communications are too limiting, and there are definitely situations where more context is required. Coach team members to know when an audio or video call should occur instead, also with Zoom Gloom in mind. 

We’re better together. Making stronger connections and establishing high levels of trust helps make it easier to accomplish extraordinary things as a team, no matter where we’re working on any given day. 

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