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building team relationships

Tips for building team relationships, in the office or from home

Reading time: about 6 min

In the ongoing adjustment and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's a lot of talk about what the "Next Normal" might look like. Will business as usual return—or did the pandemic change what that phrase even means? What is the future of work? 

One thing is for sure—it will need to be flexible. 

When it comes to adapting to new ways of working, much of the conversation centers around new technology stacks or digital transformation. While technology is and will continue to be essential to this shift, adapting to new normals and work environments has more to do with changing our heads, hearts, and communication styles.

In a recent webinar, "The Next Normal: Bringing the human connection back to remote teams," Lucid's Chief Evangelist Bryan Stallings discussed what we've gained and lost as business has become increasingly remote. Hint: The biggest hit has a lot more to do with our humanity than our productivity.  

Let's look at how the "Next Normal" has changed team relationships, what new skills team members will need to develop to form strong relationships, and how to work with agility, even if most team members continue to work remotely. 

How the "Next Normal" has changed team relationships

When it comes to maintaining team relationships in an increasingly remote work world, there are three key challenges: avoiding distraction, recognizing each other's accomplishments, and building relationships. Of these three, relationships have taken the hardest hit during the pandemic. 

During the previously mentioned webinar, 62% of attendees agreed that building effective working relationships has been harder since the onset of the pandemic. Gone are the opportunities to chit-chat with colleagues in the hall or catch up about your favorite new show before a meeting starts. 

Tools may help us technically stay connected, but they also add complexity to our daily interactions, which means we need more feedback loops and agile ways of working to stay connected even as we grow more physically distant.

Tips for building strong relationships with team members 

Research shows that togetherness has a huge impact on our emotional well-being and also protects us against anxiety. With those daily interactions now fewer and far between, it requires a purposeful approach and a mindset shift to maintain relationships with team members when the only connection you have is through Zoom, Slack, or email. 

Let's dive into some practical tips to build and maintain strong relationships with team members. 

Intentionally pair on work items

Isolation is a very real and detrimental outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic. Replicate in-office collaboration by scheduling some time to divvy up the work on a project that you'd normally complete on your own. 

Alternatively, you can schedule a Zoom meeting and just let the camera stay on at your desk, so there's a familiar face out of the corner of your eye. Even better, set aside time for Pomodoro technique work sessions to keep each other accountable and boost productivity. 

Develop stronger facilitation skills

Facilitation is emerging as a key leadership skill for the future. As work grows increasingly remote, it's essential to build in processes that not only encourage collaboration but also ownership of work. Future-focused leaders will facilitate collaborative environments to keep work engaging while we can't meet face-to-face. 

Be an active listener 

With no wall between your work and an endless stream of internet and home life distractions, it's more important than ever to set boundaries between work and everyday life and focus on active listening. 

It's common to think about how your response while listening to someone speak. Do your best to focus on creating a great internal silence—that is, listen without actively thinking about how you'll respond or bringing up a personal story. This type of active listening will build trust and connection. 

Set up virtual team activities

The post-work happy hour is a relic of pre-pandemic life—but that doesn't mean you can't keep the camaraderie going from afar. For example, poll your team to pick a favorite game, and then host a game night and track the score or game's progress on a virtual whiteboard

If your team doesn't want to stay online once work is done, you can work in quick team icebreakers before meetings, too. For example, before your next big strategy session, ask each team member to share a current goal and a future dream. This will set an aspirational tone and help you get to know your peers. 

Set some meeting ground rules

Masks have made it tougher for us to "hear" each other and communicate via facial expressions. The no-laptop rules that used to be in place for in-person office meetings no longer apply and meetings are ripe for distraction. 

It's important to collectively apply a few ground rules ahead of meetings, shift the way you conduct meetings to engage remote employees, and plan for regular breaks. 

Adapt your communication style

Break through distractions by embracing a more visual communication style. During Zoom meetings, share flowcharts and process maps to explain a new project. Collaborate using word maps or a virtual whiteboard like Lucidspark. Incorporate visuals into your communication style to help teams stay aligned and act quickly, particularly when they're spread across various remote locations. 

Develop greater emotional intelligence (EQ)

The pandemic rushed digital transformation along for many organizations, and many employees have boosted their tech IQ as a result. Emotional intelligence is more predictive of long-term success and needs to follow suit. This simple matrix is a great way to boost your team's EQ and build more effective, collaborative remote teams. 

  • Self-awareness: Recognize your own patterns and behaviors.
  • Self-management: Learn how to control those patterns to show up more effectively for others.
  • Social awareness: Understand and observe what's going on with others to build empathy. 
  • Relationship management: Connecting self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness is a superpower that fosters better relationships in any environment. 

Be transparent and understanding of others' circumstances

Now, put your EQ skills to work. The pandemic has forced new perspectives on all of us, regardless of our background. As your organization continues to adapt, be transparent about how leadership is dealing with these changes. Be transparent about your own reactions and life, too—radical candor, honesty, and vulnerability go a long way to build relationships and trust. 

But don't stop there—empathy is critical as we adapt to the "Next Normal." Some of your teammates may be taking these shifts in stride, while others may struggle to juggle responsibility against the weight of changing expectations and a global pandemic. 

Be kind. Be empathetic. 

The "Next Normal" isn't on its way—it's here, and businesses need to prepare for the realities of a changing work environment. Organizations that can stay flexible and find ways to foster team relationships will maintain the benefits of in-office camaraderie while adapting to ongoing change.

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