Three keys to creating remote team chemistry

Coronavirus remote work telecommuting
Claire Tu, an employee at Reprise Digital, works from her home in Shanghai during the coronavirus outbreak.

Scottie Pippen once said, “Chemistry is a very important element for any team that wants to be serious about winning.” As a six-time NBA champion, Pippen knows a thing or two about winning. His chemistry with Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ supporting cast created one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.

Chemistry — the way teams work together — has always been the X-factor in success stories. Today, in a world where working from anywhere is becoming the standard, creating and harnessing chemistry is newly challenging but just as important as ever.

One of the great challenges of working remotely is replicating the interactions and relationships that develop naturally in a physical office. Camaraderie and morale, huge factors in developing positive team chemistry, can’t be forced. Chemistry isn’t quantifiable or trackable; it’s an organic quality that changes over time, much like company culture. Leaders can’t force chemistry to happen nor should they try. Instead, creating a powerful, positive team chemistry remotely takes a more delicate approach.

When it comes to chemistry building, consider being both active and passive. If you’re too active in promoting bonding and friendship, your efforts may end up ringing hollow. If you’re too passive, you won’t know what’s going on with your team. A healthy remote management style will go a long way in promoting chemistry but won’t get you all the way there. You have to supplement good managerial practices with procedures designed to promote trust and kinship between team members.

Create a space for chemistry
One of the first steps to establishing remote chemistry is to provide people with a space to talk about non-work matters. When you had an office, this space already existed in the form of hallways, breakrooms, the moments before and after a meeting, and more. Creating a virtual water cooler (you can even set specific hours for it in Zoom) will encourage people to discuss their lives outside of their careers. These discussions bring people together, making them more likely to trust and rely on one another.

Better than just providing a space for these talks is giving folks something to talk about. Creating a book club, fantasy football league or TV-watching group will ensure that people will have common experiences to talk about. If you want to go full meta, you could even watch the Emmy-winning documentary series “The Last Dance” about the Chicago Bulls and discuss team chemistry itself.
Welcome new team members
If you’ve added new employees during 2020, you know how hard it can be to make them feel like a part of the team. Odds are, new hires have never met the people with whom they are most closely collaborating. It’s not hard to see how that could create a problem. To avoid a world where new team members feel like anonymous hired guns, you have to actively create warmth and kinship.

New hires should receive both formal and informal introductions to their new coworkers. A structured meet and greet will allow people to learn quick facts about each other, work preferences and other essential details. A virtual happy hour will give people a chance to get to know each other in a less rigorous way. By the end of a new employee's first week, they should have experienced both.
Share challenges and victories alike
Nothing brings people together like shared experiences. When you go through a tough client experience with fellow team members, you grow closer to them. When somebody helps you on a project that yields great results, you trust them more than you did before. The essential value of team chemistry comes from a sense that you’re all in this together. To make people feel that way, you have to let them talk about what they’re going through.

Talk about Zoom fatigue. Talk about the clients who struggle to accept a tech-heavy reality. Talk about what’s working and what isn’t. Talk about how hard it is to juggle a family and work with everyone under one roof. Talk about it all. When it comes to team chemistry, conversation is never an enemy.
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