When Remote Teams Become the Norm

Published: April 9, 2020

Selecting the gallery view setting on Zoom has been the closest thing we’ve had to experiencing teamwork lately. Among countless other consequences, the global pandemic has challenged the notion that collaboration requires sharing the same space. Sharing screens is the new normal. Abrupt and significant change is often the spark for innovation. Our current circumstances have given way to new rules for remote interaction.

The most productive online group exchanges have important features in common. They are variations of basic etiquette.

State a clear agenda: Create a shared understanding of meeting goals to maximize engagement and minimize the natural impulse to multi-task off-screen.

Assign a designated facilitator: Identify a referee to shepherd the pace, steer the agenda and keep things on track.

Agree to no interrupting: Commit to active listening to counterbalance the urge to jump in before a teammate has completed his or her contribution to the conversation.

Check for understanding: Engage multiple rounds of clarification to ensure that messages received are the same as messages intended.

Elevate the quiet participants: Compensate for the likelihood that more introverted teammates will listen more than they talk. Ideas from the more thoughtful participants are often the most valuable insights when trying to find new solutions to new problems.

Magnify nonverbals and body language: Call out eye rolls and deep sighs or any behavior that devalues, diminishes or dismisses a teammate.

Summarize accomplishments and accountabilities: Establish the platform for the next gathering by synthesizing themes and setting expectations for what happens between meetings.

Reserve time for socialization: Check in on each other at a personal level. The need to collaborate remotely is born out of a deficit in proximity. In the absence of actual eye contact and human touch, it helps to express interest, caring and unconditional positive regard.

Adapting to unexpected circumstances always involves two essential phases. In the beginning, we need to lament the loss of previous norms. Some teammates move through this stage quickly while others need to linger. Eventually, everyone on the team joins in the task of defining the new normal, often without enough clarity about what tomorrow brings. It’s like running in the dark. A few ground rules provide teammates with flashlights.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.