How does remote work impact teamwork?

When it became clear Covid-19 was sweeping the world and the only way we could limit the spread of the virus was to avoid contact with others, companies were faced with a choice. They could either shut down their operations or take them online. Transitioning to remote working was a steep learning curve. Those with the digital infrastructure already in place were at an advantage, but they still had to deal with employees who lacked training, adequate technology, or suffered with challenging working conditions. Working remotely was less than ideal for many employees under lockdown.

Fast forward several years and we are in a different place. We have learnt many lessons about remote work during this time and although we have returned to ‘normal’ life, work will never quite be the same again. Many companies for whom remote and hybrid working models were a feasible option have embraced this change. Others, however, remain sceptical of the efficiency of remote work and insist their employees return to the office full time. Employees want to choose what suits their personal and professional lives.

Why is teamwork so important for organizations and employees?

Teamwork is a key part of both an organization’s success and the employee experience. It should be efficient and effective. One of the main concerns for companies going into the pandemic was how remote work would impact teamwork and efficiency. How can companies get the best out of their teams when they are working remotely? After all, even if a company wants all their employees in the office at all times, there may well come a time when new circumstances dictate a return to remote work.

Teamwork allows people to collaborate on projects faster than they would do on their own. By working together, employees can increase efficiency and diverse perspectives and skillsets can lead to more creative and innovative ideas. On a personal level, collaborating with others can increase employee engagement and satisfaction. Opportunities for social interaction, learning, and development can lead to personal growth.

Effective teamwork requires open and transparent communication to help prevent misunderstanding and conflict. Working as a team can also create a sense of accountability for meeting deadlines, producing quality work, and achieving shared goals.

What negative effects did organizations expect remote work to have when the pandemic hit?

We were dealing with a pandemic and a new way of living when companies went online overnight. There was a lot of fear and change. Organizations were concerned about basic business continuity, reduced productivity, and how they were going to survive. Many thought that distractions at home as well as a lack of structure and supervision would make people less productive.

Technology had to catch up

Technological challenges were a pressing issue at the beginning of the pandemic, along with how and where people would work in their own homes, particularly if they had babies, children, or other relatives that needed looking after and/or home schooling. 

Many people struggled to achieve decent internet connectivity, or lacked the hardware or software necessary to work productively and efficiently. 

Finding an adequate space to work was particularly difficult for many people. Not everyone had a study or desk for each member of the family that needed one! Those with small living spaces or other family members also needing a place to work or study, were often forced to work in their bedroom, kitchen, or living area. Many did not have a dedicated desk or workspace: if you were working at the kitchen table it might need clearing for mealtimes, for example. Others had to work on the sofa or their bed.

Social interactions and productivity

Managers worried that remote working would lead to a decrease in communication and collaboration among colleagues, which could negatively impact teamwork and the ability to work effectively on projects together.

On a personal level, remote working in lockdown conditions led to many employees feeling isolated and lonely. Those living alone found they had no real social interaction, not even with the colleagues they would previously have interacted with in their office environment. There were serious, legitimate concerns about remote work having a negative impact on mental health.

All of these issues made remote work extremely challenging for many people, particularly at the start of the pandemic. In some cases, teamwork and productivity inevitably suffered. However, not all the challenges were a direct result of remote work itself.

What are the actual challenges of remote and hybrid work?

As the pandemic rumbled on, we got used to our new normal and began to adapt to remote work. We ironed out many of the initial difficulties. However, working remotely during Covid still led to various issues.

Too much time online

We had never spent so much time online before the pandemic. For many people, almost everything was suddenly conducted virtually, both personally and professionally. Meetings were online, and so were social events. You could spend all day in virtual meetings with colleagues and evenings online with friends and family. 

For this reason, people started to suffer from ‘Zoom fatigue’, named after the online videoconferencing company that became synonymous with the pandemic. We were exhausted by too many virtual meetings and our inability to interact with others in person increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. There was a negative impact on mental health.

Blurred boundaries

The boundaries between work and personal life were blurred by remote work at the beginning of the pandemic, and this did not help people’s stress or anxiety levels either. Not everyone had access to a suitable workspace, and they also often lacked the relevant equipment and resources. This negatively impacted productivity and work quality. After all, if you are working on the sofa, while trying to home school the kids at the same time, and the dog wants attention, you are unlikely to be at your most efficient.

Managers also often added to the problem by expecting employees to be available around the clock or micromanaging team members. Some employees experienced increased workloads and higher expectations. Teamwork could be difficult, particularly as new employees during this period had to be onboarded remotely and somehow work with teams of people they had never met in person. This could all have a negative impact on team dynamics and productivity.

Post pandemic: remote and hybrid work is different

As we know, remote work during the pandemic was driven by the fact that people were required to stay at home to try and prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Most companies implemented remote work policies rapidly, and they generally lacked adequate planning or infrastructure. Children were not at school, and we were not allowed to go anywhere or interact with others in person. This created very challenging circumstances in which we were expected to work.

On the other hand, remote and hybrid work after the pandemic is likely to be more structured and well-planned

Organizational infrastructure

Organizations have had the time to adapt to employees working remotely or on a hybrid basis. They are likely to have developed the necessary infrastructure, policies, and communication channels to support remote workers effectively. They may have seen increased productivity and better teamwork as well as reduced overhead costs.

Employee preferences

Employees who wish to work remotely are likely to have created a working environment that is optimal for how they operate best. The children are back at school, and we can go out wherever and whenever we want and spend time with friends and family as we choose. 

Rather than being something forced on people in difficult circumstances, making them feel isolated and lonely and struggling to keep up, post-pandemic remote work is usually a choice. It’s a choice that has been shown to lead to a far better work-life balance, improved productivity, and reduced stress levels.

Unexpected benefits

Many organizations were surprised to find that productivity increased when people were working remotely. Overheads decreased and so did many work-related expenses like travel and accommodation. Conferences and meetings held online did not incur venue fees or need large printing budgets. 

The talent pool widened as companies could employ people remotely from a much larger geographical area. Teams were able to work even better asynchronously, and became used to not working in person in the same space at the same time.

According to one 2023 report, ‘several studies over the past few months show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home ‘spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive’.

How can remote and hybrid teams work more efficiently and improve teamwork post pandemic?

There are several strategies teams can use to address the negative impacts of remote working that can crop up to work more together efficiently. Communication is key. Teams that stay connected will work together more effectively and if team members feel a sense of belonging, they are more likely to be engaged. Virtual team-building activities and regular social interactions can help reduce feelings of isolation and improve team morale.

Having the right remote working environment is important and companies have a duty of care to ensure their employees are using equipment that is fit for purpose. Organizations may need to provide ergonomic equipment, for example, and offer flexible working hours to help team members stay comfortable, healthy, and productive. There also need to be clear boundaries in place between home and work life. Mental health support should also be available to help team members deal with stress or anxiety.

What tools help remote and hybrid teams work more efficiently?

Teamwork and productivity can be improved with the right technology and tools when you have teams working remotely. There are various ways in which you can ensure your teams have the means to collaborate and work together more efficiently. Teamwork can be made far easier during virtual meetings when people can share screens and documents and collaborate in real-time. And if they have ways in which they can work asynchronously but still as a team, even better.

Online whiteboards

Online whiteboards are particularly useful for teams. They have a multitude of functionalities that enable teams to work more efficiently. Teams can collaborate on ideas in real time, just like with a physical whiteboard. Virtual whiteboards are known for their usefulness with activities like brainstorming to find new and innovative solutions during the design thinking process, for example. They are not limited in size or scope, and you can attach video files and pictures, as well as documents and sticky notes to them.

Project management

Online whiteboards are also helpful in that they offer a central hub for files and documents. Teams need to know a project’s status and check that everyone is on the same page. 

The right project management tools and methods help teams become more productive as they can manage tasks, prioritize projects, and track progress towards goals. With readymade templates you do not have to spend the time and effort creating your own; and the same experience can be replicated as and when necessary.

Team members need to feel comfortable within the team and confident that they belong. This can sometimes be more difficult when people are working remotely. Things like icebreakers at the start of meetings can help people feel more relaxed so they can get to know other team members better. With features like a timer, online whiteboards can be used to easier focus the group’s attention.

Using an online whiteboard with your remote and hybrid teams

Remote and hybrid workers need to be productive and efficient. There are many benefits to using a virtual whiteboard, and here at Klaxoon we have the tools and Templates your teams need.

Our tools help promote teamwork and more effective collaboration, regardless of the sector, industry, or business requirement. Why not check out our resources to see how we can help your teams work better?

Unlock your teamwork potential

For free, make your first steps to top-tier work efficiency with the Klaxoon Work Collaboration Platform.
Start for free