When it comes to virtual teams, if you’re out of sight, you’re also out of mind. While more and more people are working remotely, a recent study published by Harvard Business Review suggests that unless we take extra measures to build trust and connection with colleagues, we pay dearly for doing so.
Long gone are the days when most teams not only worked physically side-by-side but also lived in the same cities, ate at the same restaurants, and even had kids who attended the same schools. Now, teams are spread out across different sites and geographies. Many people work with colleagues they have never met face-to-face or even spoken to on the phone. In these settings, relationships are often mediated by technology, and it can be tough to build trust. Latest research shows that remote workers, and the managers tasked with keeping them focused and engaged, face inherent challenges that cannot be ignored.
Altogether 1,153 employees have been pooled, and 52% said they work, at least some of the time, from their home office. And when they do, many feel their colleagues don’t treat them equally. Remote workers are more likely to report feeling that colleagues mistreat them and leave them out. Specifically, they worry that coworkers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them, and don’t fight for their priorities.
Overall, remote workers may enjoy the freedom to live and work where they please, but working through and with others becomes more challenging. They report that workplace politics are more pervasive and difficult, and when conflicts arise they have a harder time resolving them. When remote members of a team encountered common workplace challenges, 84% said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, while 47% admitted to letting it drag on for weeks or more.
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And these problems don’t just affect relationships. Remote workers report larger, negative impacts of these challenges than their on-site colleagues on results, including productivity, costs, deadlines, morale, stress, and retention.
While managers may be tempted to respond to these findings by ending remote work programs and bringing everyone back to the office, this is not the solution according to Harvard Business Review. Instead, they should encourage habits that lead to feelings of trust, connection, and shared purpose.