The foundation of a highly functional team is trust. Absent of trust, a team cannot consistently have healthy conflict and the accountability necessary for achieving its best results. The increase in remote working and video conferencing-based meetings makes the establishment and maintenance of trust uniquely different than it has been in the past.
When a team shares proximity, the ability to have frequent, casual interactions to help build relationships happens organically. ‘Walk-up’ conversations happen when people can simply pass by and catch each other’s attention, breakroom conversations happen, and team members learn about each other beyond the scope of the work of the team. These conversations can become building blocks of trust for when conversations shift to team objectives. Seeing teammates outside the framework of the team and getting to know more about them than their role on the team can help establish the trust which makes a team more functional.
When team members are remote, trust is equally important but is much less likely to happen organically. At a minimum, it is not going to happen at the same pace as it can happen with proximity. Having the same frequency of relationship-building interactions takes more conscious effort. The absence of the ability to see the same types of body language, the inherent audio delays which lead to more talking over the top of each other, and the inability to maintain good eye contact from not being able to look at your camera and the screen concurrently all change the dynamic and the effectiveness of interactions. The tendency to feel video meetings need to be scheduled can eliminate the benefits of ad hoc face-to-face conversations which happen for team members working in the same space; when conversations are only happening at the top or bottom of the hour because the day is full of scheduled video calls, the effect in terms of the pace of building and maintaining trust within a team is diluted.
Certainly, there are benefits in some scenarios to remote work. It can expand the geography from which you hire employees, it can allow flexibility for employees, and it can increase individual productivity for certain types of tasks. When taking advantage of those benefits, however, consider the importance of not losing track of the importance of constantly building and maintaining trust within teams. The effort requires different tactics than when all teammates see each other in person throughout the day, and the dilution of trust is the quickest way to reduce the performance of the team.