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Thought Leadership 28 April 2020

When things feel dark, let human relationships shine a light

What does remote working mean for you? Maybe it’s business as usual, perhaps you’re now working from home more than you did before, or is it a whole new ballgame that you’re struggling to get used to?

It’s different for all of us. Some of us are working from home offices, kitchens, or our sofas; many of us are combining work with trying to settle children down to school work; some of us are busier than ever, or furloughed, or worrying about the future of the companies we’ve built from the ground up.

Whatever your particular situation, these are uncertain times. But that’s not to say it’s all darkness – what we’ve found, from talking to many of you, is that there is much light to be found in the joy of human relationships.

For some time, Insights has been researching the world of globally dispersed teams, and how working as part of a dispersed team feels to the individual. What we’ve found is that successful globally dispersed teams (or GDTs) require three elements to be present: trust, support, and a sense of belonging. Of course, the current situation has made us all consider anew what remote working can – and should – feel like at its most successful. What we’ve found is that people are astoundingly resilient and can very readily see the opportunities that remote work offers, even though the circumstances might be uniquely difficult to navigate. Anecdotally, we’ve noticed some things that you may recognise in yourself or your teammates.

Finally, they get it!

For those who worked remotely from a team that is mostly co-located, there can be a sense of relief and balance being restored. Being the only remote worker can be hard – you can feel dislocated from projects, team meetings, and decisions that are made in the moment. But suddenly the entire team is remote from each other – projects are discussed widely on calls, team meetings include everyone’s voice being heard, and decisions are made in the round, not by those in the room.

For these people, this improvement in relationships can mean a real boost to the morale, and a sense that people finally understand the difficulty of constantly dialling into meetings, the intensity of Zoom fatigue, and the very real sense of dislocation. The only question is, can the team bring these valuable learns into the new normal, whatever that may look like?

Relationships are the key

People who are still getting to grips with remote working are frustrated by many things, such as managing tech and finding a quiet workspace at home, but their eyes are also being opened to something else – the power of one-on-one relationships in a new era.

With no office distractions, suddenly much of the disruptive noise around us is quietened and we can only focus on the person on our screen – their voice, their pace, their body language, what animates them during conversation. We can take so much from those clues; how our colleagues like to work, what their home surroundings are like, what they’re dealing with as they try to concentrate, and what brings a smile to their face. As a concentrated way to bring a new or stale relationship way to life, it certainly has its advantages! There’s a strength in this opportunity we have to create clear, undisturbed human relationships, that will create the conditions for first-class communication and collaboration.

“Working from home … has prompted me to actually spend more time getting to know the person behind the colleague. Because we all thrive off relationships, I have felt it’s important to follow the approach of learning more about someone’s identity … because that will help preserve/strengthen relationships while you can't be physically with them”

The new normal?

Many of us are beginning to look to the long term; will business leaders take this large-scale shift in working patterns as an opportunity to define the new normal for organisations? Now that working remotely has proven successful for so many, what is the business imperative to bring people back together into one building? For many companies, their work and culture will rely heavily on a face-to-face methodology, but for others their lost revenue could be partially offset with a lowering of operating costs.

“I'm like a kid at Christmas who has discovered his presents; I'm amazed by what you can do virtually”

For those of us who may see remote working becoming a big part of our future, you might feel all at sea – unanchored by the familiar routines of office life – or you may actually feel vindicated – you’ve been telling your manager that remote working is the way forward for so long!

What we can tell you is that many of our customers are seeing the benefit of remote working, and that’s not a testament to technology as much as it is to human resilience. We instinctively reach out to each other in good times, and in bad; we use human relationships to get things done in collaborative ways; we want to understand ourselves and others better so that we can enjoy our working relationships that bit more.

“I am enjoying the different work shift. It's proving to our leadership that it can be done”

In these hard times, there is an opportunity to build strong and healthy human relationships, which will offer us all a sense of community that’s lacking in some of the usual ways. If you’re going to do one thing differently today, this week, or this year, make it your mission to build your own human community, that’ll carry you through tough times and into the future – whatever that looks like.

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