What Happened to my Team?
COVID-19’s Impact on Team Health

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COVID-19: A silver lining?

In the pandemic’s early days, a Team Leader told me, with an obvious sense of relief, that his people were doing really well despite the turmoil. Productivity had actually increased after the Team’s shift to working from home. They were working hard–it seemed like the transition had definitely improved the Team’s focus by eliminating workplace distractions.

This kind of positivity was widespread early on. Suddenly, Silicon Valley giants like Facebook celebrated the virtues of remote work as a new, improved business model. The appeal of remote work wasn’t new: over the last decade, research has supported the idea that most people value the ability to work remotely. As COVID-19 slammed into the American economy, Twitter’s HR Head promised employees that their day-to-day work wouldn’t change much, just the location would be different!

But was all this positivity justified?

“Every day is today”

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I had doubts. For sure, people were doing their best to keep their Teams and businesses afloat during a chaotic time. But my psychology background led me to suspect that these productivity gains were largely a function of peoples’ attempts to channel their stress. We were falling back on one of the few areas of life still in our hands, putting in lots of hard, solitary work at home. We were reaching for some sense of control amid the pandemic’s massive disruption and uncertainty, burning the midnight oil.

As the economic downturn worsened, employees anxious about job security would be highly motivated to put in extra hours digging into their backlogs. Working longer hours was also fueled by peoples’ sense of time being warped, as yesterday blurred into today, which ran into tomorrow. As Tom Hanks joked on Saturday Night Live, “Every day is today.”

My training told me that this short-term coping strategy produced what looks like and, in a sense, is greater productivity. But there’s a cost. As Google’s former HR Chief told a reporter, “fear-driven productivity is not sustainable.” If unchecked, increased-work-as-coping will result in burnout. As the pandemic has dragged on, we see more and more evidence that the tensions and strains brought on by remote work won’t be sustainable unless we make smart adjustments and course correction.

Communication and other breakdowns

As Spring 2020 turned into summer, we began to hear business leaders concerned about the loss of so-called “intangibles” that make Teamwork effective, which rely on ongoing proximity to coworkers and unplanned conversations that bring the work forward.

Communication and collaboration have gotten harder, despite, or (heresy!) maybe even because of our use of electronic communication. We have a new expression, Zoom Fatigue, to describe the sense of being drained by an unending series of video calls.

Moreover, as the Wall Street Journal noted, businesses were discovering that “projects take longer. Training is tougher…employers say their workers appear less connected,” and “the early productivity gains companies witnessed as remote work took hold have peaked and leveled off.”

Attention, communication, alignment, an easygoing connection between Teammates–all of the ingredients for collaboration–have at least been disrupted for those of us who relied on face-to-face contact. Is the impact important significant enough to address? How do we get our hands around the challenge?

What’s changed?

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Leaders are busier than ever. Learning how to assess whether you need to pay attention to the remote Team challenges is critical. Team Adaptability’s Remote Team Health Check offers a sophisticated, easy to take survey that gauges the impact of remote work on key areas of your Team’s daily practice. Your results are summarized in a detailed report accompanied by recommendations.

Here are some sample questions from Team Adaptability’s Remote Team Health Check:

Questions: Same, worse, better since the shift to remote work

1. My Teammates know when I need help
Worse           Same             Better

2. My time in meetings is productive
Worse           Same             Better

3. I have useful sidebar conversations with Teammates
Worse           Same             Better

4. Quality of my Team’s decision-making
Worse           Same             Better

5. My Team’s clarity about work queue priorities
Worse           Same             Better

6. Level of Stakeholder satisfaction with our Team (Product Owners, Business Owners)
Worse           Same             Better

What to do?

The interweb is full of lists of tips for every occasion, and there are scads of tips for “leading your new remote Team.” But what overall capabilities do you need as a leader? And how do you precisely diagnose your Team’s needs?

3Back’s Leading Remote Scrum Teams online workshop enables you to improve output by emphasizing Team dynamics, customized to the working from home environment.

Is your Remote Scrum Team Struggling?
Reserve a Private Course With Us!