What’s the Right Choice? In-Person vs. Remote Teams

Published July 17, 2023

As we enter the summer of 2023, many workers around the world are facing the possibility of being called back to the office after several years of working remotely. While the COVID-19 pandemic was the driving force behind the rapid shift to remote work, many employers are now reevaluating their remote work policies and considering a return to the traditional office setting.

However, this transition back to office is not without challenges and considerations for both employers and employees. As Cowbell Chief Financial Officer, David Junius, puts it, “We have been using as many carrots as we can think of while trying not to use any sticks. When will we find the right balance?”

The importance of having a team in the office can depend on various factors, including the nature of the work being done, the culture of the organization, and the preferences of individual team members. Suggested potential benefits of having a team in the office include:

  • Communication: Being in the same physical space allows team members to communicate and collaborate more easily, which can lead to better teamwork, problem-solving, and creativity. Remote communications can add challenges with technology glitches, limited visual and non-verbal feedback, and participant scheduling.
  • Collaboration: Better communication, quicker access, shared stories, deeper understanding, and quicker feedback improve alignment and collaboration.
  • Building Trust and Relationships: Working in an office environment can help team members build relationships and trust with each other, which can lead to a stronger sense of team cohesion and a more positive and rewarding work environment.
  • Living the Company Culture: Being in the office allows team members to better understand and engage with the company culture, which can be important for promoting a sense of shared values and goals.
  • Facilitating Learning and Development: Being in the office makes it easier for team members to learn from each other and to develop new skills, which can be valuable for both individual and team growth.
  • Improved Accountability: An in-office culture makes it easier for team members to hold each other accountable for their work and to maintain high standards of quality and productivity. It can also ensure employees stay focused on the company’s interests and priorities.

That being said, it’s important to note that remote work and distributed teams have become increasingly common and can be just as effective as in-person teams with the proper communication and management tools in place. Gordon Peterson, Chief Operating Officer at Bovitz, notes that Spotify was one of the first companies to declare that everyone could work remotely… forever! With that assurance, employees have been able to make commitments in their personal lives, allowing them to move forward on major life changes with confidence. 

Ultimately, the decision to have a team in the office or not depends on the specific needs and goals of the organization and the team. Kirsten Rhodes, Managing Principal at Deloitte, says they are encouraging their employees to spend more time in the office, and using incentives such as “food, relationships, career enhancement, visibility to superiors, and in-office training…everything they can think of short of telling employees to come back.”  

Suggested advantages of allowing remote or hybrid work schedules include:

  • Recruitment flexibility, and access to expanded talent pools due to expanding geographies.
  • Increased work-life balance for employees, with great control over their schedules.
  • Reduced commute and transportation costs, time, and risks for both employers and employees.
  • Renewed emphasis on effective technologies for communications, operations, feedback, KPIs, and decision making. 
  • Better tracking, recording, filing, and recall of communications and decisions. 
  • Cultural diversification through increased access to broader candidate pools.
  • Cost savings on real estate and support service due to reduced office headcount.

Building successful remote teams can be a challenging task, but it is achievable with the right approach and strategies. Here are some tips to help you build and manage successful remote teams:

  • Hire the right people: When hiring for remote teams, it is essential to look for individuals who are self-motivated, have excellent communication skills, and can work independently.
  • Set clear expectations: It is crucial to set clear expectations from the beginning, including work hours, communication protocols, and project deadlines. Some companies include a travel clause in their employment letters stating the employee will pay for the costs of coming to the office when needed if they choose to live and/or work remotely. Others stipulate that quarterly meetings in the office are required, and the company will pay for travel costs.
  • Establish a communication strategy: Effective communication is vital for remote teams. Use a combination of email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and other collaboration tools to keep everyone in the loop. Effective policies prioritize their communication channels, so all team members know how to select the right method.
  • Use the right tools: Invest in the right tools and software to help your team collaborate and work efficiently, such as project management software, online file sharing platforms, and time tracking tools.
  • Encourage collaboration: Encourage team collaboration through regular team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and collaborative projects.
  • Provide regular feedback: Regular feedback is crucial for remote teams to stay on track and improve their performance. Schedule regular check-ins and provide constructive feedback to help team members improve their work. Agree on feedback tools up front.
  • Promote a positive team culture: Remote teams can often feel disconnected from each other. Encourage a positive team culture by promoting team building activities, recognizing individual achievements, and fostering a sense of community. A weak culture leads to feelings of isolation, which can lead to disengagement. 
  • Be flexible: Remote teams often work across different time zones and schedules. Be flexible in accommodating their needs and balancing workloads to ensure everyone can work productively.
  • Transparency: If you do have to change your work policy, know that you will be disrupting lives. Be clear in your explanations and help them understand the business reason for the change, and how, together, you will all win.  Otherwise, employees assume political motivations and arouse feelings of resentment. 

The choice ultimately depends on the unique needs and goals of the organization and its team members. Regardless of the decision, with the right approach, organizations can thrive in whichever work environment they choose, creating a productive and harmonious team dynamic that supports both business success and employee satisfaction.

Paul Herrerias is a Managing Director at Comhar Partners. He has committed his life’s work to building teams that build businesses. He is also an executive and leadership team coach, supported by a Masters in Organization Development and a degree in Business. He is a licensed CPA and a certified Hogan Executive Assessment Consultant. 

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