Shifting from office-based to working from home is more complicated than sending employees home with laptops

Know your teams and members

The writing appears to be on the wall. “Working from home”, especially for professional staff and office workers will become part of the new normal that follows on post Covid-19 lockdown measures worldwide. While organisations might have used the pre-lockdown and lockdown period to make sure they have the required e-connectivity measures in place, the adjustment at the individual employee level and the ability to manage high performing teams on a remote basis may pose much bigger challenges than dealing with the “mechanics” of appropriate e-connectivity.

As a rule professional service providers rely heavily on multi- disciplinary teams to produce the outputs.

Teamwork requires more than supporting mechanics and information technology. It requires healthy team dynamics and a team that can work productively and effectively towards a common goal, although team members may be geographically and physically disconnected.

To provide some guidance on how to journey through these changing times, this article reflects on how well-established team development tools can assist organisations with planning and preparation for continued sound team management practices in an increasingly online engaged environment.

The Belbin Model for Team Roles

Dr Meredith Belbin, an English researcher and management consultant, originally created his Team Role Inventory as part of a unique study of teams. The Belbin Team Inventory is a behavioural assessment, which is used to measure a team members’ preference in respect of nine Team Roles.

According to Belbin, various factors effect individual behaviour in team context. The figure below shows these behaviours.

Factors that build team role behaviour (Belbin, 1981)

Belbin suggested that, for teams to be effective and productive, team members need to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as that of fellow team members.  To adjust to working remotely, Belbin’s understanding of the factors that impact team member’s behaviour can be a great tool to help identify team member strengths and working styles. This in turn can assist managers and team leaders with team composition decisions, task and responsibility allocation.

In essence Belbin’s model suggests that teams require leaders, creatives, planners & organisers, doers, carers and those who are good at monitoring and evaluation.

Here are some recommendations that builds on Belbin’s team role behaviour that can be applied when managing teams that work remotely.

Know your team

Some employees may thrive under work from home conditions while others may encounter more difficulties in coping with the challenges associated with working remotely, such as dealing with social isolation, distractions at home, and an inability to structure the workday in the absence of supervision or team member interaction. Awareness of team member profiles can assist managers in adopting different approaches to managing different team members.

Provide a work structure

Establishing a regular timeline for internal communication with team members can provide a sense of routine that should enhance team effectiveness. This can take the form of an internal email newsletter (to which team members contribute) or regular online report-back and planning sessions. It is important to ensure that everyone remains on the same page, to keep the team informed of work plan objectives and to focus on challenges ahead.

Maintain social connection (as an antidote to social distancing)

This could take the form of organising online games, sharing content (i.e. music videos, photos, recipes), offering online exercise sessions, or establishing regular virtual coffee breaks during which only social chatter is permitted. Activities like this reinforces a sense of belonging, good team spirit and support for those who feel isolated.

Be supportive

It is important to bear in mind the emotional state of your staff and how they are coping while working remotely. Everyone deals with change and isolation differently. While some may easily adjust and meet expectations, others may struggle to create a more productive workflow while working from home. Create a space and time in the week where team members can share and express their difficulties and challenges and provide support to each other.

Encourage transparency

Operating in an environment that creates openness between managers and employees leads to motivation, engagement and a feeling of being valued. Include team members in management issues. Ask them to contribute to problem-solving. Let team members co-own the problems facing the organisation in this time of rapid change and big uncertainty.   

Be innovative

Innovation provides opportunities for team members to step forward and take the lead. More technologically familiar team members may be more knowledgable on programs and tools for facilitating meetings and workshops remotely such as utilising online video platforms to communicate workshop materials and mobile based chat groups to share information instantly.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have accelerated the trend of working remotely but making this shift successfully might be something that many companies may still have to master.  Companies were already faced with a changing work environment including the pressure of maintaining employee satisfaction, building professional development, improving work-life balance, offering online learning and now working from work. These have all been accelerated by lockdown and post- lockdown remote work circumstances. Learning to manage digitally connected, geographically dispersed teams coming from a myriad of backgrounds will become an essential tool in the modern managers’ toolkit.  

Article composed by Naidine Daniels & Margaux Granjard – ODA Consultants

The article was reviewed by Dr. Peter Whitehead of Whitehead Industrial Psychologists. Whitehead Industrial Psychologists is an accredited administrator of the Belbin Self Perception Inventory.

“The essence of a team is that its members form a co-operative association through a division of labour that best reflects the contribution that each can make towards the common objective. The members do not need to be present at the same place and at the same time to enable the team to function. Nobody is perfect, but a team could be.”
Dr. Meredith R Belbin; Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, 1981


COVID-19 Corona Virus Notice:

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, China. ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2’ (SARS-CoV-2) was confirmed as the causative agent of what we now know as ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019’ (COVID-19). Since then, the virus has spread to more than 100 countries, including South Africa. Emergency Hotline: 0800 029 999 WhatsApp Support Line: 0600-123456