Better Together: The Benefits of Collaborative Teamwork vs Remote Work

Collaboration in the workplace is one of the best known and basic requirements for cohesive teams, but it’s also a goal that’s often difficult for many managers to achieve.

The disruptive effect of remote working, which has become more pronounced in the years since the pandemic, has made it especially difficult to create and maintain collaborative teams that work together cohesively to achieve bigger and better results. But with the “return to the office” movement now in full force this is set to change and when it comes to team dynamics, companies in Cape Town and around the world are seeking a fresh start.

In this article, we look at the crucial need for effective and respectful teamwork and explore some reasons why the work from home phenomenon has not been good for collaboration in the office. Finally, we outline some strategies that every business can use to foster growth and ambition in its employees.

Teamwork in the post pandemic era: rewriting the playbook

Around the world, the work from home phenomenon is facing a crisis of existence as managers grow tired of remote teams, companies return to the office, and commercial real estate owners repurpose their buildings for the evolving needs of collaborative workspaces.

Managers and company owners have been thinking of innovative ways to improve the dynamics of their teams in the remote and hybrid working era, but the fundamental problem of isolation and information silos persists, no matter how many new and innovative strategies are applied.

At heart, humans are social beings and while it’s possible for us to carry out our work in isolation, results are almost always better together when we can collaborate freely.

Unfortunately, trying to achieve this with employees flung far across Cape Town or even further afield has for many businesses produced mediocre results at best. This is prompting companies around the world, including tech giants that pioneered remote working even pre-COVID, to call for an immediate return to the office or RTO.

  • Team members who work remotely all the time are more likely to experience feelings of isolation and despite the number of years that have passed post-pandemic, many workers find it difficult to manage their time when working away from the office.
  • New recruits are finding themselves increasingly lost in the fray as they join remote teams which are more like a video chat than a cohesive unit. This can lead to feelings of demotivation and even spark early resignations.
  • The role of senior associates and managers in mentoring junior staff members can’t be underestimated, and this has been one of the biggest casualties of the work from home era. Getting to know and on-boarding new members of the team becomes exponentially more difficult in a remote setting, with the crucial face-to-face interactions that create brilliant teams being conspicuously absent.

As companies return to the office permanently, teams are being rebuilt from the ground up, with employees who missed the human interaction that they had before the lockdown era actively seeking in-office jobs.

While all functions of the business are important, it’s often the case that crucial roles and responsibilities still reside within teams that are at the office. With company HR landscapes being reconfigured managers are taking the opportunity to build teams that are proving to be better together and more innovative than ever.

The case for in person teams: the limitations of remote work

There’s no denying that the remote working phenomenon was a necessary emergency measure at a time when the world screeched to a halt in the wake of the pandemic. But just because something was necessary four years ago doesn’t mean we need to continue doing it, especially when it’s not particularly good for us in the long-term.

The very idea of remote working seemed convenient at first, but there are several key reasons why this style of productivity failed to become the new normal. Our mental health, physical health, and productivity levels all drop when working remotely and that’s precisely the opposite of what every good organisation wants for its teams.

Working from home can be backbreaking

One of the biggest problems with remote work, which many of us overlooked during the pandemic at the expense of our health, is the fact that our homes are not ergonomically designed to be workspaces.

  • The favourite couch or kitchen chair may be a nice place to enjoy a coffee or watch a game of rugby but try working from it for eight hours at a stretch and employees suddenly start to realise why office chairs were invented.
  • Lying or sitting in a position that may be comfortable during downtime can strain back and neck muscles, and even result in repetitive stress injuries from staying in the same position for hours on end.

Unlike the workplace where we move around often to attend meetings, grab lunch, or spend time with co-workers in different departments, our homes are usually set up so that we don’t need to move around too much.

As a result, remote working can lead to inactivity, stiff joints, and muscles, and even undesired weight gain and can be detrimental to the health and well-being of employees who work remotely more than two or three days a week.

Returning to the office with ergonomic furniture and regular human interaction is a great way to counteract the negative effect of remote working and the physical benefits of doing so are nothing compared to the mental stimulation and growth that takes place in a dynamic team.

Teamwork and mental stimulation are two massive draw cards of returning to the perfect Cape Town office.

Working remotely can also lead to below par mental performance

A 2021 study carried out by Microsoft revealed a paradox: although remote teams sent reams of messages – suggesting that their overall collaboration had increased markedly – their actual information sharing decreased.

This could be due to message fatigue, “leaving people on read”, or basically glancing at information without engaging with it in a meaningful way, because there’s too much of it to focus on.

In a related study, the same research team found that the brainwave patterns associated with burnout and mental fatigue spiked during remote work.

These findings point to increased stress levels on remote workers – especially those who may be new to the job and find it difficult to execute tasks without comprehensive guidance.

One of the biggest complaints that employees had during COVID was the deep feeling of isolation that was unavoidable when working at home for extended periods.

  • Introverts, who were expected to enjoy the remote working era more than their outgoing peers, reported similar frustrations in terms of communication and motivation levels even if solitary task completion wasn’t a problem for them.
  • The struggle of working remotely was especially pronounced in team members who actively enjoyed working with their colleagues and had fostered strong friendships in the workplace.

As members of society, we are wired to bounce ideas off each other, and look to our colleagues and managers for support. That’s where empathetic and innovative managers can lead the way by investing in happy and successful teams

Putting the most into your teams so you can get the best out of them

Collaboration is a fine art and a science which effective managers can refine over the years. Coming back to the office with a team that has lost some of its social cohesion during the remote working error can be challenging, but it’s not impossible – and the benefits can be huge.

Collaborative teamwork has long been associated with better financial results for the company, and this fact isn’t about to change anytime soon.

But in addition to boosting the bottom line, highly synchronised teams can bring benefits that extend beyond the balance sheet: happier workers, higher levels of innovation, and lower staff turnover rates.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted a study of employee output which concluded that teams of between three and five consistently outperformed the best individual workers. The reasons for this phenomenon – which most managers will attest to from practical experience – include the following:

  • Access to dynamic co-workers to bounce ideas off and problem solve with.
  • The beneficial experience of working with diverse team members from different educational and professional backgrounds. A study by McKinsey reports that diverse teams are 35% more creative on average.
  • Division of tasks based on the strengths and talents of each member so that everyone on the team does more of what they enjoy and are good at and fewer demotivating tasks.

Happiness is the new wellness

Employee happiness has become a major goal of forward-thinking businesses, and effective teamwork can have a major positive impact in this regard too.

Teams expose workers to other professionals with different styles and approaches to problem solving and workflow management, and complementary pairings can be good for everyone.

  • Learning to be patient under pressure from a calm and collected co-worker or feeling a spark of inspiration when working with a results-driven and ambitious associate could take members to the next level of performance and personal growth.
  • On the other hand, learning from the mistakes of others without going down the same painful path can be a vital experience for all team members, especially new recruits.

Finally, the feeling that there’s safety in numbers can be a transformative experience for team members. Feeling supported and guided gives people the confidence to take collective risks and aim for big results without having to take the full burden of responsibility on their shoulders.

Ready to reap the benefits of a revitalised team? Here are some powerful strategies you can implement to boost collaboration.

Invest in every member

  • It may be tempting to dedicate a disproportionate amount of time and energy to new recruits and star performers respectively, but this strategy risks ignoring the “middle majority” of a team who often end up doing the lion’s share of the work and need all the guidance they can get.
  • Managers who allocate time for feedback and reflection sessions and on the job training with every member of the team – and take the opportunity to train seasoned team members to mentor others – will enjoy high levels of goodwill and productivity in the long term.

Balance ambitious goals with intensive training

Expecting team members to work wonders when they haven’t been collaborating to their full potential for many years is a recipe for frustration.

  • Instead, management can match ambitious future goals with a significant investment in skills development so that team members are better able to carry out tasks and manage projects in line with the company’s next level expectations.

Find Cape Town commercial space that is ideal for collaboration

If your business is returning to the office, chances are you’ll need more and better space for your team to work better together, cohesively.

The commercial Space team is proud to offer an extensive portfolio of office space in the Cape Peninsula featuring modern designs that make collaborating a breeze. Contact us today to learn how we can support your business as you take it to new heights this year.