Reams of bits and bytes have been written about the risks of returning to the office and hybrid working, for instance, mental health, inclusion, presenteeism and ‘who moved my desk?’ worries. I would like to highlight the risk to a group that has not had much attention during the pandemic – the global teams in your organization. They existed before the pandemic, delivered during the pandemic and are expected to contribute post-pandemic. But here is a little secret – many of them benefited when everyone worked from home. As one VP explained: “Our team improved during the pandemic, and I am wondering what will happen when we return to the office.” His team of 17 is unevenly distributed over three European country offices. His was not the only global team that benefited as I heard versions of the following from many international team members:
- “We have more equal participation. The majority in one location used to dominate the discussion and we could not hear the side conversations during the calls.”
- “It is much easier to get the attention of headquarters since they are all working from home and not in the office.”
- “The post-meeting local conversations that sometimes reversed our virtual decisions, have thankfully gone away.”
According to this survey, 30% of respondents work every day with someone in another country. Every day. What will happen to them as people return to the office?
Configuration Sets the Stage
But wait a minute; isn’t it better that team members sit together during meetings and have someone to talk to during lunch? Short answer – no, it is not. As I explained in my book Virtual Teams Across Cultures, configuration matters (free book excerpt) and during the pandemic the formerly multilocation teams became 100% remote, which is easier than when colleagues sit together in the same office.
As people partially return to the office to meet, they may also resurrect the subgroups that were dormant during the pandemic. These subgroups are based on colleagues who are together in different offices.
Support the Olympic Teams
In the sport of virtual working, global teams are playing at Olympic level. They often work across time zones, experience cultural differences, speak multiple languages and rarely meet in person. They need to create a shared context from distributed views. This is complex stuff. To play at this level, team leaders and members need to build their muscles – knowledge, mindset, behaviors and self-mastery. They need the support to reach the top – trainings, team coaching, virtual team programs and guidelines to create the virtual team foundations.
Take the Initiative to Flex the Team Muscle
I and my network colleagues support organizations, leaders and teams in all shapes and sizes to succeed internationally. We offer trainings on the topics of cultural diversity, virtual working and international leadership. Our specialty is inclusive global virtual teams that leverage the location and personal diversity to achieve more than if they were local. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org