3 Interactions that Shape Your Remote Team's Culture

The shift from collocated workplaces to remote work has changed the way the teams interact and because of that, we can expect team culture to evolve.

In their study on How Teams Work, Leslie Perlowe, Ashley Whillans, and Aurora Turek explored how teams navigated the changing interactions to adapt to their remote set-ups.

Their research focused on three main types of interactions - Task Interactions, Content Interactions, and Relationship Interactions.

Interaction # 1: Task Interactions

Task interactions occur when members of the team work together to produce their core output (e.g. reports, presentations, events, sales and marketing initiatives).

These task are further bucketed into content interactions and bounce interactions. Content interactions involve work-withs, feedback giving, prototyping,. Bounce interactions involve brainstorming, problem-solving, and any activity where members interact to build and generate ideas.

Because of the shift to remote work, teams reportedly experience less bounce interactions and less informal content interactions due to the scheduled nature of remote work. Gone were the days when members can spend time beside the water cooler to exchange ideas and thoughts, shifting to remote work has made spontaneous interactions more difficult to have within teams.

Interaction # 2: Process Interactions

Process interactions occur in moments that the team spends defining and structuring the work. This involves prioritizing urgent work, project scoping and planning, and establishing operating procedures and how the team will proceed. In the earliest days of the shift to remote work, teams spent a lot of time defining how the operations will change, checking in on people and focusing on synchronous communication (e.g. virtual meetings instead of email communication). If a team fails to adjust these processes later on when operations have "normalized", it may lead to employee and team burnout, not to mention a lot of wasted time for the members.

Managing process interactions requires teams to be constantly mindful about balancing the quality and quantity challenges that these pose. Having too many process interactions bleeds into and impacts tasks interactions resulting to longer work hours for members of the team who need to make up the time to complete their tasks. Teams must be careful not to overcompensate on process interactions that disrupt the flow of work of its members.

Interaction # 3: Relationship Interactions

The third type of interaction that is shifting are relationship interactions. These are the interactions that members spend building and sustaining relationships. Categorized into three buckets - social, huddle and development interactions, relationship interactions play a key role in team culture.

Interestingly, research revealed that members felt that they were able to get to know their colleagues more in the virtual environment as it provided more visibility into their lives outside of work. (e.g. seeing their teammates' homes, children, partners, pets, and even plants).

Sustaining the social interaction is a more challenging matter. As part of the move to remote work, organizations and teams introduced initiatives such as virtual wine nights, game nights, team yoga, and other themes that were meant to keep members engaged and relationships sustained. While these activities are undoubtedly helpful, remote work prevents members to build relationships outside the work environment, ones that were cultivated during business travel, office interactions and the spontaneous team events.

Perhaps the most affected by the shift to remote work are huddle interactions. One of the biggest shifts in team interactions is the absence of ad-hoc interactions - the type the occurs when people meet in elevators, go out for lunch, grab coffee together, or even just check-in and visit each other's cubicles during breaks or in-between meetings. Because of this, less ideas are exchanged and teams run the risk of knowledge and information being stuck with a few people.

Lastly, development interactions are also shifting. Coaching and mentoring conversations often went missing in the remote environment because teams spent a lot of their days working on task and process interactions. Feedback outside of the regular content interactions has also been harder to exchange for teams.

Interactions and Team Culture

Because interactions are shifting, team culture is expected to shift as well. The challenge for today's team is to balance these interactions and redesign them to fit the culture they envision for themselves.

All these require teams to reflect on and discuss their thoughts and ideas around questions such as: