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How has remote work due to the Covid-19 pandemic impacted teamwork?

Teamwork is an essential part of work-life. Sense of community and belonging, accomplishing set goals, as well as each team members’ unique skill set are all factors of successful teamwork. Teamwork is at its best when team members have mutual trust and communication is systematic and sincere. These features, as well as others, ensure that work is completed successfully in an allotted amount of time. Traditionally, depending on the field and line of work, teamwork happens face-to-face. But what happens when traditional teamwork is not possible and teamwork is technologically mediated? Can prolonged virtual teamwork be successful? In this newsletter, our researchers outline recent research literature relating to virtual teamwork due to the Covid-19 pandemic..

Iina Savolainen
EDITOR, Post-doctoral Researcher of Social Science at University of Tampere

iina.savolainen@tuni.fi

Knowledge-intensive workers adapted their teamwork activities during the shift to virtual work
Communication and team interaction activities are required among the team members to accomplish work goals, whether teamwork is face-to-face or takes place on a digital platform. A recent study by Whillans, Perlow and Turek (2021) shows that the rapid shift to remote work brought on changes in knowledge workers’ team interaction activities and prompted the employees to adapt and reflect on their use of digital technology to perform these activities. According to Whillans and colleagues, teamwork entails several core activities that require additional adjustments to successfully enact in the virtual environment compared to co-located settings.
Three primary team interaction activities consist of task interactions (”the what”), process interactions (”the how”), and relationship interactions (”the who”). To learn what activities work better and worse in a fully virtual environment, Whillans and colleagues interviewed 51 knowledge workers during the US lockdown from April to June 2020. According to the study results, task interactions consist of content interactions and bounce interactions. Content interactions happen when team members sit side-by-side working on a task, answering questions about, and providing feedback on core team output. Bounce interactions mean interaction among the team members building on ideas in real-time. Process interactions are interactions spent defining and structuring the work, whereas relationship interactions develop and sustain relationships and help the team members to learn from each other. Relationship interactions consist of social interactions to build bonds and huddle interactions to make sense of prior meetings and debrief members who were not present previously. Teams’ social interactions also include development interactions meaning scheduled feedback sessions between managers and subordinates for formal feedback and development programs.
The results of this study indicate that some of the changes in how teams work remotely compared to co-located settings make work more efficient, such as a better focus on concentration-intensive work tasks individually, whereas the initial performance of team interactions in the virtual environment may be ineffective, leading to adjustment efforts. According to Whillans and colleagues, due to the lack of spontaneous encounters at the office, certain types of teams’ interactions –especially the relationship interactions – ”go missing” in remote work, if there is not specific time set aside for them. However according to this study, process interactions may expand to fill the time set aside for team interaction in remote work, which can lead to frustration among the team members. On the other hand, it is common that many of the teams’ interactive activities overlap and occur simultaneously.
"To improve virtual teamwork, teams and managers would benefit from tracking their core interaction activities to ensure that each activity receives sufficient attention to avoid some of the interactions "going missing" in remote work. Whillans and colleagues also encourage work teams to label in advance what primary type of interaction each meeting will involve and debrief the quality of the interactions afterward to enhance efficient and effective teamwork in digital environments."
Camilla Suortti
Project Researcher and doctoral student of University of Jyväskylä.

camilla.s.suortti@jyu.fi

Literature:Whillans, A., Perlow, L. & Turek, A. (2021). Experimenting during the shift to virtual teamwork: Learnings from how teams adapted their activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Information and Organization, 31(1),

The challenges and rewards of virtual teamwork

In an extensive review and preview article, authors Kniffin et al. assessed relevant literature concerning risks to and changes in work practices brought by the Covid-19 pandemic (such as virtual teamwork) and changes for workers (e.g., social distancing and stress). The results of the broad literature overview offer viewpoints on the implications of Covid-19 for work, employees, teams, and organizations, as well as directions for future research.

When it comes to virtual teamwork, Kniffin et al. highlight that virtual teams are a multifaceted concept that encompasses various dimensions.These include, for instance, the geographical distribution of team members and the relative amount of time spent on (a)synchronous e-communication per team member. According to the prior research reviewed by Kniffin et al., communication in virtual teamwork tends to lack the richness that is typically characteristic of face-to-face teams. Consequently, problems such as conflict and coordination issues can escalate quickly. Additionally, research focused on examining workers’ individual performance has found that teammates who interact remotely seem to miss the creative benefits that typically result from frequent face-to-face interactions.

Virtual teamwork also has benefits. Prior studies have found that teams operating through online stages tend to be more effective at brainstorming than traditional face-to-face teams. For organizations, virtual teams are more cost-effective and finding talented team members is not limited due to their geographical locations. However, the rapid growth in virtual teams necessitates research and developmental work on how to improve teamwork in virtual settings. For instance, formalizing team processes and clarifying team goals emerge as potential matters requiring development. Also, including build-in structural solutions that foster psychologically safe discussions and help-seeking amongst team members is essential.

"Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, remote work and virtual teamwork, by extension, have increased significantly. Some of the changes brought by the pandemic are more permanent than others and will become part of the "new normal". Virtual teamwork is likely here to stay, as many organizations are downsizing their physical office spaces and reforming their operations models. Virtual collaboration enables workers to practice their work-life balance and likely increases productivity over time."
Iina Savolainen
Post-doctoral Researcher of Social Science at University of Tampere

iina.savolainen@tuni.fi

Literature:Kniffin, K. M., Narayanan, J., Anseel, F., Antonakis, J., Ashford, S. P., Bakker, A. B., Bamberger, P., Bapuji, H., Bhave, D. P., Choi, V. K., Creary, S. J., Demerouti, E., Flynn, F. J., Gelfand, M. J., Greer, L. L., Johns, G., Kesebir, S., Klein, P. G., Lee, S. Y. & Vugt, M. V. (2021). COVID-19 and the workplace: Implications, issues, and insights for future research and action. American Psychologist, 76(1), 63–77.

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