Apr 10 / Steph Chamberlain

Well Forbes.. we think you are wrong!

Talking about sharing an office with a client team Dana says, “We bonded over shared inside jokes emanating from meetings that went awry, casual conversations over lunch and late nights spent hammering out deliverables in the office. That type of bonding simply isn’t on the menu in a 100% remote model.”
She reflects “I absolutely felt more bonded with my in-person project team at the client than my official team “on paper” back at headquarters.”
At Magic Milestones, we have enjoyed both office and remote working since our inception in 2007. We have a few names for syndromes that pop up in individuals from time to time. One is awful and the other is more of a mixed bag. Both are a consequence of distributed teams:
Distance Anger.

 This is the overwhelming feeling that someone you don’t see much day-to-day is not doing their job properly. It is almost entirely driven by the fact you can’t “see them at their desk working”. It’s that feeling as a manager that someone is doing the washing, looking after their kids or having a sneaky beer when YOU think they should be working.

Going Native.

 In the consulting industry, this is very common indeed and I would stick my neck out to even suggest that Dana may have had a dose of it too. Hell, I’ve had it myself because all good consultants have. You get so wrapped up in the project and so passionate about your client’s outcomes, that they become your outcomes too. What’s not to like about that?
Distance Anger is bad. It’s a syndrome that one must recognise and quash straight away. It is a symptom of another annoying pathogen, Micro-management. It can be cured by something invented in 1876. The telephone. It cannot be cured by online interactions of a textual nature. Whatsapp, Facebook and Email are just propagators of the disease and should be avoided at all costs when this syndrome is diagnosed. It can also be cured by objective setting (see our friends https://www.therebegiants.com/ for more on this) and also by using agile methods such as stand-ups. (Magic Milestones can help with this too but best to join us at community.stableteams.com before parting with any cash. You may find the answers are free. :-).
So what about "Going Native”. Do we need to cure this syndrome? The answer is yes.. and no.. Going native is a great thing. It means that you feel a customer’s pain and you take it on and you deal with it because it now feels like your pain. From a service and sales point of view that is amazing. Keep doing that. What is not so good is to become so embedded with your customer that you are now a. part of the problem you came in to solve or b. forgetting your other purpose and responsibilities.
SO WHAT HAS ALL THIS TO DO WITH REMOTE WORKING?
It’s easy to think that what bonds a team is merely physical proximity. However, it actually has less to do with physical proximity and everything to do with emotional proximity. The truth is that when you go to an office every day there are a number of things going on to increase your emotional proximity to your colleagues. These are:
Empathy. You are glimpsing your team’s non-work personas without even trying - as they get off their bike in the street or out of their car or just turn up with their headphones on and make a coffee. We are learning constantly about the world a person inhabits outside of the office. It comes for free. We don’t have to try. We can talk in the kitchen, in between meetings and down in the smoking den.
Alignment. In-person one can rally a team to a cause with very little effort. I remember being a young project manager in the presence of Greg Dyke in the Iraq War era of the BBC and being blown away by his call to arms. I understand the guy was charismatic but I also remember my first introduction to the next DG being a letdown, mainly because I met him on the Ringmain and not face to face. It’s not quite so easy to carry the cause across the airwaves (without being a Winston Churchill type).  
Emotional proximity is built through empathy but also through a sense of shared purpose. And as much as it’s really hard to do both of those things remotely, they are not as hard as they may at first seem.
The way we solve Distance Anger is to re-establish our empathy with the people we are angry with. A team member fails to file a report because their mother is gravely ill, the client’s dog died and they didn’t get chance to sign off that contract. We find this out and instantly we feel less anger. They aren’t ignoring us or failing us on purpose. There is a reason for their lack of productivity in our eyes: life.
The reason Dana “felt more bonded with [her] in-person project team at the client than [her] official team “on paper” back at headquarters.” remains less about the co-location and more about the vocation she felt in the presence of her client team. No doubt, she would have felt positively disconnected from them if their agendas did not meet hers. We have all been there. When you leave a room peddling up-hill, a call back to the office afterwards is a safe haven of downhill abandon (and maybe even swearing as a sign of relief). So with this in mind, a shared team purpose, followed by team cohesion work is a good start.  
Emotional proximity not physical proximity is the key to feeling connected to our colleagues.  
If you are struggling with team cohesion, alignment or even Distance Anger, take a peek into the world of Magic Milestones at https://community.stableteams.com. No selling, just peers and some free advice.