5 ways to newly inspire and unite your team when working from home

Mar 9 2021, 12:12 pm

There’s a reason (or five) why the saying “Teamwork makes the dream work” has stuck around. Now, it’s more relevant than ever as many teams worldwide continue to adjust to remote work and find new ways to stay collaborative, connected, and productive.

Suffice to say, the workplace today is complex. Five generations are working together, workers spend 20% of their time just ‘finding stuff’ like files or triaging through email, and 59% of managers find that they are missing things because of information overload.

Believe it or not, the dynamics of your team can help or even hinder your individual work habits and success rates. Why is this the case? Why are some teams more successful than others? What factors lead to success? You see, there’s an art to teamwork.

This is something that Microsoft Canada and IDEO, a global design company known for its human-centred interdisciplinary approach, set out to explore. Prior to COVID-19, these organizations interviewed dozens of teams (from fishmongers to astronauts) and delved into the latest research on what makes a team successful in today’s modern workplace. But as the pandemic continues, it’s become certain we all need to learn new ways to work together in a “hybrid work culture,” where some will remain working from home while others return to the office.

Microsoft Canada and IDEO’s research has led to the creation of a new digital curriculum: The Art of Teamwork. Whether you’re working remotely or back in the office, here are the top five factors to address.

Team purpose

What purpose does your team have? If you’re unable to answer this right now, it might be because everyone on your team has a different objective. Purpose goes beyond your everyday business objectives to defining the north star for your team. Aligning on a purpose keeps teams focused and fulfilled.

Taho Kakutani, a fishmonger who has been working at Seattle’s Pike Place Market for the past 15 years, has discovered the true meaning of team purpose. Although his team’s official job is to sell fish as opposed to entertaining visitors (which if you’ve seen the famous fish toss at his stand, you’ll understand), this alone is not what gets him out of bed in the morning.

“When you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself — like making people happy — it’s motivating because you’re doing it for a larger purpose,” Taho told Microsoft and IDEO.

Awareness and inclusion

When everyone on your team is busy working towards their own deadlines, addressing awareness and inclusion could be easily overlooked. Fostering an inclusive environment can help team members value each other’s perspectives and better navigate interpersonal dynamics. Differences don’t have to be resolved; they can simply be respected.

Once you understand your own needs, consider the emotions of your colleagues, and take context into account, you’ll be better able to contribute to your team. For example, using Breakout rooms with Microsoft Teams allows you to create small groups in which people can reflect on the things that make them successful at work and share this with their colleagues. As a result, you’ll understand each person’s needs and how you can support each other, especially during times like these when some teammates may be faced with additional stressors in their personal and professional lives.

Collective identity

Does your team have shared values? Have you shared anything memorable with your coworkers? Collective identity is a lot like workplace culture, and it allows you to bond through experiences and rituals. It’s a shared sense of belonging that builds cohesion and joins you together.

For Kellie Gerardi, an astronaut with experience simulating life on another planet, this came to life before she and her international team of astronauts were dropped in the red rock formations of the San Rafael Swell (a remote portion of the Utah desert that closely mirrors the surface of Mars). The group was going to be living in tight quarters — in spacesuits — for a full month, so important agreements had to be addressed.

They defined everything from their areas of research to who would be cooking food, to how they would celebrate birthdays and milestones, to the daily ritual of discussing their emotions honestly. “The agreements that we set are instrumental in helping things run smoothly during the simulation,” said Gerardi.

To foster collective identity on your team, schedule a time to explore the strengths and perspectives each person brings to the table. The Together mode scenes in Teams could soon transport you all to a virtual conference room or coffee shop to share a unique experience away from our makeshift work stations or office desks.

Trust and vulnerability

Trust and vulnerability are essential in any team. When you trust your team, you allow yourself to take risks and speak your mind. But not only this — it can also enhance your ability to engage in constructive tension (we’ll explain what this is in a moment).

The result? New and out-of-the-box ideas can flourish. Meditation is known to help reduce stress and burnout, and it’s easy to arrange a mindfulness experience for your coworkers in Teams. Collectively relax and recover while being your true selves.

Constructive tension

No matter what industry you work in, you will always encounter people who work and think differently to you. We all have the meeting that feels like a battleground, and while this feels frustrating, there is value in sharing differing opinions. Constructive tension is the force that comes to life when your team takes their differences and uses them for good instead of frustration. This tension helps to question decisions, ensure that every angle is addressed and that the final decision is the best one. It’s the last piece to the puzzle when team purpose, collective identity, awareness and inclusion, trust and vulnerability are all in balance.

One effective way to work on constructive tension is to look at the types of differences that exist within your team and why they exist. Meeting recaps in Teams can help with the reviewing process. It’s important to remember that even though people often avoid tension, it can ultimately lead to the creation of better ideas in a team.


If you’re eager to help your team work effectively and become more successful as you navigate this unpredictable time together, here are some additional quick and easy activities to try.

You can also invite everyone you work with to meet, chat, call, and collaborate in the same space by using Microsoft Teams. It’s free to use, it integrates seamlessly with Office 365, and you can download it here.

For more resources on the new world of work, visit Work Unplugged. 

This content was created by Hive Labs in partnership with a sponsor
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