Harnessing The Collective Intelligence Of Remote Teams


For teams to work successfully and effectively as a unit, they must find ways to gather their knowledge, data and skillsets to apply them to a common issue in the workplace—or in society as a whole. This is known as collective intelligence, and it is crucial in business teams. As remote work increasingly becomes the norm, how will the relative isolation of team infringe on fostering this collective intelligence?

Many leaders worry that remote work will be detrimental to the synergy of teams, but a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences puts these fears to rest. The results of the study, which involved more than 5,000 participants in over 1,300 groups across 22 different samples, show that groups working remotely can be as effective as groups working face to face. Here’s what researchers learned.

Not where, but how and who

Teams are increasingly working remotely, a change that was imposed more broadly at the onset of the pandemic, but which many predict will continue into the future regardless of covid-related regulations. This enormous shift in how work is accomplished, particularly work that hinges on the collective strength of teams, has raised questions and revealed some answers about what makes teams work.

Rather than emphasise the differences in how we work today from pre-pandemic times, the recent study highlights what similarities are fundamental. For example, the collaboration process was analysed, and two important points surfaced about what successful collaboration depends on: First, team members must establish who is strongest at which tasks, and second they must ensure all required tasks are covered as they coordinate their efforts. This is true with both face-to-face and remote teams.


Assembling the right teams

While it’s natural that business leaders were considered about remote work breaking down relationships of team members and limiting effective collaboration, there are a great many positives to the normalisation of remote work toward these goals. In a very real sense, remote work relieves managers from geographical constraints of the past.

Because assigning the right team member to the right task is the essence of positive collaboration, getting the right teams together is obviously important. Without the restriction of being in the same location, it is now possible to assemble teams of people with the desired sets of skills, interests and personalities needed.

As with all types of remote work, members of remote teams can have more flexibility when it comes to when in the day they work, which may require some coordination but result in greater possibilities for who can do what work. In addition, remote work has the potential to improve an employees’ work-life balance, reducing commuting and traveling requirements and opening up work opportunities that would otherwise demand relocation. All of these factors lead to team members who are better prepared to take on their team-associated tasks.

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Emotional intelligence

Beyond just data and knowledge and other professional skillsets relating to the work at hand, very closely linked to collective intelligence is the concept of emotional intelligence, which refers to particular attributes of individuals on a team.

The emotional intelligence of each team member and how they all work together will have a major impact on how a team performs as a unit. These attributes include self-management, self-awareness, relationship management and social awareness. Strong emotional intelligence aids in developing team members who communicate well with one another, who resolve conflict and stress in healthy ways and can inspire creativity and innovation.

Open-minded leadership

Creating work policies and approaches that foster collective intelligence with remote teams will take some out-of-the-box thinking by leaders. It is typical and understandable for managers to focus on the skillsets of individual employees, but building remote teams requires a broader view. Managers must be able to assess how the various personalities and knowledge of individuals will serve in a collaborative effort that can solve problems and perform reliably.

The days of in-house, face-to-face work are no longer the norm. This change may feel abrupt given the sharp increase in remote work caused by the worldwide pandemic, but in fact technological development and increased globalisation may have been pointing us in this direction for a lot longer. Although change always comes with an adjustment period, the good news is that evidence supports the idea that where employees work is less important than how the work is done and who is doing it.

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