“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Rivalries and competition in the remote workplace are alive, well and thriving said a 2020 survey from Robert Half Talent solutions. 13% of surveyed U.S. workers stated that in a remote set-up, co-worker competitiveness increased from the previous year. While healthy competition has its place, we do wonder how competition in the remote workplace affects the organization as a whole:
Does competition in the remote workplace hinder workers in moving their organization forward?
Most people are competitive by nature. Sometimes, that can be beneficial. But, generally, most organizations would benefit by having more collaboration and innovation within their operations.
In the old, onsite workplaces, competition hadn’t always shown the kinds of negative impacts that we are now seeing from remote workers, probably due to their close proximity. Employees are, worked, laughed, cried, complained, praised, and contested under one roof. Progress was made by drawing energies from one another. Despite often fostering an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ culture, the physical set-up allows individuals to observe and address these dynamics openly.
Onsite proximity can lead to easier and better collaboration:
The Pandemic has changed workplace dynamics dramatically, leaving many workers struggling to adapt to new work paradigms and to deal with personal issues in defining their workplaces for productive outcomes. This is particularly so in the remote workplaces where there are concerns of job stability and uncertainty of work-life itself, pressuring employees to compete for projects and earn their recognition and relevance. Ambiguity in expectations and siloed working builds insecurity, forcing workers to put their personal agendas over company goals.
Grudges between co-workers negatively impact communication, morale, and productivity, leading to unresolved and most times unnecessary conflicts. A study of 61,000 employees at Microsoft showed that its companywide shift to remote work hurt communications and collaboration, threatening long-term innovation and employee productivity. Teamwork and performance suffer.
Lack of communication, collaboration, trust, and kinship amongst co-workers can create a culture of back-stabbing, doubt, and resource hoarding if it is left to fester. Competition in the remote workplace has the potential to go awry and hurt the culture the organization aims to foster. When people keep physical and intellectual resources to themselves, it becomes impossible to brainstorm together and come up with fresh ideas, becoming an obstacle to learning and growth.
How do most organizations really work? An illustration:
Since 1993, we have been sharing an image and asking for reactions. People can find and identify their workplace issues and opportunity when we share this metaphorical reality that the wagons roll on Square Wheels® — that few things seem to work smoothly — and that Round Wheels already exist. “Square Wheels are everywhere!” is the consensus of people after considering this image / metaphor and sharing ideas with others.
The Remote Desk can be a dangerous place
The Microsoft study also revealed that its company-wide remote work “caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts. Furthermore, there was a decrease in synchronous communication and an increase in asynchronous communication. Together, these effects may make it harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network.”
A recent CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast segment called, “One Small Step” featured the work of Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, and his dedication to reaching across the current political divide through the One Small Step initiative by having people who are politically divided meet face-to-face to speak with each other not about their political beliefs but about their personal stories. Jason Reynolds, a member of StoryCorps board of directors, feels that when people address each other face-to-face, they discover that the shared personal aspects of their lives tend to unite them more than tear them apart.
Managers of remote working teams could use this approach to help build better rapport among their team members by arranging virtual social times with the purpose of getting to know each other in a more personal way as more easily happens with in-person workplaces. Managers of remote working teams could use a similar conversational approach to help build better rapport among their team members. They might arrange virtual social times with the purpose of getting to know each other in a more personal way, as more easily happens with in-person workplaces. Or they may set aside a time to discuss issues and opportunities related to their workplace improvement ideas such as is accomplished by using our Square Wheels image(s).
If we want to avoid creating silos of individuals that can lead to a culture of internal competition within teams, it seems essential to identify existing gaps in the communications process and build bridges that are more conducive to the sharing of new information. And people are normally more enthusiastic about sharing information if they trust one another.
In our work with teams over the past 30 years, we’ve always found that bringing people and teams together and involving them in a shared activity or adventure leads to stronger relationships and more open discussions of issues and ideas.
Managers, for instance, might create a Spring Forward Monday morning virtual discussion as an informal social time among the team or as a platform for discussing the week’s agenda and any existing problems or solutions. The most important thing is to create a connection that allows for social sharing that builds an atmosphere of trust and support.
Remote workers need to feel that they are collaboratively engaged in moving their organization forward.
Competition and innovation will always be parts of any organizational improvement initiative and that can be a good thing. Competition in the remote workplace is good but keeping it in check by striving for more collaboration will push an organization more better faster forward.
After all, as quoted at the beginning of this article,
If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.