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New research: Boost team connection (without scheduling another meeting)

Managers are stretched thin these days, especially those leading in a distributed environment for the first time. As a result, team members can struggle to connect with and get direction from their manager.

For example, a 2023 Gallup survey shows that US employees feel left out of the loop by their managers, and only a third say they recently received recognition for their hard work. Building strong connections and effectively supporting a team who are not co-located (and may span multiple time zones) requires managers to take a different approach to team communication.

Through this lens, The Team Anywhere Lab – a dedicated group of behavioral scientists that I lead at Atlassian – set out to design and test a way for managers to improve connection, recognition, and goal clarity on their teams. We made it a priority to help managers do this without adding a lot to their plates or asking them to spend more time in meetings.

The manager check-in experiment

When designing the experiment, we hypothesized that:

1. Two quick weekly updates would help teams feel more connected to their manager.

2. Context-rich communication would improve feelings of connection even more.

Over the course of a week, we asked 44 managers at Atlassian to provide two short updates on their teams – once on Monday, and once on Friday. We asked half the managers to send written updates in Slack, and the other half to record videos with Loom.

  • On Monday, managers focused their updates on clarifying top priorities since research shows understanding your goals before diving into the work improves performance.

  • On Friday, managers focused their updates on recognizing their teams for their efforts and contributions, which we know is beneficial for increasing motivation.

Managers' async updates included a survey link at the bottom of the message for direct reports to complete (the experiment collected data from a total of 309 direct reports). We compared results from a baseline survey taken the week before to quantify results.

Our experiment shows that:

1. Short, async manager check-ins improve connection, recognition, and goal clarity.

2. Loom updates are significantly better than written updates for manager connection and recognition.

Short, async manager check-ins improve connection, recognition, and goal clarity

Our data show that async check-ins focused on priorities and recognition make a positive difference. When teams received two short updates from their managers, 21% of team members felt more connected to their managers, 24% felt that they were getting more recognition for their efforts, and 25% reported that they had clarity on their goals for the week.

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I felt a lot more seen and heard when updates on our goals and context behind big initiatives were presented by a human.” - Alex L, Individual contributor

These improvements happened without teams spending any additional time in meetings! In our instructions to managers, we recommended that they limit the time they spend on crafting their updates to just 30 minutes.

Loom updates are more effective than written updates for manager connection and recognition

Loom updates led to much higher improvements in manager connection and recognition than written updates. In fact, people whose managers used Loom to share information were twice as likely to feel more connected to their manager. This makes sense: a video in which you can see someone’s facial expressions and body language is a much more personal form of communication.

Creating a Loom helped me consider my audience and clarify my thought process better than how I might communicate when I shoot off a message via Slack.” - Ajit, Manager

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Recommendations for managers

Based on our findings, we encourage managers to set aside time twice a week for quick, async check-ins with their teams.

At the beginning of the week, we recommend spending 20-30 doing the following:

  • List your team’s top three priorities for the week.

  • Draft your message for your team. There's an example script below, but feel free to get creative!

  • Film a Loom of yourself. Consider adding a written note clearly listing out the three priorities and why each matters as a reference for your team throughout the week.

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At the end of the week:

  • Reflect on the progress your team made that week. What problems were solved? What value will this drive for your team/company?

  • Reflect on who did great work this week. Are there any shout-outs for the team as a whole? Do any individuals in particular deserve recognition?

  • Draft your message. There's an example below, but again, add your own personal touch.

  • Record Loom and send to your team. Have fun with it!

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If you try this, we’d love to hear about it! Find us on LinkedIn, X as @Atlassian, or Atlassian’s Teamwork Lab and tell us how it went.


Mar 13, 2024

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  • Dr. Molly Sands

    Head of Team Anywhere Lab, Atlassian