Although remote work has been steadily increasing over the last few years, COVID-19 has drastically increased the percentage of employees who are working from their homes. With COVID-19 disrupting daily life and what was once a normal work routine, office workers across the country are navigating new ways of connecting with colleagues they no longer see in-person every day.
For those who are working from home for the first time and worrying that the transition may impact their team connectivity, cohesion, and communication, fear not! There are many ways to stay equally connected while practicing social distancing around the world. Though the type of connectivity you will experience will feel different, it can still be just as productive.
Here are some suggestions to maintain team connectivity and fulfill the social needs of your teams while embracing the work-from-home life.
Make Video Mandatory
This one might seem obvious, but there are many people who still default to audio-only conference calls or claim they just “don’t like” being on video. However, skipping video can’t be an option right now when no communication can be in person. Too many nonverbal cues are lost when we default to phone calls and instant messaging. For example, if you were in the office, your coworker would be able to see the friendly, non-scolding look on your face when you ask, “Can we talk?” But those same words could be the cause of unnecessary panic if sent over email or direct message. The best solution is to host video chats, have them frequently, and make video mandatory for all team members involved.
Visual communication fosters effective collaboration. Personal understanding and connection, which are both key to successful working relationships, can develop during this time with video conferencing. An article published in the Harvard Business Review noted the importance of camaraderie at work, which is centered around creating a common sense of purpose and a mentality centered around teamwork. As the article notes, “camaraderie promotes a group loyalty that results in a shared commitment to and discipline toward the work.” Video conferencing is the best medium for collaboration while working remotely that fosters this vital sense of workforce camaraderie.
Create New Team Rituals
Just like you have regular daily habits with your team in the office, you’ll now have to create new routines and rituals that work virtually. Here are a few suggestions:
Recreate Morning Coffee Breaks
Consider setting a regularly scheduled time for your team, whether daily or weekly, to catch up over coffee in a group video conference. This time can be separate from your regular team meetings, and you can simply chat over a coffee and talk about what’s happening in your life as you would in the office. Although this meeting doesn’t have to be mandatory, it mirrors what it’s like to get coffee in the kitchen at the office.
You can opt to send the meeting invite to an entire team or a small group, but you can also coordinate one-on-one coffee check-ins to communicate with specific team members that you haven’t communicated with in a while. If you’re a manager and you know an employee is shy, you can ask people who are interested in virtual coffee to sign up, and then you can randomly pair them to meet virtually.
Virtual coffee sessions can replace the regular water cooler chat. Be sure to set a regular cadence in these meetings and try your best not to cancel or reschedule it.
Encourage Friendly Competition
When used properly, competition can deliver tremendous results for a team’s connectivity. Of course, not all workplace competition is a good thing. Pitting employees against each other surely doesn’t bolster a healthy workplace and can result in increased levels of stress and even discouragement.
Competition, when properly initiated, will boost morale and create a feeling of team spirit to the workday. Start by incentivizing and rewarding your top employees when they perform particularly well or suggest an innovative idea. Employees can’t be competitive with each other if they don’t have a realistic idea of how their coworkers are performing. Make it clear who your top performers are (and what they’re doing that makes them so great), so your other employees have something to aim for. You might be surprised how they rise to the occasion!
Friendly competition can also be created outside the workplace through participation in charity fundraisers, fitness competitions, trivia events, or other non-work-related activities. These challenges are a great way to foster a sense of community, while also creating a bit of friendly competition.
Certain human capital management solutions even offer a platform for fun, internal competitions, which lets organizations set up friendly employee competitions as incentives to do things like come up with the best product or product feature ideas, fix the most software bugs, or simply walk the most steps during a given period.
Host Virtual Happy Hours
A fast-growing trend for companies in the suddenly enormous world of remote work is the “virtual happy hour.” Virtual happy hours offer a great way for employees to connect with each other and disconnect after a workday. This type of virtual activity doesn’t have to have any specific agenda, and it can even provide a richer experience in some ways when compared to post-workday get-together at a bar. You can glean better insights of a co-worker’s life with an at-home happy hour. For example, you may be able to learn that someone is a gardener, has three cats, or is a secret musician, all from the perspective of a web camera.
Leave the invite for virtual happy hour open, but also don’t be afraid to reach out to specific individuals to encourage them to join. Newer employees, for example, may hesitate to hop on and join in on the experience, but they are the types of individuals who could benefit the most from these types of activity.
It may not be enough just for workers to be stirring their margaritas or sipping on spiked seltzer as they stare at one another through their iPhones. If you’re worried that the conversation might run dry or is too chaotic to communicate with, try adding virtual games like trivia contests resembling those that are ubiquitous at local pubs.
While working remotely, it’s important to over-communicate whenever possible. This can mean repeating your messages several times, or reposting content and announcements on several channels and platforms to make sure the message reaches everyone. Here are a few ways to keep the lines of communication flowing in your teams:
Implement Morning Status Updates
If your team isn’t used to working virtually, it might be helpful to run daily or weekly morning updates over video conferencing to help keep people on track and communicate important information to your team. Consider highlighting wins of the week, daily agendas, addressing current challenges, or even just a touching base on life outside of work.
This is a great way to not only keep teams on track to reach important goals and objectives, but also to simulate some of the office small talk that would occur in a more typical office setting. You can even coordinate these morning status updates with the aforementioned coffee break meetings to keep things casual.
Check In Frequently
Check in with your employees as often as possible and share any updates and changes in the business. Also, make sure to follow up on any announcements. These types of messages don’t have to occur on video conferences. Oftentimes, a simple instant message will suffice. Many teams utilize chat apps like Slack for these types of instances. While working from home, employees can’t simply visit a coworker’s desk or pop into their manager’s office to ask a question or to raise a concern. For this reason, it’s important to have a tool in place that still allows for instant communication.
Aside from helping to complete work-related tasks, chat tools can also be a fun way to boost employee morale during this time, as they can be used to send GIFs and emojis, celebrate occasions like work anniversaries or birthdays, share inside jokes, and more.
If you’re a manager, check in on your employees at the start of each day. Something as simple as “Good morning! How are things going today? What can I help you with?” is a great place to start. Personal contact is important at this time, and should be practiced routinely.
Share More With Teammates
When working remotely, it helps to open up and share what’s happening in your life with your co-workers (to the degree that you’re comfortable, of course). Try engaging with your colleagues by sending photos and videos throughout your day. Photos and videos of your pets, your work-from-home station, your garden, or what you’re cooking are all often well-liked topics that are sure to get the conversation going, and are also good ways to create the personal touch lost through working from home.
Second to that, be sure to communicate relevant information regarding your personal schedule as well, particularly when your day starts and ends. Remember, just because you’re working from home, it does not mean you are expected to work around the clock. The regular work hours still apply, so colleagues should respect when you end your day virtually and log off — the same as they would when you leave the office. You may find it helpful to set your hours on a shared calendar or as a status on your chat app. This way, any team member can quickly and easily check in to see if you’re online.
Working from home has undoubtedly created a learning curve for many members of today’s workforce, and, just like many more traditional business processes, employee relationships and connectivity must utilize a new approach. Be sure to use the tips above to keep yourself and your teams connected while working remotely!