Although remote work has been steadily increasing over the last few years, COVID-19 has drastically increased the percentage of employees who are now working from their homes. With COVID-19 disrupting daily life and what was once a normal work routine, office workers across the country are having to find new ways to stay connected with colleagues they no longer see in-person every day. There is a dark side to working remotely and that is the loneliness that stems from the lack of interaction. Remote workers are more likely to quit because of loneliness and low engagement.
Just like you have regular daily habits with your team in the office, you will now have to create new routines and rituals that work virtually.
Here are some of my suggestions to preserve team connectivity and to fulfil the social needs of your teams while adopting the work-from-home lifestyle.
We usually have a mess about with the different backgrounds and filters too, Nick our CEO loves a studio apartment as his, whereas I am partial to living underwater. This really breaks up the day and can take your mind off a stressful day with lots of meetings. Weekly virtual coffee sessions can replace the regular break room chat. Try to set a regular rhythm in these meetings and try your best not to cancel or reschedule it.
Here's one of our most recent coffee chats!
Your colleagues don’t think about work all day every day. Many of them have outside interests and hobbies they like to participate in. In fact, some of them may get together and engage in these outside interests together! Even though everyone is working at home, that doesn’t mean your colleagues wouldn’t appreciate the chance to connect with others with similar interests. So, set up some virtual groups to facilitate conversation. These social groups let your remote staff bond and connect with people who have similar interests, but maybe don’t work in the same department as they do, allowing them to learn more about each other and the company. "In teamwork, silence isn't golden, it's deadly." — Mark Sanborn, Author
Occasionally I miss swivelling in my chair and asking the salesperson or data analyst beside me a quick question. While this kind of spur of the moment interaction may be difficult, it’s not impossible. 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. "You can never over-communicate enough as a leader at a company, but at a remote company, nothing could be truer. Because you don't physically see people in-person, information doesn't spread in the same way, so leaders need to do the heavy lifting for evangelizing the message." — Claire Lew, Know Your Team
Since there’s a good chance working from home will last for a while, post a random question in whatever chat application you use once a week. The questions can be short and sweet (What’s your favourite season?), encourage longer answers (What’s your favourite season and why?), be silly (Would you rather have a unicorn or a dinosaur as a pet?), or be somewhat serious (Which officemate would you prefer: dog or cat?). You will probably get some interesting answers and learn a lot about your team in the process. The benefit here is that everybody doesn’t have to be online at the same time for this to work. People can pop in and answer whenever it’s convenient and read through the responses when they need a quick and uplifting break. If you’re a manager, check-in on 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 explicitly practised, keeping people feeling in the loop.
Nick and I love art, it is a regular conversation with us, so this is a great idea. You can still have fun remotely and laugh with your colleagues, by taking it in turns to set weekly challenges for the group. Some ideas you can try out are baking cakes, drawing pictures, or sharing a joke/ story. It is entertaining and could give you all something to look forward to each week.
It’s important that companies create an environment where leadership and employees can stay connected while working remotely. While team building is only one part of building a strong company culture, a few planned and thoughtful gestures always go a long way toward making everyone feel like they are part of the team—no matter where they are.
How are you and your colleagues maintaining your work relationships? What has worked for your teams? Let us know!
The People Experience Hub work with clients to transform their people experience, combining our flexible employee feedback tools and expertise in organisational psychology and people management.