The concept of remote work was born mainly out of the pandemic, but it’s here to stay for good. As more and more employees choose to work in remote environments, team leaders and recruiters across the world try to find the answer to the burning question – how do we integrate remote work for the long term?
More than two years ago when remote work became the new normal, it came with its challenges. While employees struggled with time management, loneliness and work-life balance, the leaders had to adapt new ways of how to manage tasks, measure performance and keep the workers engaged. Since then, the reality has changed, especially for those companies that decided to opt for remote or hybrid models.
As social beings, humans crave interaction with others, inside or outside the work. It’s not something that’s “nice to have”, it’s a necessity for everyone. It helps them to not only stay connected and motivated but feel happier overall which leads to better performance. In other words, connection speaks to the human need to be part of a community that respects its members and contributes to the greater good. It’s one of the key factors driving motivation and inspiration. So, it’s not surprising that the focus of remote work has shifted to building relationships, keeping employees engaged and cultivating organizational culture.
Technology enables remote employees to remain close, even if they are spread across different time zones. Embracing methods of digital communication will certainly help your team get closer, but it’s not the only way to go. Team leaders have to come up with various activities that would contribute to increasing human connections in the workplace. In the end, it all comes down to re-imagining online spaces so that they facilitate interactions.
This article gives you a couple of recommendations that might be helpful in the process of nurturing human connections within your company.
Promote virtual activities
One of the best ways to encourage your employees to feel connected and form relations with each other is to offer them a diverse range of virtual activities. It’s a great opportunity to bring the team together and contribute to building human connections that would benefit the company’s culture in the long term.
Virtual activities are where you get creative and think about what would your remote employees enjoy the most. From occasional happy hours to educational webinars – there are quite a few activities that have proven to be effective. You can even choose the ones that are specific to your company. For example, if you are running a gaming company the virtual activity can be playing and testing one of your competitor’s games. Or if you are a team of writers, you can form a book club and have virtual discussions every week or so. We recommend starting with a company-wide survey to find out what your remote employees need the most.
Here are a couple of ideas for virtual events:
Each remote employee is good at something outside work and you can use it to everyone’s benefit. Whether it’s cooking, yoga, photography, drawing, cycling or anything else – the possibilities are endless. Do a small survey and find out what hobbies your remote workers have. Then you can make a schedule together and arrange video sessions where one employee would teach others something. Who would not attend a call for making a chocolate cake? Or a good old “Zoom yoga”?
Apart from hobbies, your employees have also a lot to share when it comes to work, so why not use that opportunity as well. It can be something as simple as teaching others how to use a performance management tool that they have recently mastered. Or sharing a few tips and tricks about good old Excel sheets. Or just telling stories from a recent conference that they have attended. Such sessions would be mutually beneficial, as those listening would master the tool and learn new things, and those teaching would enhance their presenting skills.
Storytelling has proven to be one of the most effective tools when it comes to experience sharing and learning lessons. Stories usually follow a pattern of beginning, middle and end, which makes them engaging and influential. And people tend to remember them easily.
As a remote team leader, you can arrange sessions where employees would share a significant story from their lives that have taught them something or changed the course of events. This virtual activity would not only contribute to building human connections inside the team but help your employees learn from others’ successes and failures.
Each remote team has its preferred communication platform where employees send quick messages to each other, brainstorm ideas or share photos from their everyday lives. The tool is already there so why not use it for increasing human interactions.
Now and then your employees can fill in the form and opt for participating in casual chats. Those who opt yes would randomly be divided into several groups. Then the groups would gather at their chosen time and have a casual chat. If you are managing a smaller team, this could be a company-wide activity. It would help them get closer to each other and form relationships in an informal environment.
Create a virtual office
When we think about the days in an in-person environment, working in the same space is one of the first things that comes to mind. Talking over to your co-worker, grabbing lunch together and casual chats by the kitchen were everyday activities. So how do we transfer that into a remote workplace?
Many companies have already found a solution that we think is quite a good one – they live the virtual meeting rooms open for the day. There is no purpose or agenda behind the Zoom meeting. Instead, the employees are free to join whenever they want and complete tasks together. They would be able to interact, crack jokes, tell stories and “share” the same space while working. It would create the feeling of working in the same environment and contribute to building human connections.
As a team leader, make it your priority to log in to the meeting as well and communicate with your employees to get to know them better.
Offer mentorship programs
Whether you are managing a small team or have a lot of employees spread around the globe, a mentorship program could be an effective connection-supporting activity.
How it works is that team members – a mentor and a mentee – are paired for a specific time. A mentor would make it a priority to engage daily with the mentee. It could be as simple as a quick email asking how they are doing and if they need help with completing a task. Or an hour-long session where they would discuss the week’s main challenges and successes, as well as incorporate feedback. Such a program encourages human interaction, fosters closeness and helps the employees deal with the loneliness that often comes with remote work.
Use collaboration tools
If you are building a company culture where communication is the priority, your remote employees need to be able to easily communicate with each other. In today’s world just sending an email, or checking in with everybody during a Zoom call is not enough. You and your team need to embrace remote working tools for communication.
Instant messaging tools are among the first that comes to mind Slack being the most popular. It organizes conversations into channels and then can be further divided based on teams or projects. If Slack is not for you, there are some great alternatives, such as Microsoft Teams, Discord, Chanty and others. Using an instant messaging tool would allow your remote workers to feel like they can easily contact anyone within the company, including the leadership.
And don’t forget about the cloud-based storage tools. Being an integral part of many businesses, the cloud allows users to easily store and share information such as documents and presentations. As a result team members can access critical documents from any point in the world at any time. Some of the best options include Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive.
As time passes new products and services appear on the market for meeting the demand for connectivity. So keep an eye on what’s on the market that might increase productivity and communication.
When it comes to building connections, communication should not evolve just around the work. Socializing and casual hangouts are just as important. And there are several ways you could promote socializing at your company.
Encourage team check-ins on different social channels and they do not have to be work-related. Many remote employees miss the opportunity of chatting with others, as they would do in a traditional working environment. By creating a space where they could talk about any topic, you are encouraging them to feel part of the community. For example, your remote workers can share their photos from the weekend or send photos of their pets. Something your employees would do instead that stroll from the office to the metro station at the end of the day. Or a quick break in a nearby café. It could be fun to get to know each other better and form relationships beyond work.
You can also make it a habit to open video meetings during lunch hour without any agenda. It’s a great way to get people talking. Those employees who would want to join can have lunch together and chat about various off-work topics. For those who know each other well, it would be an opportunity to catch up. For others – a great way to meet new people within the company. And don’t forget to join as well.
Establish fun traditions
Think about what could be special about your company. Maybe you celebrate everyone’s’ birthdays by sending a small gift. Or have nominations at the end of the year. Or play games together as a team. The list can be long, but find and establishing the right tradition would help your remote workers feel as a part of the team that’s working for the same purpose.
Use the chances for in-person meetups
What better way to get to know your co-workers rather than to see them in a friendly environment where you’d tell stories and exchange ideas. If your remote team is spread across the globe, then in-person meet-ups would be difficult to organize. But if you live in the same country, then use the opportunities for in-person gatherings, both formal and informal.
There are many things you could do together. For example, many companies organize retreats for their employees, so that they would form relationships, take a break from work and regain energy. Others do company-wide training on topics that would be useful for anyone, including leadership, productivity, time management, project management and others. At the same time, some opt for mentorship programs and regular one-on-one sessions. No matter what your choice would be, an occasional in-person gathering would benefit the entire team and foster close connections.
Nurturing human connections should be a priority for any company that decides to establish a remote working environment. As a team leader try to look for new and innovative ways for encouraging interaction within the company, as well as get back to the trusted and effective ways. The key is to capture those positive moments that everyone misses from the office and not lose the aspects that make remote work so special for many of us.