Working from home has become the new normal for many employees and companies. And while there are many advantages to remote work (like greater flexibility and no more long commutes), it also brings challenges.
One of the biggest challenges is fostering connection among remote team members. This is because working from home reduces the frequency of natural social interactions and “water cooler” moments that help bind teams together.
At a time when everyone is also practicing social distancing, working from home can feel especially isolating and demoralizing for employees. This isolation isn’t just bad for your employees. It’s bad for business. Employees who feel isolated and disconnected at work have lower performance, lower productivity, and are more likely to quit.
Luckily, building social connections remotely is still possible. Keep your remote team engaged and your employees connected with these 7 simple strategies.
1. Turn your video on.
Video conferences can seem awkward and unnatural at first, but seeing people’s faces when they talk can make a big difference in how connected everyone feels. Video puts a face to the voice on the other end of the line, humanizing the connection and allowing for more dynamic interactions.
When you schedule meetings, include a video invite (Zoom and Google Hangouts make this easy) whenever possible.
Pro Tip: Need help making your video conferences more fun? Zoom allows you to customize your video backdrop. Hold a team Zoom background competition to see who has the best/funniest/scariest background. It’s a great way to break the ice and build team camaraderie from afar.
2. Share your calendars.
Scheduled team and one-on-one meetings are important. However, they don’t always leave much room for spontaneity or casual conversation. One way to create more opportunities for organic “water cooler” moments among your team is to encourage everyone to share their calendars.
Shared calendars allow everyone to see team member availability so they can check in at spontaneous (but convenient) times. Encourage your team to block off time based on their level of availability or focus. For example, when you have a client call or need to do deep focused work, your schedule can say “Do not disturb”.
3. Communicate regularly.
Regular communication is crucial for keeping remote teams on track and connected to each other. Managers should check in with their teams and individual employees often.
While the exact cadence will depend on your team’s needs and the nature of your work, aim to video conference together as a team at least once a week. Team meetings give employees a chance to collaborate, get updates on each other’s work, and build a positive group culture through natural conversation.
Don’t be afraid to let your team banter and chat for a few minutes before redirecting the conversation back to your agenda. Consider opening the conference call 10 minutes early to allow people to chat before the meeting officially starts.
Hold formal one-on-ones with individual employees as well. One-on-ones are a great opportunity to connect with your team members and understand what is going well, what challenges they’re facing, and what you can do to support them.
4. Host virtual water cooler chats.
When you can’t go to a physical water cooler, bring the water cooler to your team with virtual “water cooler” chats. The water cooler can be a dedicated chat thread on Slack or a regularly scheduled meeting on Zoom (or whatever communication platform that your team prefers).
For example, you could plan a 15-minute water cooler break on Zoom every day at lunchtime for team members to join.
Zoom also has breakout rooms feature that allows the host to split the meeting participants into separate groups. Consider hosting water cooler meetings with your team and randomly assign groups to breakout rooms to give different people a chance to mingle and connect. It’s a great way to replicate the experience of meeting in the break room or at the copy machine.
5. Schedule virtual happy hours.
Similar to water-cooler chats, schedule virtual happy hours with your team after work. Virtual happy hours from home are a great way for employees to connect casually outside of their work.
Try using an app like House Party, which allows groups of up to 8 people to video chat. This keeps the meeting more intimate, making it easier to connect with each other. Plus, it’s more casual compared to Zoom and other conferencing platforms that allow larger groups, which can feel more business-like.
6. Have fun with Slack channels.
Many offices rely on Slack for work communication. You can use Slack for team channels, department channels, management and leadership channels, and even channels about specific projects.
But it’s also a great place to host casual chats with your team and coworkers. For example, your channels might look like this:
Use channels to create a virtual place to provide work updates, hangout, share interests, collaborate, and laugh together.
7. Break the ice with team activities.
Team building activities are a great way for teams to bond and connect. While virtual teams might have to get a little more creative, there are still plenty of ways to connect and break the ice.
For example, consider trying some of these remote team building activities with your remote crew:
- Virtual scavenger hunt
- Netflix party
- Virtual book club
- Team fitness challenge
The right activities will increase employee engagement and help your team members connect meaningfully. Pay attention to the needs and personalities on your team to pick team building activities that will resonate with your employees and build on the team culture you already have.
Connection is crucial for creating happy and engaged teams. One study found that employees who had an opportunity to chat and socialize with coworkers for just 15 minutes showed a 20% increase in performance.
Whether your team is newly remote or has been telecommuting for a while, look for opportunities to facilitate genuine interactions, collaboration, and good old fashioned fun among team members.