In the last blog post, we embraced the challenges of remote and hybrid teams and explored the unique opportunities they present. By addressing fundamental issues that so quickly arise from the nature of remote work, remote and hybrid teams can gain the advantages of deliberate, thoughtful communication, and a meaningful drive to consider company values.
It takes a good deal of effort for remote teams to feel connected though. Thrown into remote work almost overnight, many employees, myself included, were left unprepared and unequipped with proper workspaces. Many of us spent blurry days in the bedroom or on the kitchen table hunched over our laptops. Video calls became the only source of interaction between coworkers, and it didn’t take long before loneliness started creeping in.
In this blog, we explore how remote and hybrid teams can reestablish the shared physical space that is lost, and increase interactions to create opportunities for broader relationship building. Through this, leaders will ultimately cultivate a winning team culture and build stronger teams.
In a shared, physical space, we can simply walk over to tap our co-worker on the shoulder and have a chat. A remote team unfortunately does not have this luxury, so miscommunication and work loneliness can become rampant. Funny how we often take this daily physical interaction for granted – it’s so easy to be lulled into a false sense of security around communication just because we have our co-workers sitting right next to us.
This flips the communication weakness among remote team members into a major strength, as remote teams work harder to put in extra, deliberate effort to ensure that they are all communicating well.
There are plenty of physical spaces that catalyses varied forms of employee interaction such as: the office area, break room area, conference room, water cooler etc. To make up for those places virtually, a remote team will have to explore and incorporate different online tools to facilitate those varied employee relationships and interactions. This requires deliberate thought on how the team needs to communicate.
Think about it: Just because a team shares one physical space, it does not mean that all conversations should happen in only one virtual space. For example, having one large team chat simply doesn’t work. Imagine posting a company-wide update in the chat, only for it to be buried under tons of messages about your colleague’s new pet snake. A lot of time will be spent playing catch-up, and the chat will end up like a game of telephone – with the message degrading every time it was brought up by someone different.
To avoid such issues, teams can utilise tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, and create specific chats for particular team members and topics. That way, information can easily be referred to and teams are provided with an appropriate space to have water cooler conversations (like talking about Jane’s new pet snake) without the risk of burying important questions and information. We love this guide from Slack and think you will find it useful.
Here at Remote Social, we are using a #random Slack channel for water cooler conversations, #general for company-wide announcements, Gmail for ‘serious’ conversations or documentations, Google Meet for video conferencing and one-on-one calls, Confluence as an internal Wiki, and Trello for project management.
The absence of informal social interaction and feelings of isolation can also cause employees to feel less ‘belonging’ to their team and organisation, which may even result in increased intention to leave the company. How then can leaders create unity within remote teams and eliminate the “cog in the machine” feeling that causes discord and disconnection?
Dr Ben Hamer, Future of Work Lead in PwC Australia, explained that “people need to feel needed… and feel like they belong as part of a team”. This was further supported by a survey he conducted, which showed that people feel more connected to colleagues that they interact with regularly, despite social distancing restrictions mostly keeping people apart.
A connected team is a motivated team – a strong connection with teammates creates an obligation for employees to do well.
To forge that social connection among team members, leaders of remote and hybrid teams can introduce team games and activities to provide communication while reinforcing a shared team identity. These activities can also mitigate the engagement-draining challenges of a remote or distributed workforce. Remote and hybrid teams need reminding – especially since it’s coming up to almost a year now for some of us whose work environments have shifted due to the pandemic – that we can still have a laugh at work, create authentic connections and come up with radically new ideas and processes together.
At Remote Social, we see culture as the way people interact with each other, driven by the values they hold. A great and simple way our team encourages interaction is by scheduling games and activities available on the Remote Social Hub throughout the week. By building strong teams through play, shared experiences, and organic interactions, it develops a culture that reinforces the important role each employee plays in the organisation – which increases visibility and promotes inclusivity.
Teams can schedule a quick virtual game of Trivia before a meeting, or start a daily drawing challenge. It provides employees with an opportunity to have informal conversations and get their creative juices flowing. It’s also great fun admiring everyone’s drawings as it nurtures a sense of unified identity and collaboration.
At the end of the day, we all want to have meaningful connections with our coworkers, rather than purely transactional relationships. We can’t underestimate the importance of those 10, 15 minutes a day spent chatting by the water cooler, so leaders have to be proactive in bringing them back into the workday: either through a quick round of Trivia, or by asking Jane about her pet snake in the #random Slack channel. There are plenty of opportunities to trial new ideas and experiment with ways to cultivate positive company culture – we just need to work smart, and play hard.
…and what exactly should you be investing in?
New ways of work require new approaches to help leaders connect with their team.