The rise of remote work has freed an unprecedented number of employees from the daily commute and office gossip. There’s less need to keep the lights on at a central location, and many of us can get more accomplished without distractions.
Although working from home or in another remote location has many advantages, its isolating effects can cause problems with communication and collaboration. Well-managed organizations depend on collaboration between employees, departments, and vendors to run smoothly. When workers become physically disconnected from each other, it can lead to mental and emotional disengagement. Over time, significantly more than camaraderie among co-workers can be lost.
Your employees might not know where to turn for help, feel left out, and wonder whether your organization needs them. To prevent this from happening, it’s vital to find substitutes for social interactions in traditional office settings. A mix of creativity and conventional approaches, such as peer recognition and mentor programs, can often be effective.
Keeping everyone connected doesn’t have to be difficult. Some things to try include flexible work schedules, connectivity tech tools, and virtual team-building events.
1. Flexible and Alternating Schedules
Instead of having employees work remotely all the time, implementing hybrid work schedules can help reduce feelings of isolation. With a hybrid schedule, workers come into the office part-time and work from home the rest of the week. Department managers can structure hybrid schedules in multiple ways, including designating a day when all employees work in person.
Staff members still get face-to-face time by working from a central location a few days each week. On these days, they can plan to follow up on more time-sensitive or complex projects. Brainstorming sessions or other important meetings where non-verbal cues and in-person interactions are necessary can be scheduled on these days. Employees can then plan their solo tasks or collaboration that can happen via email for their remote work hours.
Be aware that hybrid schedules can sometimes feel disjointed as your staff has to switch gears between work environments. Urgent tasks might still pop up on days when employees are working from home, making instant communication critical. Managers will need tools to facilitate effective collaboration regardless of where their employees might be. Sufficient office space still needs to be available to accommodate staff members when they’re on site.
Nevertheless, an alternating schedule can give workers the best of both worlds. They can achieve a better work-life balance without feeling like they’re on an island.
On days when employees work from home, losing the daily office commute gives them more time to spend with family and schedule errands. When working in person, employees can continue building collaborative relationships. Either way, they won’t feel as if they have been forgotten and will have opportunities to communicate.
2. Connectivity Tech Tools
A study published in Harvard Business Review revealed that remote workers are more likely to perceive mistreatment and exclusion. Compared to their on-site peers, employees that work from home often don’t believe that others value their contributions. Remote workers are also more likely to complain that they don’t receive important communication about projects.
Technology may never serve as a complete substitute for in-person interactions, but it can help remote employees feel included. Collaboration solutions that integrate video call capabilities, instant messaging, and document sharing can help keep everyone on the same page. Whether employees switch between working remotely or on-site, they’ll know what’s coming next. They’ll also get a better sense of what it’s going to take to complete a project, and their contributions will be visible.
With employees who work from home, managers should plan on checking in and providing feedback regularly. This can happen through one-on-one virtual meetings using webcams and screen-sharing features. Virtual team meetings also give everyone a chance to see each other’s faces and provide input and feedback. Employees tasked with follow-up items can upload them within the software or collaborate on documents in real time.
Some remote and hybrid teams might also use collaboration and communication software to set up virtual meeting rooms. These are similar to digital networking events and conferences where attendees mingle online. Remote and on-site employees can drop into the virtual room for a coffee hour or midday break. Staff members can catch up with what they’re working on or what’s happening in their personal lives.
3. Virtual Team Building
When in-person events aren’t possible or practical, technology and creativity can facilitate team-building activities. Happy hours after work, meditation and yoga sessions, or virtual chats about lifestyle topics are just a few ways teams can socialize remotely. Whoever wants to participate can drop in or plan to attend during the entire scheduled time. Employees can either plan sessions as one-offs or recurring events.
Some virtual team-building events don’t necessarily have to occur “live” or on video. A manager or team lead might share case studies, videos, or fun exercises. Everyone on the team can post their thoughts and takeaways on a discussion board. The materials or exercises can be relevant to a problem or situation the company is facing. They might also just be something a team member found interesting or entertaining.
Virtual office rituals or holiday events are another way to bring remote employees together. You could organize a voluntary “Secret Santa” exchange where employees mail each other their gifts. Some employees might want to schedule a time to meet on camera to open up presents as a team. Other rituals such as digital meet-and-greets for new employees and workers’ families and pets can make everyone feel welcome.
You could also celebrate team milestones and accomplishments during video calls to recognize all employees. Given this chance to make others aware of their work, remote staff won’t feel quite as invisible. Having employees talk about how a colleague helped them can supplement a manager’s acknowledgments. While peer recognition doesn’t have to happen via videoconferencing, doing so will promote a sense of belonging.
Keep All of Your Employees Plugged In
While remote work offers many pluses, one of its significant drawbacks is physical separation. If you’re not careful, physical distance can serve as a roadblock to effective communication, collaboration, and professional relationship-building. Employees can easily lose sight of each other and how their work impacts the entire organization.
Managers and teams can connect using alternative methods to ensure the nature of remote work doesn’t get in the way. Hybrid schedules maintain some degree of in-person interaction and opportunity for face-to-face collaboration. Tech tools and virtual events reduce the chance employees will be left working in a vacuum and feeling forgotten. With methods such as these, you can reinforce a team mentality while keeping productivity and morale high.