While COVID-19 has overturned many aspects of “normal” life in the past several months, one change, in particular—working from home—could be here to stay. In fact, most of the U.S. workforce seems to prefer this, with 98 percent of surveyed respondents indicating they want the option to still work remotely after the pandemic is over, according to The World Economic Forum (WEF).
There are a number of reasons why people value working from home, suggests WEF, including the flexible location and schedule, the lack of commute, and the increased time with family. However, the two main drawbacks are loneliness and communication issues. It can be difficult to feel motivated and productive while staring at a computer screen for hours without any human interaction from coworkers.
Not to mention, although video conference tools are useful, many people are burned out from what behavior analyst Laura Dudley calls Zoom fatigue. It’s not enough to just see each other’s faces in a virtual team meeting.
As the leader of a remote workforce, you need to promote the same feelings of cohesion and camaraderie that your team is used to in the office, while still honoring work-life balance. Use these five tactics to reinforce unity and minimize disconnect, whether remote work is a short-term solution or a permanent fixture in your organization.
Decide on Weekly Team Rituals
Teamwork tends to be more successful when each member has an equal sense of inclusion and acceptance among the group. You can foster this through rituals and traditions that everyone is able to participate in, no matter their various locations or roles.
“Rituals unite people and bring out deep emotions, creating a shared identity. Rituals decrease anxiety and improve performance. Rituals in the workplace can strengthen the organization’s desired behaviors,” suggest Stanford University researchers.
Some ideas for weekly team rituals include:
- Virtual coffee hour
- A collaborative Spotify playlist
- A weekly discussion topic
Don’t just choose a ritual and ask your team to play along. Poll your team to find out what they consider to be most supportive and implement an idea based on that.
Facilitate a “Virtual Watercooler” Dialogue
Office environments make it easy to strengthen morale and rapport because employees can chat in the break room or kitchen or at one another’s desks. On a remote team, these “watercooler” moments don’t happen organically, but it’s important to encourage open conversations and social connections.
One reason why this is important, suggests, Elena Carstoiu, COO of Hubgets, is to make sure everyone has someone they know they can turn to with questions and concerns. She explains:
“To make sure everyone has mutual support, implement a ‘buddy system’ between coworkers. Assign team members to each other, so they have a colleague to turn to with questions or concerns, or even just for a friendly chat with the isolation sets in.”
Consider creating a buddy system that shifts each quarter so employees have the support they need while also giving them a chance to connect with new people they might not otherwise.
Invest in Collaboration Software
In today’s accelerated business world, employees must be informed, connected, and aligned with each other in real-time. While this can be a challenge for remote teams, collaboration software expedites and streamlines the process and is also readily available.
“Companies that utilize team collaboration applications report significantly increased group and personal productivity, have a faster time to market, and execute projects [quicker],” suggests Wayne Kurtzman research director at the International Data Corporation (IDC).
When choosing software, consider the many features that would bring your team together, making it easier for them to connect on projects, challenges, and more. For example, collaboration software with built-in file sharing and file storage, along with chat and video functions, ensures that everything your team needs to stay connected is in one easy-to-access place.
Host Online Competitions or Team Activities
On average, remote teams have weaker interpersonal dynamics with their coworkers than onsite employees do, according to data from TINYPulse. Remote work makes it less natural to freely converse with one another outside of set meetings. Not to mention, when working from home, it’s easier to stay in your own lane and feel less obligated to have conversations with co-workers.
While unstructured video chats are an option for managing this potential challenge, group activities can be more fun and naturally bring the team together. Host a group hangout to play a fun game like Pictionary, Charades, Trivia, Bingo, or even a virtual Scavenger Hunt.
Not only are these activities enjoyable and low-maintenance, but they also serve as ice-breakers to mitigate any social barriers or discomfort.
Plan an In-Person Event to Look Forward to
This pandemic has thrown both work and personal lives off-balance, and since there is currently no end in sight, it’s likely that most of your team feels stressed and uncertain. The “mind likes to plan for the future, using our knowledge of past experiences to anticipate what the future will hold. [But] fear of the unknown causes our minds to worry about the anticipation of a future threat,” says Anisha Patel-Dunn, Osteopathic Doctor.
Uncertainty can also harm emotional regulation, she adds, so it helps when there is something positive to anticipate instead—like an in-person team reunion post-COVID.
If you’re not comfortable planning something just yet, use this time to begin polling the group and talking about what an ideal in-person meeting would look like. Conversely, you can plan a virtual company summit, paying for team members to set up space in their house for a multi-day summit, similar to what they might experience if you were doing an off-site summit pre-COVID.
Build Unity Among Your Remote Workforce
According to a survey from Nulab, 96 percent of workers improved their colleague relationships as a result of team building, while another 96 percent strengthened their collaboration, and 94 percent boosted their communication and workplace satisfaction. Working from home does not mean you can’t unite under a common purpose. It might take more strategic effort and intentionality—but it is possible.