Working remotely wasn’t new to me when COVID-19 hit us as I have been working from home ever since I started my self-employment event career. And I lived through the drastic change of having worked in an office with colleagues to simply walking over to my desk and working all by myself at home about half a year earlier. One year into the pandemic, it surprises me when I hear others still complaining or whining about this remote working situation as they haven’t come around finding a way for themselves to make remote ‘work’ for them. Therefore, I will share five quite easy ways to stay in touch with your remote team and get back the social component into working from home.
Create and work in a virtual office space
I have mentioned the wonderful opportunities that proximity chat tools bring already before, and I am not getting tired of highlighting how they make virtual interaction so much easier. Tools like Wonder or Trember allow for natural conversations instead of scheduling a ‘meeting’ to have a casual chat. What is casual about that??
Choose the platform that suits your style best and brings the features you need most. All of them differ slightly but most of them are navigated very intuitively and guide your team visually and topic-related.
In Topia you can literally create your virtual office in sketch-style, walk through the office floors, meet in the kitchen for a chat, and even integrate different music/sounds in specific areas. However, there is no option to turn of your camera at any time.
With Wonder everything will look a bit more ‘real’, as you upload any photo you like to display as the background for your virtual office. Spaces to meet colleagues for some brainstorming or casual kitchen chat are created by naming up to 15 areas, independently from the background image. A big advantage of Wonder which I haven’t seen in almost any other proximity chat as of early 2021 is the option to set a conversation circle private. This means, nobody besides of the colleagues in the circle can hear or join the conversation. Pretty great for discussing sensitive topics…or sharing the latest office gossip.
As another option, I’d like to share Trember with you as it allows your team to pin/share images, presentations, or videos on the background. Like this, your virtual office gets some type of virtual walls where announcements and other information can be ‘hung up’ and visited at any time. A great way to integrate content into the virtual office.
Collaborate in Slack – instant messaging and MORE
For those of you who prefer a more written work approach, working and organizing your remote team in Slack or any other collaboration tool with instant messaging is a must. Be honest, isn’t it ridiculous to write your colleague an email that contains only one sentence?! Moving such conversations over to Slack will reduce your unread emails drastically when such unqualified emails no longer spam your inbox.
Instead, open up Slack, choose the person, group, or corresponding channel, and have all conversations organized immediately. Moreover, Slack offers so much more than simple chat. Use it for instant 1:1 or group calls to answer questions quicker than waiting for that one-word-email. Benefit from the instant organization boost when channels automatically keep all content regarding certain topics or projects separate.
Don’t lose the personal touch you built with your colleagues in the office, meet face-to-face again instantly online. Go back to spontaneously calling your colleagues instead of having to schedule meetings. In Discord you can see who is currently available in the audio channel without even having to enter the channel itself. Simply expand the channel, see who is in there, whether mic or camera are turned on, and decide to join the conversation within seconds.
Make use of app extensions to integrate in your collaboration tool and coordinate tasks directly from there. Assign rolls in Discord that make certain channels only visible to specific people, and link those channels directly in your emails. One click on it, Discord opens, and you are immediately inside the channel.
Collaboration tools like Slack offer immediate communication and you don’t have to wonder whether you are the only one sitting at the desk working. Check who is online, get in touch quickly, socialize or collaborate within seconds, and create an experience that lets you feel closer to working together in-person instead of with a stranger at the other end of the internet.
Click that video button often
One of the biggest changes for humans working remotely and separate from their team is the lack of face-to-face conversation. Suddenly, most communication shifted to emails, instant messaging, tasks in project management tools, etc. A lot more reading, a lot less listening. And if your team does have regular calls – a lot more interpretation as colleagues miss the facial expressions and body language that play such an essential part in human communication.
Make your calls video calls whenever you can! Especially in team calls, it is hard to follow a conversation longer when there are no faces to focus on. When I am in a voice-only call with more than one person (and the current topic is not that exciting) I catch myself getting distracted easily, eyes wandering to my surroundings, maybe start checking emails, or watering my plants, you know what it’s like. Once there are eyes that capture me in a video call though my attention is immediately focused on the conversation. Eye contact with the people on the call also reflects the engagement of the others and builds trust.
Over the past year I noticed two main reasons, why people on a video call did not turn on their camera: either they were from the Gen X or Boomer generation and not as comfortable with technology or shy sharing their video – in big contrast to most of the Millennials and Gen Z workers, who grew up as digital natives and are comfortable sharing their video at any time. Unless, and this is the second main reason, the person was lazy and not interested in actively engaging in the call from the start. And I admit, there are certain calls when I act exactly the same. When I just want to listen in and not be locked in eye contact with anyone, then I leave my camera off.
So, if you wish for active and efficient calls with your remote team, lead by example and embrace a video-on culture. Ask your colleagues to turn their cameras on; unless someone is sharing his screen and having bad internet connection, then it’s best to save the bandwidth by leaving the camera turned off. It may take a while to adapt to the new oh-god-the-colleagues-who-always-saw-me-in-the-office-can-see-me-on-screen calls but soon everyone will experience the advantages video brings to stay connected.
Introduce an online coffee break
Some co-workers just work it away at home while others might have trouble to keep the focus up because they miss the usual breaks that came when refilling the coffee cup in the kitchen, bumping into a colleague from the team next door, and hearing how it’s going over there. It doesn’t mean they are lazing around to avoid work. These coffee-machine conversations and informal chats contribute to a strong team spirit that is based on trust and friendship, and provides a sense of belonging. Also, we have to get up from our desk and/or give our brain a break to be able and increase focus on the next task again.
A way to bring back those casual encounters is by introducing an online coffee break. Your remote team can either meet in the coffee kitchen area designed in your proximity chat office, e. g. every Tuesday at 3 PM, or you can use tools like Donut (great extension for Slack as well) to have two colleagues randomly paired up for a 15- to 30-minute break on a video (!) call. This is a great way for remote teams that are spread all over the world or have never met face-to-face before due to pandemic restrictions to get to know each other on a personal level. When colleagues work in different teams and have no work-based reasons to talk to each other, create those hallway encounters yourself and bind your remote company as a team. You’d be surprised to see how this increases team spirit and collaboration between remote teams.
Allow for some fun over game nights and fireside chats
Another great way to stay connected – on a more personal level as well – are regular game nights or casual fireside chats. While colleagues may have spontaneously grabbed a drink together after a stressful working day, there is no real option to blow off some steam when working remotely. Maybe their co-workers don’t even work in the same city and they are all spread over different countries. To get the social component going in your remote team, organize a regular after-work gathering that is solely focusing on fun things.
Once a month or every two weeks, invite for a game night to play online or console games together, or have a casual fireside chat with the team on Fridays to disconnect from work and hang out online together, enjoy movies in a joined watch party, allow your team to order delivery on your account and wind down from a stressful week. Keep it a regular date so that all co-workers know when it will happen and can either plan for it in advance or decide spontaneously when they missed it the other time.
So, whichever of the above options you choose to keep your remote team connected, the most important factor to stay in touch and aligned is regular communication. Whether with weekly stand-ups for a team exchange in both directions, or a status quo email – one-dimensional and automated – to inform your team about mission statements and the to-dos of the day or week. Create your mix-and-match.
Get active and set up the suitable tech-environment for your team now. I’m happy to show you around the different tools and demonstrate what’s possible in each. Just let me know.
Stay safe, stay connected, stay motivated!