Building a remote force has always had its advantages, such as access to a large pool of top talent. But the coronavirus pandemic has forced many companies accustomed to physical offices to start working remotely. Managers who used Donut Friday or Teambuilding Tuesday might wonder how to create a sense of community with a distant team.
“The Covid-19 situation will bring about permanent staff changes. Companies that are forced to hire remote employees should think about it. When the pandemic passes, some employees will not want to go back to the office. Some will miss the office and will want to return, says TaxJars CEO Mark Faggiano, whose company has 160 remote workers.
“But a significant group of workers will love being at home. They will resist going back. It will cause problems for some organizations. "
One of these problems is probably the development of a sense of community.
The following are four ideas to help your company build a community with its remote strength.
Promote open communication
Spontaneous conversations and interactions are common in a physical workplace.
A "quick" question about the latest marketing campaign can be a welcome break to get up from the desk, walk 20 odd steps to an employee's closet or office and talk.
This type of interaction is less natural with remote teams. But it is something you can promote.
First, consider using messaging software. Slack is an example, but there are many other team collaboration tools, including Microsoft Teams, Facebook Workplace, Fleep and the like.
Second, use status or even a shared calendar to track when team members are open for interruptions.
In a physical office, I might go to a colleague's workstation and ask a question at the worst of times. Maybe she was in the middle of an important project. She had sorted out her thoughts and was ready to focus on the task. Then I interrupted.
As a manager, ask team members to reserve an hour or two each day when they are open and available for synchronous communication (simultaneously).
Third, if possible, use video chat. For example, if the issue is an emergency or on a deadline, check your colleague's status and request a video call.
“Do you have a minute for a video call? I have a question about … ”
Allow social interaction
It is normal in a physical workspace to chat about friends, family and social activities.
You can learn about an employee's passion for golf while sharing the cream at a coffee station or discover that the graphic designer is leaving early on Wednesdays to train with his band, which plays the '70s hits.
Such social interactions can also occur in a remote workplace.
For example, imagine having a daily "stand up" meeting with the remote team you manage. The three purposes of the meeting are to identify what each team member completed yesterday, what he is working on today and what potential problems or stumbling blocks may prevent him from completing a task.
At the beginning of this important meeting – conducted via video – allows a few minutes of small talk. Ask people about, say, their weekend. And encourage the kind of social exchanges that are common in a physical office.
Then consider adding a channel just for social interaction in Slack or similar. The channel can be reserved for posts about hobbies and passion. Set basic rules for the channel, but otherwise let the team post what interests them.
The combination of video conferencing platforms (with screen sharing features) and collaboration tools like Google Sheets and Google Docs make it possible to work together in real time.
For example, the software development team meets with an omnichannel reseller in Idaho remotely each week for software projects. Participants include several coders.
Each team member can share their code or problem with a task. The other developers of the video call can join, offer code suggestions and even test code when the group works together.
In some cases, the developers may have a "breakout session", where they each work on a separate code section for a few minutes while the entire team loses through the open video chat. A few minutes later they jointly test each section.
Advertising materials, managers and even customer service teams can all work in similar ways.
Finally, the act of responsible oversight of a remote team can also help develop a sense of community.
- Schedule regular video meetings with individuals and, separately, the entire group.
- Ask people what they are working on and check on their progress.
- Honor work schedules and cancel only when team members are available.