By Allison St. John, Lead Virtual Facilitator at Abilitie
Co-Founder, The Remote Leader Project
Just saying it elicits dozens of idealized perks both employees and employers dream of.
Yet, it comes with challenges and shadows that threaten vital human connection that most managers are unprepared to face.
For organizations, remote work means talent pools can be broadened to attract the best talent regardless of location, operation costs can be lowered with less physical office space, and their happy, remote employees are engaged and highly productive.
For employees, remote work appears to be the Promise Land: autonomy, no commute, an ideal work-life balance, working days in sweatpants, and the ultimate freedom to live and work anywhere.
However, recent studies show that remote work can lead employees to feel a greater sense of being left out. (Source: Harvard Business Review.) That feeling of isolation can then undermine team dynamic and individual relationships, leaving a manager to have to address trust and performance issues alongside daily work.
Fortunately there are a few simple proactive actions managers can take to fortifying the human connection in their remote team and to reduce the sense of isolation.
The first proactive action is to ask the right discovery questions in one-to-one meetings. For example, if a manager asks a direct report, “What would make you feel more connected to the team, me, or day to day information?”, the door is opened to let an employee express what they personally need and for the manager to deliver on the request.
Employees might answer that question saying that simply having more access to the manager/leader would really help them feel more informed on the day to day.
In a traditional in-person office, most managers could meet this need by offering a casual, yet consistent, drop-in at an employee’s desk and invite the employee to do the same. It only takes a few minutes every day to make a team member feel they can reach out when needed and are reassured that a manager is committed to supporting them.
The same can be done for remote teams, but requires creatively transferring an in-person habit to fit the parameters of the virtual space.
Instead of physically walking by, a manager can pick up the phone just to check in, or send a quick text or message asking if they need anything, or how their weekend was, or if they have a few minutes to do a general check-in. End result: managers use technology to make themselves available and a sense of support is created.
If a manager has a team split between traditional office and remote, make it a habit to couple the in-person check-in with the virtual one. After making the rounds at the office with in-person teammates, make the calls to the rest of the remote team before returning to tasks. Tying those two actions together make it much easier to implement regularly and create a new communication habit.
Asking targeted questions is just the start to fostering meaningful, long-distance connections.
(Learn about other specific questions designed to help managers make better connections with their remote team).
Here are 5 other simple ways to transfer common connection behaviors to your long-distance team.
Common Ways to Create Human Connection In Office
Have lunch together in the office kitchen or at a local restaurant.
Walk through the office for casual check-ins
Birthday gatherings in the office huddle room
Friday afternoon Happy Hour at the local spot across from the office
Co-worker walk-by’s at beginning and end of day to say hello/goodbye.
What Connection Can Look Like in Remote Work
Have lunch together from your home kitchen on video
Call/text/message/video chat to each remote teammate for casual check-ins
Schedule birthday team gatherings on video for the team to celebrate the birthday person. Also send flowers or a birthday cake from a local bakery to the teammate. If budget is limited, provide your team access to an e-card site for everyone to send birthday e-cards.
Schedule a virtual, team Happy Hour and encourage everyone to join on video chat with their drink of choice from a relaxed location of choice.
Send a text or chat message at the beginning or end of the day to say hello/goodbye. Create the culture that teammates can chat on video with each other as they set-up/close down work.
About Allison St. John and The Remote Leader Project:
The Remote Leader Project creates online courses to help managers lead thriving teams, no matter the distance. All courses are designed to deliver quick, digestible skills and knowledge that is relevant and immediately applicable.