While remote work has become a popular option for many businesses in recent years, the spread of COVID-19 has shifted this periodic luxury into an everyday occurrence with many businesses now required to have all or some of their employees work remotely to slow the spread. The Harvard Business Review describes the global coronavirus pandemic as the “most significant social experiment of the future of work in action” whilst Deloitte characterises coronavirus as “a time machine to the future”.
This rapid shift in the way we work has been an unexplored challenge for many leaders. For many workplace teams, a sense of connection has been lost and with it, a loss of productivity. A study by the Harvard Business School found that 78% of employees feel less connected to their company and 72% feel less connected to their team since working remotely.
Whilst many individuals and their families have felt the devastating effects of the Coronovirus pandemic, business leaders are also faced with the daunting task of building back a sense of connection and belonging within remote teams. It’s no secret that a positive team culture can lead to employee connection and happiness within the workplace. In fact, there are several studies that have shown the importance of employee relationships and its link to thriving workplace culture; a study by Gallup found that employees who have a best friend at work are more engaged and productive than those who don’t. Another study by Harvard Business School found that strong social ties at work lead to better job performance and lower turnover rates.
In my last article we discussed the importance of why face to face interaction is vital for employee connection, however with many businesses choosing or being forced to implement remote working arrangements, this is not always a viable option.
The good news is that there are things businesses can do to combat this feeling of disconnection and boost employee productivity even whilst working remotely. A positive team culture has always been the foundation of a connected team and with the right tools in place, this can be replicated virtually.
Below are three key areas to focus on when looking to build employee connection within a remote team:
of employees feel less connected to their company
of employees feel less connected to their team since working remotely
Encourage remote communication that feels like you're right there:
One of the best ways to build team connection remotely is to encourage regular communication between employees. In today’s day and age, there are many benefits to digital communication in the workplace, the key however is in providing an engaging experience that replicates or is better than the real deal- remember remote work can be lonely, so it’s important to make sure your team members feel a sense of belonging. This can be done in a number of ways, such as setting up weekly check-ins, daily stand-ups or even just making sure to have a virtual coffee break each day. Whatever method you choose, its important that we do not underestimate the influence our physical presence plays on our workplace culture. Once taken for granted, many of us who are working remotely can’t quite put our finger on “what is missing’ in our day-to-day work lives…. The answer is the unplanned moments shared with team mates where we engage in non-work-related chatter; it could be discussing what we did on the weekend or debriefing on the latest episode of the top reality tv program of the time.
When you can infuse these once accidental conversations into an online experience you can then truly master the art of promoting employee connection remotely. Try incorporating it in your morning video conference by sending groups of employees off to break out rooms to discuss non- work-related items. Try encouraging a relaxed vibe by giving topics to discuss such as:
- One thing your team mates may not know about you.
- Something you did on the weekend that made you happy (a favourite of my teams)
- Your latest Netflix binge worthy recommendation.
How, when and what to be discussed does not matter, the key here is to create the time and space for de-stressing with non-work-related banter.
Arm your Team with the Best Online Collaboration Tools
It has never been more important to have a reliable online platform to stay connected whilst working to maintain a positive workplace environment. There are many great tools available that can help with this, such as video conferencing, chat platforms and even social media. By using these tools, you can create a virtual space where employees can interact and connect with each other.
Some of my favourites include:
A communication platform that can be used for messaging, file sharing and more. The benefit of slack is that it can be used for both work-related and non-work-related conversations, which makes it a great tool for building employee connections. Don’t be afraid to get creative with this one and create a team channel like #JokeoftheDay.
It also creates a ‘real-time’ environment similar to that of an office so team members feel they can get in touch with another team member with instant gratification.
A powerful, cloud-based video conferencing product, Zoom is designed for easy-to-use webinars, remote meetings, video and teleconferencing, basically it does it all!
The benefit of zoom is that it gives employees the opportunity to see and hear each other, which helps to create a more personal connection. When we use video instead of just audio, we are able to pick up on social cues that we would otherwise miss. This is important as it helps build trust and rapport between team members. It’s also a great tool for online team-building exercises such as virtual happy hours or trivia nights.
A project management tool that helps teams to stay organized and connected. The benefit of Asana is that it allows team members to see what everyone is working on and provides a space for discussions around tasks. This transparency creates a sense of connection as team members are aware of what others are doing and can offer help or support when needed.
Each of these tools provide a different medium for employees to interact with each other and can be used in a variety of ways to build employee connection. For example, you could use Slack to have one-on-one chats with employees, Zoom to host morning meetings & virtual coffee breaks and Asana to create a space for team-wide discussions and collaboration.
Whichever tool you choose, the key here is education, guidance and of course common sense. Choose your handful of digital assets (one to support each form of communication- verbal, written and visual) and set best practice on when to use each. Furthermore, ensure your team are comfortable with each platform and its features so no one feels un-prepared to communicate with their peers with ease.
Practice Play at work
The final way to build employee connection remotely is to encourage play at work. This may sound silly, but play is a vital ingredient to building connection in any team (both remotely and in the office) as it helps to reduce stress, increase creativity and boost morale. It also gives employees a chance to relax and connect with each other on a personal level, which is essential for building strong employee relationships.
When I use the term ‘play’ in the workplace, I am not suggesting for your staff to ‘mess around’ and lose sight of what your business goals and objectives are. ‘Play’ is about incorporating tasks, processes and activities into the workplace that put smiles on the faces of staff, creates some laughter and generates a positive vibe.
Encouraging a playful culture remotely requires you to get creative. One way to do this is to create a ‘fun committee’ or ‘play team’, whose job it is to come up with fun and creative ideas to get the team interacting with each other. Encourage the fun committee to schedule weekly or monthly employee-led learning sessions. This could be anything from virtual problem solving games to online bingo or even just a weekly ‘fun fact’ email.
Finally, include your team in the process of developing a connected remote workforce. The best performing teams are the ones that have learned to work through problems and make decisions together. The importance of choice is linked with our basic human need to feel a sense of control. When an individual or team has options, they have control… put simply; by involving team members in a decision-making process, you create an opportunity for colleagues to collaborate, learn from each other, and work toward a common goal.
Steve Jobs famously reflected: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Building employee connection is vital to the success of any business, but it becomes even more important when employees are working remotely. When employees feel like they are part of a connected team, they are more likely to be passionate about their work and committed to the success of their team. Creating this culture remotely takes hard work and commitment but the results are definitely worth it!
Do you have any tips for building employee connection remotely? Share them in the comments below!