As humans, we are wired to seek social connections. While some individuals maintain their social support system through family, friends, or hobbies, for many, an in-person office setting provides a sense of belonging and community.
In response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, millions of working professionals transitioned to remote work, and have spent quite a bit of time apart from their colleagues and managers. This separation may be especially trying for those who are inexperienced working virtually and may be struggling to adapt to their new workplace reality.
Research shows that strong social connections are essential to the success of the individual and, consequently, can translate into improved work performance. So, how do you stay connected if you can’t be together? Here are five tips to foster meaningful communication with your remote team despite the social distance.
- Communicate more often.
When working from home, most interactions will occur virtually via emails, chats, and calls, so communication is key. Without verbal cues such as body language and voice tone, which are more easily conveyed in the usual office setting, it will be harder for others to read your moods and underlying messages. To prevent the likelihood of misunderstandings and confusion, make it a priority to update your team frequently, ensuring that your words are clear and asserting yourself if necessary.
- Schedule regular check-in meetings.
A way to facilitate this need for additional communications is to schedule regular check-in meetings with your direct reports and team. You might also consider increasing your normal cadence while everyone is remote. Cover what the team is working on, give details on any decisions that may affect the team, and allow time for feedback and open communication. Checking in more frequently can reduce miscommunication and provide structure and peace-of-mind in a busy, disconnected remote setting.
- Meet outside of work.
Building social connections with your team outside of work operations helps to foster friendship and team spirit. Think of your morning commute with a coworker, your office happy hour at the end of the day, or dinner with your team after work. While these occasions are on hold for the time being, schedule a virtual get-together or create a virtual "water cooler" chat to give remote employees a space where they can connect with their colleagues.
- Prioritize meetings and collaborations as video calls.
One consequence of remote work is that we can no longer see each other face-to-face, and, as a result, we may feel more isolated. Thanks to web conference and online platforms, however, this doesn't have to be a problem. Make every call a video call, no matter how awkward it might feel. Seeing another face reminds us that we are not alone, and that is vital to our emotional and mental well-being. It will also make it easier to pickup on nonverbal cues, leading to more effective conversations and relationships.
- Be flexible and understanding.
Everyone experiences a slow connection or a power outage every once and awhile. Many people do not have a separate office space in their home, so there may be a few interruptions to the weekly conference call from children playing or dogs barking. That’s just life. Likewise, be slow to take offense to miscommunications. With so much virtual communication, words may be easily misconstrued, and it’s likely that the other party simply made a mistake and meant no harm. Try to limit assumptions.
Taking Your Team Communication Hybrid
This time is unprecedented. We have had to adapt to new operations and circumstances at a moment’s notice, as so many people across the country face the same challenge of transitioning to remote work. To make this difficult adjustment smoother, have patience with your coworkers, and yourself.
“In many ways my team is more closely connected and collaborative in the current environment,” says Ed Bailey, online operations manager at Georgia Tech Professional Education. “As unfortunate as the current situation is, it has provided an opportunity for us to rethink how we interact, how we do our jobs and support our learning community. I'm hopeful that because of this challenge, our newfound perspective will develop us into better communicators, who are more adept at using our available technologies and improved employees overall.”