Remote work has been increasing for a while, but the COVID-19 pandemic certainly kicked it into high gear.
A reported 42% of the U.S. workforce said they were working from home full-time in June. And, those numbers are likely to continue—even across the world. Global Workplace Analytics predicts that 25-30% of the global workforce will be working from home at least multiple days per week by the end of 2021.
Yes, there’s a record number of people getting work done in their PJs. And while remote work offers a number of advantages with regard to work-life balance, it’s not without its struggles. One of the biggest ones? A lack of connection with your colleagues.
In fact, Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that loneliness is one of the biggest challenges of working remotely—tied only with communication and collaboration.
It makes sense. You can’t grab a coffee or enjoy lunch with your team members. You aren’t participating in happy hours or team-wide outings. You’re communicating mostly through emails and instant messages. And when you do hop on for a video chat? You’re only seeing people from the shoulders up. Even then, you’re still missing out on plenty of nonverbal cues.
All of that can leave you feeling pretty disconnected from your team. And unfortunately, that can tank your entire perception of your work. A report from Cigna found that our satisfaction with our work relationships is directly related to our level of happiness.
Needless to say, it’s a slippery slope. But here’s the good news: You can do something about it. Let’s dig into five remote-friendly ways you can continue to learn about your coworkers and keep those bonds strong—even if you’re all working from your respective couches.
1. Take a personality assessment
Craving more information about your team members? A personality test will give you tons of details about their preferences, motivations, and more.
Make it a team-wide activity to take the same personality assessment. Then, host a video chat where you can all take turns discussing your results.
You’ll learn a lot about each other (even more than you would if you were working in the same place). And even better? This exercise will be a ton of fun.
2. Create “user guides” for working with one another
In order to thrive in a remote environment, team members need to be able to clearly state their needs and expectations. But, not everybody is comfortable doing that.
This low-pressure activity gives everyone the chance to dish out important tips about how they prefer to work in a way that’s approachable and accessible.
It’s simple: Everyone will create a “user guide” for working with them. It can touch on things like:
- How they prefer to receive feedback
- When they feel their most focused and productive
- Which communication tools they default to
- What their biggest pet peeves are
Create a template that each team member can fill out, and then store them somewhere where everybody can easily refer to them and get must-have insights about their colleagues. Keep in mind that, even if you’ve done this exercise previously, it’s worth repeating with a remote context in mind.
3. Reserve time for one-on-ones
When you were in a traditional office environment, you were able to have plenty of one-on-one interactions without much planning. Maybe you’d spontaneously grab coffee with your deskmate or take a quick walk with a team member when you both needed a boost.
But, those opportunities for more personalized connections can quickly fall by the wayside when you’re working remotely. It feels like the only times you actually see your coworkers are team-wide meetings.
Change it up by scheduling some friendly, one-on-one catch up sessions with individual team members. Even a half hour each month for a virtual coffee will help you learn more about each other, maintain those relationships, and feel more connected to your team.
4. Step up for cross-functional projects
When you’re working remotely, it becomes way too easy to become siloed. Even if you’re keeping up strong bonds with your immediate team members, it’s increasingly difficult to stay connected to other departments.
That’s why it’s important to raise your hand for cross-functional projects that involve several different departments.
These undertakings will get you out of your team “bubble,” help you interact with people outside of your immediate group, and give some much-needed visibility into what’s happening with your company as a whole.
5. Schedule some social activities
All work and no play can send your team’s morale into a nosedive. Even if you won’t be indulging in some shared appetizers or trust-falling into each other's arms, you still need to make time for some social activities. A couple of minutes to catch up before your team meeting isn’t going to cut it long-term.
Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do remotely. Set up a virtual happy hour where you all grab your favorite drink at home and do a video chat (work-related topics are off limits!). Coordinate a team trivia challenge. Or, start a collaborative playlist where you can all add your favorite music.
Get creative, and involve your team members in coming up with activities your whole team will enjoy. You’ll get to spend some fun, casual time together—even if you can’t actually be together.
Boost your learning and stay connected with your colleagues
When you’re no longer working side-by-side, you can start to feel disconnected from your colleagues. You aren’t privy to as much information about them, and you feel like you’re all operating in your own universes. Even worse, that loneliness can creep up and throw your team’s attitude and morale off track.
Fortunately, you aren’t totally helpless here. There are plenty of things you can do to continue learning about each other and ensure you maintain strong bonds while you’re working remotely.
Put the above strategies into play and you’ll keep that team mentality strong—regardless of if or when you get to return to the office.