As we’ve all come to learn, working remotely comes with a lot of benefits such as the flexibility to work from the comfort of our homes, the enablement towards a better work-life balance and the avoidance of lengthy commute times. On the other hand, remote work can come with the challenge of maintaining the social connection with our peers in the workplace. Working remotely can create a loss of connectivity as a result of not being physically present at the office and interacting face to face. The level of disconnect within each team may vary; however, the challenges of maintaining social relationships at an organizational level remain ever-present.
For leaders, figuring out how to uphold business continuity and optimize work flows are typically at the forefront of remote based conversations. Maintaining social bonds, however, should not be ignored in the process. Fortunately, there are ways to help re-create and maintain strong social bonds within your virtual team to encourage connectivity and decrease any feelings of isolation.
1. Encourage time for socializing
Spontaneous break room interactions and the typical “water cooler conversations” are lost in the virtual work environment; however, this doesn’t mean that your interactions with coworkers are limited to strictly business. Regular breaks and time set aside for socializing should be encouraged by employers in order to support team building and nurture social connections.
By scheduling time during your work week to connect with your team members through one-on-one sessions or team meetings, this time will allow you and your team to participate in casual conversation and discussions on a more personal level. To facilitate these types of conversations, leaders can be diligent in setting time aside within team meetings by implementing guidelines such as “no work talk allowed”, thereby giving their team an opportunity to discuss personal interests and activities.
With busy schedules, it can sometimes be difficult to find time in the work day to designate to social time; however, repurposing already available time is easier than you think. For example:
Working from home eliminates time spent commuting to and from work. Try using this time first thing in the morning to schedule a morning “coffee talk” with a colleague or your team
Virtual team lunches are another good way to get everyone together and talking, emulating the feeling of the break room
Set up alternative break periods throughout the week where your team can congregate in a virtual meeting room during typical office hours
Set these sessions up for voluntary participation to allow employees to incorporate socialization into their schedules naturally, mimicking the spontaneity of in-office conversation and interactions.
Another way to seamlessly add socialization to your work week is through weekly kick-off and round-up calls or video conferences. Start your week with a virtual team kick-off meeting to establish goals for the week ahead and to talk about your weekend and personal lives. Beginning the week with an opportunity to socialize sets a precedent for open communication, and will likely encourage team members to connect more often as the week progresses. Similarly, ending the week with a team round-up call or video conference can allow for everyone to cover what they’ve done during the week, what they have coming up in the weeks ahead and what their plans are for the weekend.
Beginning and ending the week with virtual team gatherings allows for a transition between team members' personal and work lives that doesn’t feel so black and white, and instead allows for social connection to be curated and maintained in a virtual work environment.
2. Fewer emails, more instant messaging/face time
It’s common to be in the habit of sending emails as your primary form of communication with your fellow team members. Email allows for structure and formality when communicating, but these elements are also its biggest drawback when it comes to feeling connected. Try instant messaging if you’re communicating with one person or a small group of people. Instant messaging is less formal, and typically allows for more natural and casual conversations.
Another alternative to email is to have a telephone conversation or a video conference. Sometimes the easiest way to communicate with someone is verbally; book a quick 15-30 minute video or phone chat with a team member instead of emailing. Not only will this feel like more of a social interaction, it can often allow you to speak more candidly and personally.
3. The Executives’ role in facilitating social connection
Lead by example to get your team motivated, especially when it comes to socializing in a virtual environment. Executives and leaders can invite more personal connections within their team by initiating that behaviour themselves, and by facilitating socialization in personal and exciting ways.
Create contests or establish online social forums for your organization to entice participation from team members. Gamification creates a fun environment while simultaneously encouraging more personal levels of interaction. These contests and forums are all the more personal when championed and played by your leadership team. This not only shows that your organization cares about maintaining social connections, it allows for more personal levels of interactions with your leaders and peers. To foster the social connectivity that your organization is striving for, emulating the behaviour from the top will always set a precedent.
Although maintaining connectedness can be a challenge while working virtually, you and your team can effectively use your virtual environment to facilitate social connection, and perhaps feel even more connected to your colleagues. Making the effort to personally connect with your team when you’re not all in the same physical environment can create a positive channel of communication that can translate into your attitude, work mind-set and productivity as a whole. Instead of looking at maintaining connectedness as an obstacle, use it as an opportunity to get to know your team members more holistically than ever before.