Remote working is the new normal today. For many businesses, working with remote staff is highly beneficial. 95% of companies state that hiring remote workers improve their retention rates and that there’s a boost in productivity. However, one problem you might face if you’ve moved from an on-site operation to an online one is keeping people connected.
Social interactions in a physical office setting like hanging around the water cooler, eating lunch together, or celebrating a birthday are important ways to build a comfortable social environment for workers.
Remote working has made this kind of socialization difficult but not impossible. In this post, we’ll look at how you can get your employees to stay connected while working from home. When you support social interactions between employees, you’ll see greater participation, work satisfaction, and an overall positive environment that makes you an attractive employer to work for.
Use the right tools
When your communication is almost entirely online, the tools you use will play a critical role in supporting collaboration. You not only have to get people to communicate effectively within teams but also across the organization. I’ll share how we do things in my workplace and keep an upbeat environment where people communicate freely.
Here are some of the top remote work tools any business can benefit from:
A project management platform:
We use Asana to track tasks for individuals or teams consisting of a small number of people. This allows us to collaborate in real-time, share files, add comments, track due dates for tasks and set up new tasks based on each person’s calendar.
Chat-based communication tool:
Most of our communication takes place via Slack. Using a chat or messenger type platform combines the ease of social media communication with the security of an internal messaging system. In the next section, I’ll explain how we use this tool to improve interactions between people at work.
This is a fairly obvious tool that all businesses have. It’s not great for everyday discussions as it’s easy to lose a conversational thread and it can get very confusing when email replies get buried within each other. But emails can serve as important records for onboarding and other official processes, and also if you want to make formal announcements.
A video conferencing tool is a must to enable face to face communication. This helps make people seem ‘real’ to each other and also facilitates online events and conversations.
The tools I’ve mentioned here are great to start with. Depending on what you do and what your needs are, you could add more platforms or keep certain platforms only for specific teams and tasks.
Create channels for casual conversations
As mentioned earlier, we rely heavily on Slack for day-to-day conversations and task discussions. We have channels dedicated to each team and we also have and channels that are common for everyone.
Creating a ‘family’ channel is a great way to encourage casual and friendly conversations between people who work from home. In our family channel, people discuss hobbies, pets, and other safe-for-work topics. We also have a general and announcements channel for company-wide news and updates.
What’s interesting is that we also have a channel for marketing with members who don’t do marketing as part of their jobs. People join the channel to learn more about marketing and to get broad business tips. In this way, it’s possible to encourage learning within the organization and to support employees in helping and teaching each other.
Set weekly conversational themes
You can liven up your Slack channels and create interesting discussions by asking themed questions every week. These questions can revolve around hobbies, favorite movies, and just about anything else.
We also have a ‘Know your team’ post every week where we feature one employee who volunteers to share information about themselves. This has helped us learn more about people even when we’re working virtually.
Use the ideas given here to come up with neat ways to encourage discussions in your own weekly meetings.
Create virtual events
Having a weekly video conference for your entire organization will help keep everyone in the loop regarding what’s happening at work. I know that there are some businesses that make it interesting by having themes and asking people to do things like wearing funny hats or set up a fun virtual background.
To make sure that your weekly meetings are impactful and don’t drag on, use a structured agenda. We work with an L10 or Level 10 meeting format. It’s short and friendly as you always start the meeting by sharing some good news. This format covers important to-dos and allows team members to ask questions and submit ideas.
You can also host virtual events like an annual retreat. This year, we couldn’t have our usual in-person annual retreat, but we did host a virtual conference. For this event, we created games, had conversations, and created a much-needed break, which was especially helpful because we were at the onset of the lockdown period.
So far, we’ve looked at some helpful and practical ways to help remote workers connect with each other. But the success of these efforts relies heavily on the leaders who need to actively participate to make better communication possible.
A company’s culture is often driven from the top down. As a leader, you need to voice your encouragement when you see an active discussion. Listen to what people are saying and answer questions wherever possible. Be active on channels and respond to feedback, criticisms, and concerns in a positive way.
When you show employees that you’re listening to them, they’ll start to participate too and this will build a connected and engaged workplace even though people are working away from each other.
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