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At the beginning of 2020, working from home was often viewed by employers and workers as a privilege that few were able to take advantage of regularly. By the end of this year, remote work has become an accepted and, at times, a dull reality of life as the COVID-19 pandemic continues on.

While working from home offers employees new benefits such as a more flexible schedule (and often a more comfortable wardrobe), many have reported feeling mentally and socially disconnected from their team or organization. As impromptu discussions in the hallway and the ‘meeting after the meeting’ are no longer available socialization options to employees, these feelings of isolation are understandable and natural side effects of working in virtual silos. However, if these feelings of detachment are left unchecked, they can lead to obstacles in employee productivity and overall happiness, which may ultimately result in major inefficiencies or unwanted employee turnover.

Today I’ll cover:

  • Creating the right environment for remote employees
  • Ideas for strengthening team camaraderie in the virtual environment
  • Fostering an Encouraging Atmosphere

Overcommunicate In Order to Avoid Confusion

Working from home has required employees to be more proactive and intentional when communicating with one another in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. In a remote environment, communication between colleagues is often reduced to written messages via email, text, or chat. Without vocal cues or body language to contextualize the sentiment of your message, recipients can easily misinterpret your meaning or intention, leaving them feeling anxious or frustrated. In order to negate these unnecessary misunderstandings, it is important to be extremely clear about what you’re trying to say.

For example, a short email that reads “Please do this again” may sound like a straightforward message, but its curt nature may be interpreted by the recipient as “The work you submitted was subpar and I am frustrated that you’re not getting this right.” Instead, surround your directive with encouraging language to both build the confidence of the recipient while being specific about what parts of the work need to be redone. This is especially important when a power dynamic is involved, i.e. a conversation between a manager and their employee. A more productive version of your email could read “I thought you did a nice job with this work project. However, XYZ needs to be redone in order to [insert rationale].” By being mindful of your word choice now, employers can avoid addressing unnecessary concerns or fears their employees may be having later on.

Make Meetings More Meaningful & Avoid Meeting Fatigue

While in-person interactions are currently prohibited in the interest of employee health and safety, virtual interactions through streaming video are a great way to foster connection between employees. Many companies have invested in software solutions like Zoom or Microsoft Teams that teammates can access from home to provide a safe alternative to in-person meetings. However, many employees can choose to turn their camera off during meetings. In order to create clearer channels of communication,

consider requiring everyone to turn their cameras on during virtual meetings to increase attentiveness and foster more authentic conversation. Keep in mind that meeting fatigue is a real phenomenon, and remote work can exacerbate this frustration since all meetings are now conducted in the same virtual and physical space. While managers may intend for increased virtual face time to foster a sense of connectedness, too many virtual meetings can ironically work against efforts to increase group affinity, resulting in employees feeling mentally drained and less willing to meaningfully contribute to the group discussion. Try to reduce unnecessary meetings to avoid leaving your employees feeling burnt out.

Dedicate Time for One-on-One Conversations

Finally, there may be questions or concerns that employees don’t feel comfortable sharing in a group setting. As busy managers notoriously have full schedules during the workday, it can be hard for employees to find time to bring their concerns to their manager’s attention, and they may even question whether their topic is important enough to warrant a discussion. It’s important that employees feel heard and valued, especially in a remote setting where messages can easily be misconstrued. Managers can be sure that employees are supported by holding dedicated and recurring virtual office hours where employees are welcome to bring up topics important to them. By proactively making themselves virtually available to employees, managers can forge stronger connections with their direct reports and strengthen team buy-in.

Steps to Strengthen Your Team’s Bond

Making time and virtual space available for socialization is crucial to retaining a strong and connected workforce. In order to maintain trust and a sense of camaraderie among employees, managers have been forced to get creative with group interactions that are outside the scope of work-related tasks and projects.

High-energy and engagement group interactions like virtual trivia sessions, games, and quizzes can enable team members to create deeper ties with one another. Examples of fun and easy games are “two truths and one lie” or home scavenger hunts. For a more relaxed approach, managers can hold virtual happy hours or craft nights on a weekly or monthly recurring basis, where team members can get together to participate in a shared and casual activity. To keep employee morale high, introduce an interesting question that all attendees must answer or ask team leads to acknowledge a specific employee for the good work they have recently done. Note that employers don’t have to facilitate all of these informal meetings either- in fact, managers may find that extending ownership of workplace culture to employees helps to foster a stronger sense of unity (and additional creative ideas).

Finally, it’s important to repeatedly remind your management team and employees that we are living through an unexpected time during which whole organizations have had to make accelerated and major adjustments in order to continue functioning. While some organizational expectations may remain the same, other look very different. For instance, work must still be submitted on time but wearing a sweatshirt to a meeting is now permissible. Emphasize patience and understanding to managers and employees alike, as each individual is dealing with their own unique set of professional and personal challenges in the face of remote work during this global pandemic.

Key Takeaways

Remote work is not without its challenges. However, managers armed with proactive solutions and creative ideas for team building are better situated to foster a strong sense of employee connection in the face of social isolation. Remember:

  • Leverage clear and careful language in emails/texts and use video when possible to contextualize your message and avoid misunderstandings
  • Look for creative ways to foster a sense of unity on your team through virtual interaction without creating meeting fatigue or employee burnout
  • Extend grace to all and make yourself available to employees to increase feelings of trust and validation in employees

Speak with Launchways for more virtual workplace guidance, including resources for employees who are struggling with isolation during COVID.

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