One of the biggest challenges with remote work is pretty obvious when you look at it. How do you talk to people? You need to chat with your remote employees, both for critical work-related conversations and on a casual level, to help them feel like an integrated part of the team. How can you swing it? Here are some options.
One of the biggest challenges with remote work is pretty obvious when you look at it. How do you talk to people?
In the workplace, there's all kinds of room for casual chats. You can swing by a cube and make a comment about the game, you can come across someone by the water cooler or break room and get to talking, or you can call them on the office phone for a chat. You can even send them a message to meet in your office (with the caveat that it's not a bad thing; make sure to specify so you don't give people undue anxiety.)
Pretty much none of that is available for remote workers. You can't drop by their cube because their "cube" could be a coffee shop or their bedroom, and it could be thousands of miles away. You can't meet them in the break room for the same reason. You might be able to call them, but many remote workers work without office phones. That depends on the role, of course, but it's not always available.
You still need to chat with your remote employees, both for critical work-related conversations and on a casual level, to help them feel like an integrated part of the team. How can you swing it? Here are some options.
We live in an era of cloud-based everything, so it should come as no surprise that there are possibly hundreds of different apps and programs designed specifically for workplace collaboration. Many of them only need authenticated user credentials and a token to link with the right organization, and your remote workers will be good to go accessing the same systems everyone else uses.
The key to a collaborative platform is having communication built into it. You want a platform that allows your workers to work together and use it to communicate their work-related issues and needs right there in the platform. It can be as simple as the messaging system built into Google Docs, or it can be any of the wide range of specific task-oriented platforms relevant only to a specific group or department.
Of course, it can also be worth it to monitor and see what your team prefers. You can set up Google Docs and encourage everyone to use the built-in chat and collaboration features, but if they all still prefer taking their messages over to Slack when they need to talk, just let them use Slack. There's no real reason to enforce a specific collaborative platform, just a collaborative platform.
Instant messengers have been popular for decades. Remember the days of AOL Instant Messenger or MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger? They're all retired now, but there are still numerous messengers available; the next generation, in a way.
Some of these messengers are meant for general or casual use. Discord, for example, is primarily a chat platform for gamers but has been adopted for a broad enough range of uses that people have been asking for a Discord for Business version for years. Some businesses still use it, but there are many other options as well.
There are also a wide range of other options, like Brosix, Troop Messenger, Rocket.chat, and even WhatsApp. There's something for everyone, if you can onboard your team and get them to use it.
One of the best ways to replicate having face-to-face chats in the office is to have face-to-face chats in the virtual office.
The internet and the state of residential connections are still flaky in some parts of the world, especially more rural areas of the U.S., so be careful about requiring this. It can be seen as suppressive of a class/category of workers and could even get your company in hot water, legally speaking, in extreme circumstances.
That said, if your team all has access to a decent connection, using video chat regularly is a great idea. You can use it for regular meetings and for one-on-one communication. Just make sure not to do it too often; otherwise, you're just as likely to drive people away when they're annoyed about it.
Don't forget time zones! Working with a remote team makes it easy to forget that your employees might be anywhere across the country or even in other countries, and that time zones still exist. You might think it's perfectly reasonable to hold a meeting at the end of the workday, but if it's 3 a.m. for your remote worker, that's going to be very detrimental to your relationship.
One of the biggest ways to build a social connection with your team is to have the occasion to chat about non-work topics, usually in the break room or around the water cooler. Unfortunately, with remote work, that just doesn't work.
The best replacement is a virtual water cooler. These can be pretty easy to set up, but there are a few concerns you should keep in mind when you're doing so. Luckily for you, we wrote a full guide on the subject just last week. Check it out right over here!
Where it gets tricky is when you have a hybrid workforce. The people who can chat in the break room might not feel the need to participate in the virtual water cooler, but that leaves your remote employees feeling like a secondary team or like they aren't part of the team at all. Unfortunately, "mandatory fun" might just be the best option, by enforcing participation amongst the full roster.
Really, it all depends on your team. Some teams take to a virtual water cooler immediately, while others might struggle to use it. See where your team falls, and figure out what to do about it.
Speaking of mandatory fun, team-building activities can often be quite enjoyable, but since they're mandatory, people feel some level of resentment about participating in them. If you can get over that hurdle, you can actually build a lot of rapport and camaraderie with your team, including your remote workers.
Team-building activities don't have to be tedious or annoying. There are plenty of options that basically come down to playing collaborative video games, solving riddles, or just having conversations with guided topics. For example:
The fact is, many remote workers like being remote because they like doing their own thing. They might be willing to participate in team-building exercises if they have to, but they're more than content to just do their own work and move on with their day. That might be fine for them, but it makes them feel isolated from the rest of the team and can make collaboration more difficult. Solutions abound, but you need to invest in them.
One of the biggest advantages of a primarily digital workforce is the ability to use incidental collaboration on pretty much everything. These days, it often feels like every platform, tool, or app you need to use has some kind of team or collaboration features built into it. Make use of them!
The risk of this is fragmenting information. If an employee has to scour seven different apps to piece together all of their responsibilities, it's easy for things to slip through the cracks. Therefore, you'll want to designate one as a central resource (like Slack) or even maintain a knowledge base for employees to reference as necessary. Again, every company is different, so customize how you use the tools available to you.
Depending on the style of remote work and the personalities of the people involved, picking up the phone might be the best option.
Be wary, though. Sometimes, a phone call isn't appropriate, either in time or in place. Calling a remote worker to discuss something nonessential can be disruptive, both to their work and to their personal life. You'll also want to consider providing a company phone; if you're making phone calls a requirement, provide a means to contact them, so they don't have to give out their personal number to everyone.
Some people will prefer a phone, but many – especially your younger workers – might prefer chat or video calls instead. Which leads us to:
As a team leader or business owner, your goal is to put together a team that works well together. Part of that is encouraging everyone to communicate with one another appropriately. Moreover, though, you may be best off if you spend time getting to know the preferences of your workers.
It all comes down to one tip: speak their language. That's not to say you need to learn a whole new language, but use the right tools and channels to reach people the way they feel most comfortable talking. If that's phone, email, live chat, asynchronous chat, video chat, or something else, invest in it.
There's a fine line to tread here, unfortunately. If your team is too varied in their preferred means of communication, trying to cater to everyone means you'll fragment your communication and make it hard to collaborate. On the other hand, if you force everyone to use a platform they don't like, people just won't use it.
The best option is generally a two-pronged approach. Set one central communications channel, which is the one the majority of people either use or just tolerate, for your formalized communications and collaboration. Then, use the preferred method for people when you're chatting with them one on one to help them feel comfortable.
You know what helps foster a sense of camaraderie and collaboration? Sharing a good meal with good people. One of the best ways we've found to do it is to get everyone on a group video chat, set up some games and ice breakers (or even just team-view a movie), and get everyone a pizza to share. Bring the pets, bring the family, and bring smiles.
That's why we've made our business model all about setting up distributed pizza parties. All you need to do is provide a list of who, when, and where, and we'll do the rest. Everyone can customize their own pizzas, we'll do our best to ensure they're delivered at the right time, and your team party can go off without a hitch.
It's super easy, too. All you need to do is click on this link to get started. What are you waiting for?
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