Remote work, in some form, is here to stay for many companies. All signs point to more flexible approaches by many employers, enabling fully remote or hybrid schedules for roles that can be handled off site.
High-speed internet connections and collaboration software can go a long way toward productivity and idea-sharing, but many leaders have recognized the need for fresh approaches to keeping teams connected and engaged.
We asked managers of remote teams to share some strategies and ideas they’ve implemented to strengthen employee morale and keep productivity in a good place.
1. When in doubt, overcommunicate
This all comes down to communication. “I try to set the tone upfront with one rule—when in doubt, overcommunicate,” says Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls. In a remote workforce, this means regular emails and video and conference calls. “I am trying to help my team to be flexible and open-minded. If small groups on the team want to talk through specific issues, like managing anxiety, kids, parents and so on, virtual coffee meetings online have been helpful too.“
2. Open virtual working sessions
“Our team has two virtual working sessions per week, where team members can hop on a video call and experience the environment of the office and being able to roll back their chair to propose a thought to the group,” says Rishav Khanal, CEO of Compound Career. These open working times have no set agenda but allow team members to be in each other’s presence during the day. “As a company that was born online, we struggled to find a way to keep team members engaged. This has made all the difference.”
3. Keep the "coffee run" alive
Grabbing a coffee with a manager or coworker can be such a vital way to connect. Trond Nyland, founder and CEO at Cordless Drill Guide decided to recreate this experience remotely by purchasing prepaid cards that he tops up from time to time. “This way it’s me paying for their coffee! Now it’s just take-away drinks, but we are still all together on the screen.”
4. Theme your virtual meetings
If virtual meetings are starting to feel rote and disengaged, shake things up a little. “Depending on the day or week, we have themed meetings,” Nyland says. “We will have our Christmas party with our Christmas jumpers, Halloween dressed up in costumes, hat day wearing hats and so on.” Nyland says the excitement of finding something to wear, mixed with the anticipation of seeing colleagues dressed up, truly distracts from the fact that everyone is long-distance.
5. Host online events
The same way your company might have thrown various parties or events through the year, get creative and find options for creating the experience online. “Typically, we have lunch together as a team once a month during normal times,” says Mike Begg, cofounder of AMZ Advisers. “To make up for that, we’ve tried some online events that the team has loved, like virtual cooking classes.” This gives everyone an opportunity to have some fun together.
6. Encourage your team to take time off
“Encourage people to take breaks, and really mean it!” says Massella Dukuly, facilitator at LifeLabs Learning. “There is a major struggle when it comes to work-life balance. Remind people to step away from their computers, eat lunch and use their vacation days. Hold them accountable.” When the line between work and home is blurred, employees can burn themselves out by always being “on.” Organizations are well served to foster a culture that respects boundaries and is mindful of the need for employees to recharge.
7. Dedicate time and virtual space to fun
“When you work in an office, company culture can be an organic process; your people see each other face-to-face, and so they naturally develop culture, relationships, inside jokes and more,” says Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding. Remotely, more intentionality is needed. “You should spend eight percent of your time on every virtual meeting focused on fun activities, like icebreaker games. If you make this effort, you can build a robust company culture online.”
8. Show understanding and compassion
It can be harder to remember that your team members face a variety of personal challenges when you don’t see them in person. “Be understanding,” Khanal says. “For the foreseeable future, we see that employees need a bit of breathing room to get their routines right.”
“It’s important to normalize and acknowledge the fact that things are hard for so many right now,” Dukuly says. “Get curious, and truly listen to your team. Ask how they’re feeling.” Uncertainty and large stressors aren’t going to disappear overnight, so it’s important to expect and affirm incremental changes. “Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable yourself. Be gracious, be flexible and be as transparent as you can.”