Post: Staying Connected While Working Remotely

concept picture of a girl working from home showcasing the importance of staying connected while working remotely.

Despite competing interests in the battle for employees to return to the office, remote work is here to stay. Telework simply makes sense. Technology renders the daily commute moot, and the planet needs fewer commuters to slow climate change. Keeping parents away from their children for eight to 10 hours or more daily has created a Noah’s ark-sized flood of social and economic problems. 

For all its benefits, working from home makes it harder to feel a part of your organization, and managers aren’t insincere by citing team-building as a reason to return to the office (RTO). However, people will likely spend more time out of the office than in it in coming years, even if they maintain spaces for meetings and collaboration. Work is also a traditional way of mingling, and you could feel lonely and disengaged. Here’s how to connect with your co-workers when you work remotely. 

concept photo of someone working from home, sitting in front of a desk, drinking a cup of coffee ready to make some notes on their pad.

The Importance of Staying Connected While Working Remotely

You spend more time at work than anywhere else. While the old rule was that it cost you one-third of your time, that figure didn’t factor in commutes or the demands placed on a two-income family. Life after work often consists of running errands and tending to cooking, cleaning and child-rearing until you tumble into bed, leaving little time for social engagement. The result of this modern lifestyle is a loneliness epidemic that has serious implications for mental and even physical health. 

Building friendships in the competitive work world also presents issues, but it’s also the only place many adults mingle with their peers. While remote work presents some challenges, it also has team-building advantages that managers should consider when making RTO decisions. 

Advantages of Remote Work for Forming Collegial Connections 

Believe it or not, some people connect better from behind the screen. Meeting co-workers virtually eliminates some of the competitive edge that can turn modern offices toxic. There’s no gossiping over who’s wearing what or seeing who — Slack channels capture subtle insults in writing, demonstrating concrete behavioral patterns management can address. 

Furthermore, remote work is far more inclusive to people with disabilities than the office. Healthy people don’t realize the extra time and effort it takes to prepare for the commute, draining their energy and making them less productive once they arrive at the office. They may be too exhausted for happy hours and participate less in team-building activities, singling them out as “negative Nancies” when they’re simply sick.

Challenges With Connection When Working Remotely

Of course, it is harder to build a connection when you can’t swing by each other’s desks to chat over coffee. Sometimes, electronic communication can hinder team-building. It can feel more intrusive — everything you do is recorded. While it raises accountability, monitoring everything you do and say is exhausting. Zoom fatigue is real and produces measurable signs of stress that impact your health. 

Furthermore, much of human communication is nonverbal. While facial expressions show through the screen, it’s often impossible to tell if people are responding to what’s said or a funny tidbit they noticed on a different monitor. Electronic communication can sometimes seem stilted and impersonal, especially to natural extroverts who convey a lot through smiles, jokes and pats on the back. 

8 Activities to Help You Connect With Co-Workers Remotely

What can you do to overcome the hurdles of electronic communication and connect with your co-workers remotely? The following eight activities can make you feel closer. 

1. Engage in Virtual Small Talk 

Many people claim to hate small talk, but how else should you approach a conversation with a stranger? Every friendship starts somewhere, even if you keep things strictly collegial and never become BFFs. 

Virtual small talk might be easier for some. After all, written communications offer plenty of time to revise for tone, and modern editing tools like Grammarly help you discern if you come off as forceful or grumpy. Zoom meeting lengths are naturally limited by biology, giving you time to regroup and splash water on your face after challenging interactions before leaping into the next.

2. Attend Virtual Events 

Many companies that remain remote have regular virtual events where co-workers can mix and mingle. The Zoom happy hour has replaced the real deal, and such meetups can be way more engaging than chatting at the corner bar, especially if you don’t drink. There’s multimedia engagement for those who are more visual than auditory, and you might do anything with your team, from mixing up a healthy recipe to practicing yoga instead of sipping a brewski. 

Time zones can sometimes present issues if your team works from different ones. In the U.S., the best time for a virtual meetup is earlier in the day — around 2 p.m. EST. It’s convenient on both the East and West coasts and accounts for some overseas members, although you might still run into trouble if you have folks dialing in from Beijing. 

3. Turn on and Look at the Camera

Remember, much of communication is nonverbal. A simple way to feel more connected with your colleagues is to turn on your camera during meetings — and look at it. Looking at the lens gives the impression that you’re making eye contact with the other person from behind the screen. 

4. Send Kudos 

The best virtual workplaces have systems in place for co-workers to recognize one another for a job well done. If yours lacks one, step up and suggest developing it — it might earn you some kudos from the brass.

However, even without a formal system, it takes little to send an email reading, “Hey, thanks for your help with that X project. I couldn’t have done it without your assistance.” Working behind a screen can make it feel like your efforts don’t matter, as if your work product disappears into a black hole. Receiving feedback on how it meaningfully affects others makes you feel more engaged as a part of the team. 

5. Share Photographs 

Those working in person often learn a bit about their co-workers by noticing pictures on their desks. “Is that your little one?” is an obvious icebreaker if you spy a picture of a toddler pinned up in your colleague’s cubicle. 

The virtual medium is perfect for sharing photographs. Sending them via email is nice — adding them to a team social wall is even better. Create a virtual collage with your colleagues, sharing happy insights into your lives outside of work. 

6. A Little Friendly Competition 

Competing in the workplace can create a toxic environment. All workplaces outside of individually run sole proprietorships are collaborations — when the team succeeds, everyone should win. 

However, people love the thrill of friendly competition, which is why sports are so popular. Bring an element into your workplace by playing virtual games together. Such a break can provide valuable tension relief after your team completes a tough project. 

7. Try a Virtual Lunch Break 

Even when you work from home, you need to eat. One of the reasons so many people love telecommuting is that it improves their health, allowing them to dig into healthy meals in their kitchen instead of takeout or prepackaged microwave dinners. However, you can still share cooking space with a colleague. Bring your computer into the kitchen and chat over lunch, just like you would in the office breakroom. 

8. Start a Reading Circle 

Many introverts share a mutual love of remote work and books. Therefore, a reading circle is the perfect way to connect in a telework environment. Send out invitations that include a survey of possible titles to choose from, and then pick a time to meet. Set a few ground rules to keep the discussion going, such as requiring members to finish the book before joining to avoid spoilers. 

Connecting With Remote Co-Workers

Work has historically been the traditional means by which adults interact with their peers. While the shift to remote work has multiple advantages, it can contribute to the loneliness epidemic unless team members take proactive steps to prevent it. Check also our latest blog post 17 Tips for Working Productively and Staying Fit While Working From Home

Try these eight tips to connect with co-workers when you work remotely. You’ll feel greater camaraderie with your team and more engagement with your work.

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