Remote Work Culture: How Teams Maintain Connection at a Distance

Open-concept and hip-looking workplaces of the last decade have given way to DIY home offices in this post-pandemic era. This calls for a revolutionary shift in leadership and management approach to remote working.

What used to be an arrangement meant only for emergencies that lasted a day or two are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Continued border closures have meant that people are logging into work from time zones spread across the world, exposing connectivity challenges and communication gaps.

Additionally, the call to make remote working a permanent part of organizational culture is not new.

Many people – about 99% in professions like software development have been calling for a fully or partially remote working setup for the longest time.

Similarly, Freelancing has been on the rise for years now, with independent workers making up 37% of the American workforce.

In circumstances like these, communicating effectively with a remote team can seem like a huge challenge. Still, you can turn this lemon into a cocktail by following these simple yet effective tips.

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Why Communication is Key for Remote Teams

When working in a remote team, how you adapt to the company culture matters more than ever. It turns out that work culture is beyond a vintage bicycle hanging on a wall of a start-up that just secured its second round of funding. Instead, an effective work culture that fosters open communication and is rooted in reciprocity can do a lot to lift team spirits in a time like this.

Teams that communicate comfortably with each other are proven to work better together and do it with a greater sense of accountability and care. They are also more likely to complete their tasks on time, support teammates more closely with work issues, and collaborate efficiently.

Another aspect to consider is that not everyone has a dedicated home office free of all possible distractions. Work-from-home or anywhere setups are not uniform across employees. All the more reason for leaders to shine the spotlight on addressing communication gaps head-on so that there are greater equality and inclusiveness in how team members talk and collaborate.

Tips to Stay Effectively Connected in Remote Teams

#1. Establish communication guidelines and clear policies

If your team has only recently started working fully remote, chances are they are still finding their bearings around communication gaps that stem from it. As a leader managing a team in such a scenario, it’s essential to lay down clear communication guidelines and escalation policies to maintain team productivity levels. This is where a knowledge base can help.

A constant stream of push notifications from team chats and emails can be too distracting in an already somewhat distracting work-from-anywhere setup.

Should project updates be shared in team chats, or shared on email or a project planner? The norm used to be that teams and management would be communicating on two different platforms. The team would usually be going for more digitally savvy tools like instant messengers that fostered remote collaboration, while the management stuck with email as their tool of choice.

Bringing both halves of the organization on the same page is crucial to avoid loss of important information that could happen in the absence of clear guidelines for internal communication.

Notably, overcommunicating in a remote setup significantly counterbalances for the absence of nonverbal body language cues.

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One could be scrambling to get the kids ready for online classes, so all they could respond to your text about an important project update is a dry ‘yes’. This doesn’t mean that they don’t care. To avoid misconstruing something like this as rudeness, emotions such as confusion, hurt, and resentment must be shared openly.

Moreover, you could be saving a lot of staff hours otherwise spent on settling workplace disputes by standardizing the above in an employee handbook. I recommend checking out Helpjuice’s guide to employee handbooks to learn more about the same.

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#2. Encourage office culture and team spirit

While most folks went into raptures about remote working, soon, everyone grew nostalgic about watercooler chats and lunchtime catch-ups. Since teams don’t have natural opportunities to network after work, organizations need to create avenues to connect more actively.

For instance, inspire team members to take a break by inviting them to short 15-minute meditative meetings to observe a few ‘moments of mindfulness.’’

You should still maintain office traditions and observe birthdays, baby showers, and holidays as you did before going entirely remote. One way to do this to schedule mid-week video catch-ups to touch base on how everyone’s week is going, weekend plans, etc.

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Once your organization has the tech side good to go hands-down, you can start engaging company-wide staff in trivia nights and virtual socials like wine & dine hour.

This is the time for your HR team to shine!

Using tools like surveys to gather socialization ideas, feedback about return-to-work processes and communication gaps not only helps improve workplace satisfaction but also lifts staff’s spirits.

Encouraging team members to get comfortable with the idea of hanging out with colleagues virtually can help incredibly boost staff morale and company culture. As a leader, driving most of these initiatives will fall on you, so make an effort to focus on setting an example of good communication practices among the Staff.

#3. Invest in collaborative and task management tools

Luckily, all of the above tactics don’t need to exist in a vacuum. There are plenty of collaborative and task management tools to improve productivity and foster a vibrant remote work culture.

Rapid technological advancement has simplified remote communication giving distributed teams a chance to collaborate as well as those working physically in the office.

Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Webex are some of the popular tools offering as a full range of video, text, and call options, so there’s no excuse to not turn your webcam on in a strategy check-in meeting. Most, offer an opportunity to use virtual backgrounds so don’t worry if your home office is a mess, tech’s got you!

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#4. Have regular check-ins with your teammates

In teams, feeling isolated and disconnected is a common fallout of remote working. As a manager, you need to anticipate this and prepare to make yourself more available than usual.

Interpersonal communication styles could vary widely across your team. Unless you’re actively hiring for a cookie-cutter personality, you won’t have two teammates who communicate the same way. Someone might wait their turn to speak during a meeting while another could take up the entire talking space.

Frequent check-ins are an effective way to help bridge the gap between these styles and ensure everyone on the team has had an equal opportunity and safe space to contribute.

A simple question during team huddles and individual one-on-ones like, “How can we work on making the team feel more connected?” will go a long way in boosting mutual trust and remote work productivity.

One quick way to implement this is by leveraging monthly newsletters to communicate with your team. For instance, you could email your team important resources to learn more about working remotely, provide the exclusive course, and on the whole empower your team.

#5. Trust your employees and make them your advocates

When you can’t see the team and communication channels are entirely virtual, it’s understandable that as a manager, you might be slightly adopting a micromanagement style.

However, it is a colossal waste of time.

The mistake committed by most team leaders while managing distributed teams is that they don’t set clear and measurable goals for their team.

Trust employees by setting objectives for them without continually checking in every hour on what they are doing to accomplish them.

You can also encourage employees to turn into advocates by creating a ‘buddy system’ where they are paired with new hires to educate them on company processes, policies, and work culture.

The struggle to onboard new hires remotely can also be dealt with without trouble by creating online learning modules to familiarize themselves with your organization’s enterprise tools. Since they have fewer opportunities to gain in-person knowledge, digital learning modules encourage experienced employees to lead the way in sharing knowledge in remote teams.

Once you have the communication strategy pat-down, visualize it as an infographic that can be easily shared among employees – new and existing alike.

Remote Working Doesn’t Have to be Your Lemon

At the beginning of 2020, companies had no choice but to abruptly move to a fully remote work setup. Most didn’t have long term work-from-home support plans in place to ensure a smooth transition for their employees.

As the year has gone by, it has become more than apparent that this scenario is not temporary.

You can stay ahead of the game by working on long term remote work support plans for your team. Reflect on the past few months to identify gaps in implementing the temporary transition plans and use these learnings to craft an effective long term one that focuses on maintaining work productivity, building strong connections, and boosting team morale.

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