While everyone worked in the same geographical location, most communication happened organically – chatting over an office divider, popping over to a colleague’s desk to ask a quick question, or grabbing some coffee together and having a 10 minute catch up or gossip.
When people work remotely none of this can happen organically and communication requires a more organised approach. There are three levels of communication that need to be considered and managed.
Firstly, there is the explicitly organised communications – team meetings, client visits etc. The times when we deliberately gathered people for a purpose even when working together in an office. For this type of communication we seem to have been quick to move it online with Zoom or Teams and carried on as normal, which is fantastic.
However, it’s worth asking whether the same schedule of meetings works as well online? Do you need to look at the duration and frequency of those meetings to improve communication and connection for people working remotely? Face to face, a twice a week 60 minute meeting may have worked brilliantly, but perhaps when running them online shorter more frequent meetings would work better. Fifteen minutes daily could be better to keep everyone up to date and check in with progress and how people are feeling. More frequent meetings can increase connection to compensate for the lack of office banter.
Secondly, how do you replace digital water-cooler time? When people work remotely, how to do simulate those serendipitous moments in the break room, where people laugh and chat for 5 minutes while making coffee or grabbing a snack. Those moments that help us build connections and sometimes lead to interesting innovations. This is something you need to be deliberate about. In offices, this just happened. Remotely it definitely doesn’t so you need to engineer it.
You could try online tools like Wurkr.io that keeps people online in virtual rooms in the background so colleagues can drop in if they need to ask a question, or meet up in a virtual breakroom when having a coffee. Perhaps a simple slack channel where people can post when they are off to make a drink and others can join them in an impromptu video call. Maybe keep a permanent zoom call running that people can drop in and out as when they want to chat to someone. Find a way to create those “passing in the corridor” moments. They are not just an unnecessary side effect of office life, they are fundamental in building deeper relationships in high performing teams.
Finally, there is the social connections we build in our workplaces. Popping to the pub after work. Grabbing some lunch together. Heading to the gym before work. Like the water-cooler moments these are important rituals in developing team cohesion, trust and support. Find ways to reproduce these non work interactions while working remotely. Some organisations gather people together geographically for an extended period, like four days away together at a retreat. Some teams organise online socials like poker over zoom. You need to find something that works for your context and your people. There is no “one size fits all” and It can be different each time. Ask your team what they think, ask your peers what they do, but find a way to create regular non work interactions, it will have a significant effect on your teams performance.
How ever you communicate, find the tools and systems that support the team to get their best work done. What you have may work great, but remote working is so different, you need to try alternatives to find the perfect blend that improves engagement and productivity. Learn to communicate better.
Find out how well you’re doing on communicating with your team with the Free Culture Scorecard: Take the 5 minute assessment here