Working Remote: Connecting with Staff When You've Never Been Remote

Working Remote: Connecting with Staff When You've Never Been Remote

If you are of the opinion that the world has been flipped upside down, you wouldn’t be alone. For many people, this is the first time they have worked remotely and it can have its own set of challenges. With the overwhelming and sudden transition to remote jobs, people are attempting to re-create the social and professional environments of work from their homes. 

A software generally reserved for the working remote crowd, Zoom has been thrust into the spotlight as a primary communications tool for pseudo socialization. While it does help teams maintain face-to-face interactions,  The increase in social interactions can feel kind of like a full-time job unto itself! That transition may be jarring to some, and somewhat soothing to others, based on the remote friendliness of your company prior to the transition. 

There are several resources available that can help people manage remote work logistics. Some can help them establish boundaries between home and work, set up a home office, dress right (or from the waist up, let’s be honest here), and hold virtual one-on-one meetings.

Working Remote can be a Lonely Setting

According to the State of Remote Work from Buffer, 19% of people working remotely have reported loneliness to be their biggest struggle, second only to the ability to separate home and work life.

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Source: Buffer

For employees who are accustomed to working inside of an office for the majority of their day, daily struggles may be exacerbated. There are a number of different reasons why loneliness could be problematic:

Working Remote Can Lead to Burnout

A well-documented and common trap that comes with working remotely is the perception of longer hours. For someone new to working remotely, there is a delicate boundary that lies between home life and work-life that one must learn to separate. Failure to do that may lead to longer hours and thus burnout. 

Another common cause of long hours is that commute time is replaced with work time. Rather than taking in a podcast or warming up to work, employees jump right into work, racking up extra time at their desks. 

While a disconnection from co-workers might inhibit expectations around availability and productivity, resulting in unsustainable working hours, employers can help with this. Over-communicate expectations to your employees and set boundaries. Help them understand you do not expect them to be in go-mode 24/7. And if you see an employee suffering or having a hard time adapting, reach out and devise a plan together to heed burnout.

Learn to Disconnect and Reconnect

Recent studies have discovered a connection between reduced work performance and loneliness. This disconnect is stimulated by an absence of personal investment and information sharing, which can be brought on by sudden environmental changes, especially with work. Detachment from organizational goals and social connections results in dissatisfied staff.

This is why it’s important to build time into your day to reconnect with coworkers, vendors, and colleagues in your space. How? Take a video meeting whenever possible, even if it's for a quick check-in. Consider scheduling virtual lunches or get-togethers with friends and family throughout the day. Seeing a friendly face can help you reconnect in a situation where you feel yourself becoming further disconnected. 

Identify What Causes Creativity Loss

One theory is that working remote eliminates spontaneous interactions that transpire when you run into co-workers at the office, perhaps in the hallway, kitchen, or water cooler. Subsequently, serendipitous generation of ideas and informal sharing of knowledge dissipates, since there is no intentional attempt to engage with peers. While the argument can be valid that spontaneity kills creativity, much of the remote workforce pre-pandemic already falls under the category of creatives.

The nature of the task may be the root cause of your creativity loss. For instance, there are both creative tasks and routine tasks that need to be completed throughout the day. A study on remote work productivity gains found that for routine, and often uncreative tasks, people were 6-10% less productive. But in creative work, people were 11-20% more productive. 

Recognize What Drives Your Mental Health

Because of the social nature of human beings, tangible downsides can come about in the absence of interaction. There is a direct link between isolation and mental health decline. A majority of our days are spent working, so spending that same amount of time isolated can have a devastating effect on those who aren’t used to suddenly-changed circumstances.

It is important to be mindful that you are not alone when it comes to loneliness. Remote workers, experienced as they may be, naturally feel lonely in the absence of human interaction. Those working remotely for the first time must develop meaningful connections through the Internet, which can be a challenge. There are ways to counteract work from home loneliness.

How to Prevent and Overcome Remote Work Loneliness There are a number of professional and social ground rules to be mindful of when it comes to remote communication:

Over Communicate with Others

It is important for you to over-express ideas when communicating through video chat or email. Your assumptions should be stated, your sources should be cited, and your desired results should be clear. When in doubt, refer to the “Bottom Line up Front” (BLUF) technique, which involves leading with your conclusion for the sake of expressing your intentions clearly.

Video is a Default Choice

When feasible, try to engage with others through video calls. Not only does it promote transparency but miscommunication can be nullified when you’re able to see the facial expressions of co-workers. Hearing the tones of their voices will simplify the process of finding common ground.

Don’t be afraid either to use video to explain a more complicated request via email or chat platforms like Slack. Tools like Loom help others see what you are seeing by offering video recordings of your verbal instructions while reviewing your desktop screen, which can help reduce misinterpretation of a problem or something you’re trying to explain.

Empathy Goes a Long Way

Most people working from home are facing extra or new responsibilities, whether that entails taking care of our parents, kids, and other family members who might be quarantined or sick. There is also a sense of existential dread to deal with, not to mention the financial pressures looming over their heads. Be as kind and patient as you can with co-workers in order to instill a culture based on encouragement and trust, as opposed to shame and pressure.

It’s not just your clients or prospective customers who will remember how empathetic you were during this pandemic. Your employees will remember how you treated them too. With everyone all of a sudden working from home, their routines are completely different from what they were before. And because schools are closed, their kids are home too. This means they have to do their job and be a parent at the same time. That’s not easy. And that’s something you need to be mindful of.  

Ideas for Remaining Connected While Working Remote

What is the best way of going about intentionally connecting with co-workers in a lighthearted manner? Good question. Consider the following ideas:

Check-in With Co-workers

There is a  lack of serendipity that comes with passing a co-worker at the water cooler or walking by their desk when you work remotely. You will need to assertively reach out and see how people are doing. A reason to intentionally check up on them isn’t necessary. 

Although overdoing it is discouraged, it won’t hurt to ask a co-worker how they are doing from time to time. Such actions will help alleviate their sense of loneliness if they have one. In doing so, perhaps by email or an asynchronous interaction tool such as Slack, you won’t be interrupting their work – these people can respond to your message at their discretion.

Actively Listen to What Your Co-worker has to say.

Give them a platform to express themselves, and share frustrations and worries of your own with them. Trust tends to be established through vulnerability. Having the knowledge that somebody cares about another person’s well-being – as opposed to just their work progress – can make a big difference.

Also, listen to what is not being said or how their activities are changing or evolving. Many things people used to do to blow off steam or ease their anxiety have gone to the wayside. It’s important to be aware of the fact that not everyone adjusts as easily to being suddenly remote and in this instance somewhat isolated. 

Be Very Explicit When it Comes to Praise and Recognition

Work that is well-done keeps people informed, inspired, and educated as to why contributions matter. Communicating positively helps staff feel more engaged with and connected to their work. As does feeling like your contributions are part of a bigger company initiative. In fact, companies with engaged employees outperform those without by 202%. Employee advocacy platforms, like GaggleAMP, increase employee engagement by getting people in an organization more involved with the company’s mission. Acknowledging the contributing employees of your employee advocacy program is a great way to boost morale and keep employees engaged. 

Be as explicit as you can when it comes to quality recognition – publicly thank them and go into detail about the work they turn in. Use Slack, Microsoft Teams, or email to document the recognition and encourage coworkers to recognize peers, too. 

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Create Social Spaces That are Dedicated to Socializing

Unite all co-workers through Zoom or Google Meet to catch up and hang out! Holding a virtual team lunch, happy hour, or something unique like a yoga class is an optimal approach to creating meaningful connections. Social gatherings are a fun way to bookend a workday. Such actions can prevent remote burnout. Lastly, various tools, like the Donut offered by Slack, can pair-up colleagues randomly for small group informal chats.

This is a Team Effort

In the midst of this pandemic, more people are isolated than ever before, and that can make staying productive a challenge. It is imperative to connect with co-workers intentionally. 

As beneficial as remote work can be (in the sense that it provides flexibility, focus, and freedom in a unique manner), it is just as important to prevent co-workers from feeling alone when their colleagues are not physically close by.

The Keys To a Remote Workforce

Ramin Edmond

Ramin Edmond

Ramin Edmond is the former Content Strategist for GaggleAMP. Outside of work, Ramin likes to run, hike, and take pictures of Boston's best views. You can get in touch with Ramin by connecting with him on LinkedIn.

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