Many of today’s remote teams have over a year of full-time remote operations under their belts, and a significant number of those include individuals who have never met their coworkers in person. That’s not inherently a problem – plenty of businesses have had remote teams or fostered collaboration across cities and time zones for years. For those businesses that are used to having teams in close connection, however, this can be a real challenge. Luckily, there are ways to keep your team connected, or to build initial connections, no matter where workers are located.
Encourage Small Talk
No one wants to spend more time on Zoom meetings or linger after work for virtual happy hour, but small talk is critical to team cohesion. One way to facilitate this is by encouraging team members to connect via a live chat platform like Slack – and to ensure they have access to a channel that doesn’t include their managers. You might also consider sending occasional socially-focused emails that fill in for watercooler chatter.
Appreciation is a powerful tool, and doesn’t only need to come from supervisors. In fact, it can be even more powerful when it moves horizontally. Create fun ways for team members to say thank you or recognize each other for achievements. Even just a few small words of praise can make people feel like they’re part of a community, rather than cogs in a machine.
Create Room To Collaborate
Another important aspect in team cohesion, even among people who don’t know each other, is learning a little more about how people think and work, and that can be hard to do remotely. If you can create opportunities for people to share their thought processes, such as a collaborative notetaking environment for working on projects, they will steadily learn more about each other, gain insights into each other’s strengths, and grow as a group.
In the same way that small talk is critical to team formation, lack of clarity can drive conflict even if it’s just a matter of small misunderstandings. As a leader, it’s your job to prevent those issues before they can arise by setting clear expectations and creating protocols for communication practices.
If there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, should they call a manager or send an email marked urgent? If there’s conflict, should team members address it amongst themselves first, or bring the issue directly to a manager? When you address these issues and lay out guidelines before there’s a problem, you make way for better relationships.
Your remote team members don’t have to be best friends – in fact, they shouldn’t be. Instead, what managers should emphasize for remote teams is a congenial working relationship, and one that encourages the kind of free exchange of ideas and synergy that you would see in a traditional office. That kind of connection allows people to do their best work, but when it comes to remote teams, it just takes a little more effort to help them reach that point.
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