A few years ago it was an everyday coincidence in the workplace to run into colleagues on the way to the cafeteria. Now, many employees — and their supervisors — long for those kinds of informal meetings. Teleworking from home is a lot more isolating than working at the office. And if people don’t communicate with each other regularly, collaboration diminishes.
Truly, collaboration has become one of the biggest challenges of remote working. Research from Codegiant suggests that: 86% of individuals work errors due to poor cooperation. Even when everyone tries to get together virtually, the results can be mediocre. Anyone who has ever had a digital conference call knows that. How often do participants check their emails or even go out? It’s hard to focus or feel the same level of engagement during online interactions.
So, how can you overcome the inherent collaboration challenges associated with remote working and increase your team’s sense of belonging? Try following these four strategies:
1. Make time and space for relationship building.
All too often people get caught up in the idea that every moment they spend with remote teammates should be about work. They eventually cut out the “small talk” to improve efficiency. However, that’s the exact opposite of what you should be encouraging your team to do. To help employees overcome the loneliness and isolation that so many remote workers feel, you need to make room for them to connect as individuals.
Timm Urschinger, co-founder and CEO of LIVEsciences, is a firm believer in the power of relationship building. “Talking about topics that we consider ‘non-business’ is actually important for a decentralized workforce,” he says. “Team development and the time we spend on small talk are just as important now that we are remote as before. Leaders need to understand this and make time for these activities.”
If it feels inconvenient to organize regular online coffee breaks, try incorporating five to ten minutes of pleasantries into all meetings. You can also set up AMA sessions (that is, ask me anything) or encourage everyone to share their thoughts on prompts. Honoring, valuing and emphasizing people’s lives outside of work allows employees to form meaningful connections. These bonds are critical for driving engagement, loyalty, trust and retention.
2. Make sure all materials are easy to find.
It’s annoying for telecommuters when they can’t find what they need to do their job. “In fact, about 48% of remote workers say they lose time looking for information,” writes Leah Westfall, senior content marketing manager at RingCentral. “Adopt a dedicated knowledge and file sharing hub that employees can turn to when they need help.”
The important word there is ‘hub’. In other words, try to streamline your technology as much as possible. For example, maybe you don’t need five different systems that don’t integrate. Perhaps one or two systems are more feasible and everyone can work more efficiently and intelligently.
Without the right tech stack, your internal employees may not feel pain, but your virtual employees will suffer. The more friction they feel, the more likely they will invest less in your business. To avoid this pitfall, invest in technologies such as centralized collaborative work management platforms and project management software programs aimed at improving self-sufficiency.
3. Share your goals broadly and specifically.
Does anyone know the goals you hope to achieve in the coming weeks and months? If you haven’t already set SMART (or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals for each project or task, you should probably start. Once those SMART goals are established, you can take them to your team.
When team members know exactly what is expected of them, they feel more invested in solutions and their roles. “She [leaders] can also involve team members in decision-making processes to develop trust, increase transparency, and align team behavior,” writes the editors of Indeed. Give your team the opportunity to contribute to and change aspects of your original goals to increase their ownership and buy-in.
You may also want to set some high-level goals and ask your teams to come up with the steps to reach them. This gives employees the opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm, but also to influence what happens to their departments and the organization.
4. Shine a light on successful collaboration.
If you want to see more of a certain type of behavior, you should always emphasize it. “Employees are more productive and satisfied when they feel connected, valued and seen”, writes the team at the global employment website Monster.com. “This level of transparency creates a culture of trust and can motivate employees to work closely across teams to ensure the overall success of the company.”
The easiest way to do this as a leader is to recognize tasks well done thanks to a team’s collaborative efforts. Even if the result wasn’t spectacular, you may find it valuable to share unique ways employees have overcome issues related to the geographic distance between them. Your goal should be to help everyone discover new ways of working together. It’s so much easier for employees to learn from each other’s experiences. Don’t be surprised if you learn something too.
Remote working is the new normal, but people’s need for human interaction has not disappeared. Your mission is to use tactics to increase the effectiveness of collaboration, no matter where your team members live or work. That way, your employees can avoid one of the biggest problems of telecommuting and only reap the benefits.