“Remote work” has been a major theme for all businesses over the last year. While COVID was an accelerant, remote work has become more common with every passing year. After all, why wouldn’t companies want to avoid massive office overheads, while freeing up commute times and making their staff happier?
Research shows that businesses lose $600 billion a year to workplace distractions, and that remote workers are 35% to 40% more productive than their in-office counterparts. This very obvious win-win for companies and their workers means that fully remote work is going mainstream, fast.
At Lab5, our team has worked from home offices since before COVID. We have clients all over the world, and in the past, many of us were on the road up to 50% of the time. Because of this, it has always made the most sense for us to be agile about our work location.
While COVID didn’t drastically change the logistics of where and when we work, it did serve as a reminder to stop and reflect. We renewed focus on connecting our teammates and clients from distributed locations. Here’s what we did, and what we discovered.
You don’t have to travel to break the monotony of business-as-usual.
Pre-COVID, some of us spent most of our time visiting clients, traveling to event locations and launches, and fostering in-person relationships with our partners and teammates. With all travel grounded, we weren’t able to establish those friendly, fruitful partnerships as easily.
But we didn’t just stagnate or withdraw into online silos. Instead, we bonded by getting out of our business-as-usual routines. At one meeting, a client introduced an entertainment agency called Stage Presence. They specialize in performances for virtual meetings. The singers, dancers, and magicians that performed gave us something new to talk about, bond over, and experience together.
We also added a 30–60 minute segment to our monthly all-hands call designed to help our team connect outside of a work context. The topics ranged from show-and-tell, recipe-sharing, sharing bucket list items, trivia, and more! There are even other agencies and products geared toward facilitating these types of virtual team building activities.
You don’t need to go to such lengths to change up your usual routine. A simple cooking class or fun presentation can give your team a break and give you something new to talk about.
No one would argue that Slack, Zoom, or Google Meet can replace in-person communication. But, recognizing that it isn’t perfect, we put an emphasis on face-time. Video meetings are the next-best thing to in-person meetings. That’s why we tend to have a cameras-on policy at most meetings.
Seeing facial expressions and being attuned to body language helps us ensure we’re connected as people, and not just as faceless workers on the other end of a text chat. It also helps presenters to gauge the engagement of others on their calls, adjust the way they’re presenting if necessary, or completely shake up the agenda with Q&A or an energy-boosting activity.
To make up for seeing each other at client meetings or internal offsites, we set up inter-team competitions. Research shows that communication and shared identity within a team can mediate the effects of physical separation. Remote workers feeling lonely can be reminded of the amazing people they work with. Remote workers feeling burnt out can rekindle some fun and enthusiasm for their jobs.
Whether it’s ice-breakers, virtual escape rooms, quizzes, or trivia nights, we found that stoking a little healthy competition did a lot to ease burnout. Here’s a list of some good virtual games for remote teams, if you need ideas.
Grow outside of your comfort zones.
We’ve always been remote, but there hasn’t been an organization in existence who wasn’t impacted by COVID. We responded to change by experimenting and finding novel strategies for doing business. We workshopped our brand strategy, implemented new goal-setting tools, and added structure to team one-on-ones. We also streamlined our communication tools suite with an eye toward driving business value without face-to-face dependencies. We committed to growth, even when it was easier to remain comfortable.
When all is said and done…
You don’t have to be a feelings-centric team to understand that escaping business as usual drives partnership. Staying connected in remote work environments means better work, friendlier relationships, and higher satisfaction for everyone.
Personal relationships mean it’s okay for someone to admit that they have too much to do, or for clients to be honest and say “I’m dealing with something” or “I don’t know what the next steps should be.” With a fuller picture, we can solve problems more effectively.
With remote work, personal connection is just as important, if not more important, than if we were face-to-face it’s just not as easy to come by. If you want to work well as a team, you have to find ways to stay connected, no matter where you are.