How to work better together … apart

Work Wisdom

How to work better together … apart

Unless you’re an artist creating a masterpiece in your private studio or a hermit living off the grid, your work likely involves other people. Even solo practitioners need to pitch ideas and run projects by clients or partners to stay in business.

Most of us rely on coworkers — on our own teams and in other parts of our organizations — for information, resources, feedback, supplies, back-up and a host of other support to keep the cogs in our wheels turning.

But for the past 4 months, that kind of regular, close collaboration has become really difficult. We’ve got lots of technology solutions to help us work remotely, but personal connections have suffered — especially the casual interactions that help create relationships and the trust vital to success. And that’s important, because coworkers who communicate well about nonwork matters are more likely to collaborate on work effectively, according to corporate training experts at Conover Company.

Note we said “difficult” — not impossible. It takes extra effort, but you can maintain a strong team culture in a remote work environment. Here are 7 ideas to try:

  1. Add some structure. You won’t be popping by each other’s desks for quick questions or jumping up for impromptu huddles in the conference room. Instead, get regular video or phone conference calls on everyone’s calendar to share updates, ask questions and coordinate work. Once a week may be enough for some teams, while others may want to meet daily.
  2. Communicate about how to communicate. Have a colleague whose email inbox is a black hole but who responds to instant messaging, well, instantly? Good to know. Find out what works best for others on the team (and especially your manager) so people can respond when it’s effective for them, and you know what to expect.
  3. Have fun. A new survey by market research firm Clutch says 63% of workers have spent less time socializing with coworkers since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. So plan some optional e-meetings purely for social purposes. Encourage coworkers to let their kids and pets make guest appearances. Share staycation photos and recipes, play trivia games or share little-known facts about each other. Consider a theme for each get-together, such as favorite foods or hidden talents.
  4. Recognize and celebrate. Your team is still delivering great work — maybe even amazing work under these challenging circumstances. Make time to let them and others know when they achieve important milestones, overcome unexpected hurdles or get rave reviews from customers.
  5. Focus on development. It’s easy to feel as if the world is on hold until things get back to “normal” (if you know when that will be, the rest of us would love to know). Instead of delaying training and learning, this is an ideal time to focus on career growth. Ask team members to volunteer for tasks outside their usual roles. And there are countless webinars and online training opportunities, many of them free.
  6. Support physical, emotional and financial health. Does your company offer an employee assistance program, financial counseling services, telemedicine resources or online workout classes? Be sure your team knows about resources available to help them navigate the unknown and how to access them.
  7. Ask for feedback. Every team — and team member — is different. What works well for one won’t necessarily meet the needs of another. Make sure to check in regularly and ask what’s working, what’s not and how to improve. People are more likely to buy into solutions they’ve helped create, so give them a voice.

And the commitment to staying connected is working well for some organizations.

“It may sound counterintuitive, but I’ve heard from many employees they actually feel more connected to their co-workers during this time,” said Karen Bradbury, vice president of learning and development at Unum. “Many employees have made a point to stay connected via technology, have committed to include some fun in their days with their team members, and have had the opportunity to get to know one another in a more meaningful way. 

“And it doesn’t hurt that along the way we’ve also had the opportunity to meet our co-workers’ kids, spouses, parents, cats, dogs and other pets.”

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