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Creating New Workplace Cultures. How to Stay Connected as a Newly Remote Team

Keeping in touch with your colleagues through this global emergency is going to be challenging for many of us. For some, we’ve had the opportunity to work remotely for a number of years (even if we may have had to spend too much time justifying why it’s beneficial). For others, this is a strange new world – one where our home environments have become our office and video conferencing is the new going out.

As human beings, the social aspect and connectivity at work is just as important as getting the job done. When working remotely, it’s important to make sure that you and your colleagues don’t feel stranded or without any support. It’s also especially important to acknowledge that any one of us may also have other priorities right now, such as home tutoring with children or caring for elderly relatives who may be at risk.  The best and most effective course of action for all of us is to lead with compassion and empathy.

As a team that has worked remotely since our inception 8 years ago – here are 8 tips on how to do just that:

1. Make sure your colleagues know where you are. This seems obvious, you’re at home, but make it clear to colleagues that you are available should they have any concerns, or just need to talk. It might be worth sending an email or a text message to re-confirm your contact details just in case they don’t have them to hand. Whilst some colleagues will have partners and/or children to contend with, pay special attention to anyone who lives alone. It will be much easier for them to feel isolated without frequent human interaction. Try to keep in touch with each other through video calls, increasing that sense of human presence in people’s homes.

2. Virtual teams are just as good as physical teams. Platforms such as Trello, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Skype for Business are all great for enabling continuous and easy-to-access communication. Find out what your employer subscribes to or what you can safely subscribe to without your IT colleagues getting hot and flustered. If tech restrictions apply, then a simple Whats App group should do the trick for more informal conversations throughout the day. Remember, not all conversations have to be work or Corona Virus related – take advantage of your colleagues’ sense of humour!

3. Check in with your colleagues but try not to be overbearingRemote working can be a really great enabler of productivity with people feeling a greater sense of autonomy over how they use their time effectively. However, it does have the potential to be quite demotivating if your colleagues feel constantly checked on as to how they’re progressing with work. For colleagues who now have the added complexity of trying to home-school their kids and battle through working with their partners (I think we can all agree this has its challenges!), try to be more forgiving if productivity drops slightly. Check in to see if they are okay and trust your colleagues to do their work to the best of their abilities – remember, they were hired for a reason!

4. Let’s embrace new routines. Working from home feels different and requires a different mindset. It’s OK to break off to do the washing up or make lunch. We’re all adults, capable of making grown-up decisions about how and when we do our work. Remain accountable and committed and giving yourself a bit of freedom will almost certainly keep you and your colleagues engaged and ultimately increase productivity, not reduce it. Ask others in the team to share what their new routines are and what is working for them – at best, we’ll all gain some new learning points and, at worst, there could be some amusing stories!

5. Consistency is key. Colleagues may be struggling to adjust to their new routine over the next couple of weeks. If you have regular team meetings, make sure these still go-ahead, at least once a week, using technology such as Skype or Zoom. These meetings will become a good way to keep motivation levels high whilst also acknowledging the extenuating circumstances presented by Corona Virus. Make sure a good section of the meeting is dedicated to how the team are – have a good catch up with them and focus on your colleagues prior to focusing on the tasks at hand. 

6. If your colleagues are at home but can’t work, keep in touch with them too. Working remotely is one thing but being sent home with no work to do is a different game all together. As human beings we strive to have a purpose in our lives, this is often fulfilled by the work that we do on a daily basis. It provides us with routine and a real sense of personal achievement. Discuss any activities they’ve wanted to do but not had time for such as reading a book that has been on their desk for an age; get into running (once a day!); take up Yoga or Pilates which are great for the body and mind; tend to their house plants (if they have any) or take up a free online course in something they’ve always wanted to be better at. There are loads of ways we can re-purpose our time to still feel productive.  

7. Be open and transparent. For some of us in leadership roles, it may feel like you’re under more pressure than ever to ensure that the work continues during this period, and colleagues are safe and as well as they can be. You have all of this on your plate as well as your personal situation which may involve having more family around you than normal or, facing into quarantine alone. If you are struggling in either situation, be honest about this. Acknowledge how difficult it is to have important calls with screaming children in the background; or a partner who also has important calls to make and seems to need to make those calls in the same room as you; or how isolated you feel if you are physically alone. Share any tips you have with your colleagues about how you are coping - this will make you feel more accessible, will build your relationship with your team and they may be more likely to talk about any concerns as a result. 

8. Finally, encourage people to switch off at the end of a working day. Adjusting to home working can result in work encroaching on people’s personal lives, especially in an environment where all team members are working remotely over a prolonged period of time, and for possibly the first time. It’s important to keep an eye on any colleagues who continue to do work in the evening, or during prolonged periods of the day. Whilst this may feel like a good thing – they’re getting lots of work done – this may be unsustainable for them in the long-term. Let them know there is no expectation for them to work extended hours just because they’re home. Suggest that they dedicate an area of their home to ‘work’ and encourage them to log-off and leave their work space alone at the end of the day to avoid burning out. Don’t be afraid to call them out and discuss how they can switch off if you see that they are working very long hours whilst also making sure that you are not over working, yourself.

We hope our 8 tips help you to navigate this strange new world. We’re all human, we’re all in this together and we all want to do our best for the people we work with, the employers we work for and for our loved ones.

 

Elizabeth Pollitt, Charlotte Sweeney Associates