Recently, a Reuters article titled How to Create Connections at Work in the Age of Isolation went viral on LinkedIn. The main point that resonated with readers? The loneliness of remote workers.
Today, organizations look wildly different than they did even ten years ago. Author Lauren Young points out that “one-third of workers in the US often work remotely [and] the number of remote workers is up 115% in the past decade.”
As an entirely virtual team of over 70 people, we understand the perception of isolation. When a single team spans the globe, how can real connections possibly exist?
I asked our team about their experiences working remotely. How do they feel on a day-to-day basis? What works for team and relationship building? How do they balance work and life? Their insights proved profound (per usual):
- “I don’t feel lonely. I interact with people all day long!! I just don’t happen to be in the same room with them.” – JJ
Perspective matters when you work remotely. Your work may look the same as it would in a traditional corporate office, but your interactions could feel different. Changing your view about what “counts” as interaction can help you feel more grounded in virtual work.
- “I like that we have things like the Watercooler. I feel I can come in here and chat with people throughout the day.” – Helen
On our team, the Skype “Watercooler” provides a central location to meet, chat, and collaborate. We set it up to provide the same kind of interactions people have at the office coffee station. The only difference? We use technology, rather than Keurig, to foster connection.
- “There's always someone on Skype, in a classroom, on phone dates, in email....so many opportunities to connect. And then evenings and weekends are filled with people that live in my area so there's plenty of social interaction if I feel I need more of that. I think it's all in how you frame it. And I think the retreats have been an important component in our team's connection with each other as well.” – Cindy
Just because we live and work all over the globe, does not mean that we lack the opportunities to interact and spend “face time” with one another. Again, technology like email and Skype (or Slack, or video conferencing, or many other popular options) allow for regular, light-hearted interaction. But, building in events, like corporate retreats or on-site brainstorming meetings, help create deep bonds.
- “I think InSyncers work hard at staying connected, and it makes a big difference.” – Robin
Each team member at InSync has the flexibility to build relationships as strong or as surface level as they prefer. Like in a traditional setting, each individual is ultimately responsible for their own level of collaboration. We respect that you can’t force people to be social, but we create an environment that allows it.
Our Creating and Leading a Wildly Successful Virtual Teams whitepaper offers practical advice for those working on or managing remote employees. Some of my favorite evergreen wisdom from this in-depth publication includes:
- Set clear expectations and share your vision. Managers need to ensure their teams have the authority to make in-the-moment decisions about their work. Establishing trust enables leaders to feel comfortable with this autonomy, and clear communication helps employees feel empowered to act reasonably and responsibly in their roles.
- Provide the right tools. Remote team members bring their own offices to the table. And while leadership may not create the workspaces, they can (and should) make the right technologies available based on the roles filled remotely. Corporate email, videoconferencing platforms, and help desks can create a “shared workspace” despite a lack of co-location.
- Be proactive about looking for potential issues. Whether it’s an employee struggling to meet deadlines, or conflict between a manager and direct report, common workplace challenges exist in virtual offices. A lack of face-to-face contact can result in these problems going unnoticed. Open lines of communication, especially phone or video calls, can prevent small matters from becoming major headaches.
Ultimately, during InSync’s 20+ years of remote team operations, we found that technology and culture make all the difference!