A few years ago, running into colleagues on their way to the break room was a mundane workplace happenstance. Now, plenty of employees–and their supervisors–long for those kinds of casual meetings. Telecommuting from home is a lot more isolating than working in the office. And when people aren’t regularly interacting, collaboration decreases.
Truly, collaboration has become one of the biggest challenges of remote work. Research from Codegiant suggests that 86% of individuals attribute workplace failures to poor collaboration. Even when everyone tries to get together virtually, the results can be lackluster. Anyone who has been on a digital conference call knows that. How often do participants look at their emails or even zone out? It is hard to concentrate or feel the same level of commitment during online interactions.
So, how can you overcome the inherent collaboration difficulties associated with remote work and increase your team’s sense of togetherness? Try following these four strategies:
1. Make time and space for relationship building.
Too often, people become trapped into thinking that every moment they spend with remote teammates needs to be about work. They end up cutting out the “small talk” to improve efficiency. However, that is exactly the opposite of what you should be encouraging your team to do. In order to help employees overcome the loneliness and isolation that so many remote workers feel, you need to make space for them to connect as individuals.
Timm Urschinger, cofounder and CEO of LIVEsciences, firmly believes in the power of relationship building. “Talking about topics that we consider ‘non-business’ is actually important for decentralized workforces,” he says. “Team development and the times we spend making small talk are just as important now that we’re remote as they were before. Leaders need to understand this and make time for these activities.”
If it feels awkward to set up regular online coffee breaks, try incorporating five to 10 minutes of pleasantries into all meetings. You could also set up AMA (i.e., ask me anything) sessions or urge everyone to share their thoughts on prompts. Honoring, valuing, and highlighting people’s lives outside of work allows employees to form meaningful bonds. These bonds are critical to boosting engagement, loyalty, trust, and retention.
2. Ensure all materials are easy to find.
It is annoying for remote workers when they can’t find what they need to do their jobs. “In fact, about 48% of remote employees say they lose time looking for information,” writes Leah Westfall, senior content marketing manager at RingCentral. “Adopt a dedicated hub for knowledge and file sharing employees can turn to anytime they need help.”
The important word there is “hub.” In other words, try to streamline your technology as much as possible. For instance, maybe you don’t need five different systems that don’t integrate. Maybe one or two systems would be more feasible and allow everyone to work more efficiently and intelligently.
Without the right tech stack, your in-house workers might not feel a pinch–but your virtual employees will suffer. The more friction they feel, the higher the likelihood they’ll become less invested in your company. 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 everyone know the goals you are hoping 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 every project or task, you probably should start. Once those SMART goals are in place, you can take them to your team.
When team members know precisely what is expected of them, they feel more invested in solutions and their roles. “They [leaders] can also involve team members in decision-making processes to develop trust, increase transparency, and align team behaviors,” writes the Indeed editorial team. Give your team the opportunity to contribute to and change aspects of your initial goals to increase their ownership and buy-in.
You might also want to set some high-level goals and ask your teams to come up with the steps to achieve them. This gives employees the chance to collaborate and brainstorm, as well as the opportunity to influence what happens to their departments and the organization.
4. Shine a light on successful collaboration.
When you want to see more of a certain type of behavior, you should always highlight it. “Employees are more productive, and more satisfied, when they feel connected, valued, and seen,” writes the team at 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 jobs that have been done well because of a team’s collaboration efforts. Even if the outcome wasn’t spectacular, you might find it valuable to share unique ways that employees overcame difficulties related to the geographic distance between them. Your objective should be to help everyone discover new ways to collaborate. It is so much easier for workers to learn from each other’s experiences. Don’t be surprised if you learn a little something, too.
Remote work is the new normal, but people’s need for human interaction hasn’t disappeared. Your mission is to employ tactics to boost the effectiveness of collaboration regardless of where your team members live or work. That way, your workers can bypass one of the major hiccups of telecommuting and reap only the benefits.