Building Community with a Remote Team

A remote workforce has always had its advantages, such as access to a large pool of top-notch talent. But the coronavirus pandemic has forced many companies accustomed to physical offices to start working remotely. Managers used to Donut Friday or Team-building Tuesday may wonder how to build a sense of community with a remote team.

“The Covid-19 situation is going to bring about permanent workforce changes. Companies that are forced to adopt a remote staff should be thinking about it. When the pandemic passes, some employees will not want to go back to the office. Some will miss the office and will want to return,” said TaxJar CEO Mark Faggiano, whose company has 160 remote workers.

“But a significant group of workers is going to love being at home. They’re going to resist going back. It’s going to cause problems for some organizations.”

One of these problems is likely the development of a sense of community.

What follows are four ideas to help your business build a community with its remote workforce.

Remote teams can be a strong asset to businesses, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Photo: Alizée Baudez.

Remote teams can be a strong asset to businesses, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Photo: Alizée Baudez.

Foster Open Communication

Spontaneous conversations and interactions are common in a physical workplace.

A “quick” question about the most recent marketing campaign can be a welcome break to get up from your desk, walk 20 odd paces to a co-worker’s cubicle or office, and converse.

This sort of interaction is less natural with remote teams. But it is something you can foster.

First, consider using messaging software. Slack is an example, but there are many other group collaboration tools, including Microsoft Teams, Facebook Workplace, Fleep, and similar.

Second, use statuses or even a shared calendar to track when team members are open to interruptions.

In a physical office, I might walk to a colleague’s workstation and ask a question at the worst time. Maybe she was in the middle of an important project. She had sorted her thoughts and was ready to focus on the task. Then I interrupted.

As a manager, ask team members to reserve an hour or two each day when they are open and available for synchronous (occurring at the same time) communications.

Third, when possible, use video chat. For example, if the aforementioned question is an emergency or on a deadline, check your colleague’s status and request a video call.

“Do you have a minute for a video call? I have a question about…”

Allow Social Interaction

It’s normal in a physical workspace to chat about friends, family, and social activities.

You might learn about a co-worker’s passion for golf while sharing the creamer at a coffee station or discover that the graphic designer leaves early on Wednesdays to practice with his band, which plays 70s hits.

These sorts of social interactions can occur in a remote workplace, too.

For example, imagine having a daily “stand up” meeting with the remote team you manage. The meeting’s three purposes are to identify what each team member completed yesterday, what he is working on today, and what potential problems or stumbling blocks might prevent him from completing a task.

At the beginning of this important meeting — conducted via video — allow for a few minutes of small talk. Ask folks about, say, their weekend. And encourage the sort of social exchanges common in a physical office.

Next, consider adding a channel just for social interaction in Slack or similar. The channel might be reserved for posts about hobbies and passions. Set basic rules for the channel, but otherwise allow the team to post what interests them.

Encourage Collaboration

The combination of video conferencing platforms (with screen sharing capabilities) and collaborative tools such as Google Sheets and Google Docs make it possible to work together in real-time.

For example, the software development team at an omnichannel retailer in Idaho meets remotely every week for software projects. Participants include several coders.

Each team member can share his code or a problem with a task. The other developers on the video call can join in, offering code suggestions, and even testing code as the group works together.

In some cases, the developers might have a “breakout session,” wherein they each work on a separate section of code for a few minutes while the entire team banters via the open video chat. A few minutes later, they will jointly test each section.

Creatives, managers, and even customer service teams can all collaborate similarly.

Supervise Responsibly

Finally, even the act of responsibly supervising a remote team can help develop a sense of community.

  • Schedule regular video meetings with individuals and, separately, the entire group.
  • Ask folks what they are working on, and check on their progress.
  • Honor work schedules and interrupt only when team members are available.
Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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