Remote teams are the new norm, so how can we maintain productivity and build camaraderie in a virtual world?
irtual teams. You know them, I know them, people down at the Piggly Wiggly know them. Some changes are unavoidable when the entire planet is forced to shut down for two years. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic but not by much. We could delve into the why and the how of where we are now, three years post pandemic, but let’s skip ahead and get to how we maintain productivity and build camaraderie in a virtual world.
As any employee currently sitting at their desk in their favorite athleisure while petting their dog will tell you, there are many recognized pros to the recent mass adoption of working remotely. Without the restrictions of a commute, living and working in the same time zones, or pants made out of non spandex material, remote employees are able to focus more on their actual work and less on the amount of traffic they may encounter.
As a Project Manager, it can be difficult to maintain a fun and engaging work environment where the majority of calls could turn into stale status updates with little to no pizazz. This is why it is important to get facetime with your team in ways that are not always one hundred percent work related.
Weekly one-on-ones with your manager are key to keeping employees on track and helping to diminish the fear of reaching out when they may have a question they don’t know how to ask. You’ve done the work and hired the best team possible, now is the time to trust them with their work while letting them know that transparency and open communication is always more than welcome. And these weeklies should not only be about project progress but also about how the person is feeling overall, not only about their performance but in their non-work life as well. Allocating for open discussion on the call will allow your employee to feel seen and heard and far less like a drone whose only job is what their LinkedIn bio states.
Setting and upholding a consistent work start and end time can provide your team with the assurance that if they get their jobs done within the allotted time, their freetime will still be their own. As someone who has been at previous companies where the business hours felt more like a light suggestion, which ultimately was trampled by late night requests, let me tell you, this structure not only helps set a healthy boundary with clients, but it encourages productivity and self implemented time management. Bonus points for allowing schedule flexibility when it comes to doctor appointments and various familial obligations as long as everyone keeps the out of office team calendar updated.
Getting the gang together at the start of the week to recap where each project is at will also make the team as a whole feel in the loop and engaged so that if a blocker comes up, there is already an open line of communication to encourage cross-functional collaboration. This is also a prime time to hear how everyone is doing and build togetherness. No one wants to be the team that didn’t feel comfortable enough with each other to tell their peers about major life changes unless it was for the purpose of upcoming PTO. We spend more time with these people than many spend with their family and friends, which leads us to our second point…
You don’t realize how strange it is to be hired by someone and not know their height or meet them in person until you’re staring straight upward at your newish 6’3” boss. To be fair, everyone looks the same size in a tiny Google Meet window. From first hand experience I can attest that it is quite strange to work with a group of people for 12 months before an opportunity arises to meet them in person.
So how does one build in-office relationships with their team when there is no office? First and foremost, it is important to remember that the coworker on your screen is just like you and requires more than perfunctory interactions. It will take advanced emotional intelligence to build trust with someone you’ve only interacted with in a professional and virtual manner but this can be achieved by creating an environment where personal interactions are encouraged and instigated.
A tried and true method of creating a space where your team feels comfortable with being themselves is by creating and participating in themed channels on your chosen chat app. For example, I cannot tell you the number of Taylor Swift posts I have waded through in our “Random” channel on Slack. I knew our team was passionate but that was a serious underestimation.
Other ways to encourage relations outside your daily standups are by holding non-work centered meetings to discuss recent events or by creating a quarterly Book Club with time set aside for people to discuss the book and what they thought. Our team has a randomized spinning wheel that selects our next read from a list we’ve all contributed to and it’s something we all look forward to every 3 months, drinks and snacks in hand.
If your team is fully remote, as is ours, set aside funds each year to host a summit of sorts where the team picks a destination and for a week, your employees can bond, eat, possibly imbibe, and get to know each other away from the screens that can cause barriers day to day. This will generate a community feeling that carries over to times when we are all sequestered away back in our home offices until the next company event. This and 2am karaoke videos.
While there will be pitfalls to navigating a fully virtual team, there are ways to combat fears of isolation and the dreaded route of micro managing. Bask in the flexibility of signing on while still sipping your morning coffee and learn to adapt to getting to know your team by which gifs they use most often and which pets walk into view of their camera while on a video call. You can still be a cohesive, well oiled machine without knowing what your coworker hums to themselves while filling out their time sheets.