Work habits are changing quickly as communities, cities, states, and nations all over the world enforce social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Companies are rushing to move their work forces online as much as possible with the help of video conferencing and work management tools, to keep their businesses afloat and to adapt to a new reality.
But not every business was caught off guard by the radical changes. Those businesses with distributed teams and a robust work from home culture have made the transition relatively painlessly. With the right technologies, tools, and other enablers already in place, companies like ours have managed the transition to social distance work well.
But for folks who aren’t used to it, working from home can demand a whole new set of skills and a whole new mindset about work. Whether your organization is flat or traditionally hierarchical, managing and working in a wholly distributed team takes some getting used to.
As much as you might want it to, adapting to this new reality won’t happen by accident. You need to take conscious, thoughtful action to ensure your whole team remains happy and healthy. A big part of that is keeping things human. Personal interaction is one of the best parts of office work, so it’s important to preserve that intangible sense of connection and community that sharing a work space breeds in teams.
People are doing all kinds of stuff to keep that office atmosphere alive despite being separated from each other by, in some cases, thousands of miles. But which tactics best preserve team cohesion?
Here are some tips that we endorse for keeping your team connected while working from home.
Video during meetings: We get it. Not everyone likes to have a camera on them—and expectations about appearance can play into that inconvenience. It’s important, though, to put cameras on during meetings when you’re working from home so you can see your team. We can’t overstate how valuable seeing another person’s face is during this strange time of self-isolation and social distancing. For our own mental health, we need the human connection of seeing other people.
Starting off calls with a quick personal story: Just like chatting in the normal office environment, sharing stories about our everyday non-work lives helps build connections with the team. It’s important to create space for these small interactions that fill in our relationships with each other in digital environments that don’t automatically offer opportunity for hanging out.
Regular check-ins: Hey, managers: if you aren’t already doing regular check-ins with your associates, now’s the time to make it a thing. Sure, you can assume that your team will be fine without having dedicated attention from you. But taking the time to see your team members one-on-one over video will help you understand how the vibe of your team might be changing, and how workflow might be affected.
Weekly virtual happy hour: For most of us, going out to the bar with the team at the end of the week is no longer an option. Keep the work-free team activity alive with virtual happy hours! Team building events that help build a positive digital work environment are just as important as they’ve always been—maybe even more important. As options for social interaction constrict, it’s a strong positive message to give your team an opportunity to have a drink with coworkers over video conferencing using tools like: Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Webex, BlueJeans, etc.
One more thing to keep in mind as industries adapt to a changing work culture: Loved ones are now a part of business life. With kids at home, job uncertainty, health scares, more difficult social connections, people are stressed out. And that’s putting it lightly. It’s, of course, completely normal to experience higher stress levels than usual, to have a little less patience for stumbles at work or interruptions during a meeting. But there’s nothing more important than empathizing with your coworkers as your team transitions to a new way of working. That means when a kid pops into frame, when someone has to step away from the computer to handle an issue at home, it’s entirely on us to show those people some kindness, to be patient as people experiment with the new ebb and flow of work life.
Very few people have the luxury of a home office. Anticipate the controlled chaos of home life and give your coworkers a break as they deal with it.
Remember that we all have responsibilities beyond work, so take a breath, prioritize health and happiness. Live the values you want your team to live by.
Distributed work forces are taking the stage, enabling many people to continue working even as much of their lives change. The seriousness of the pandemic can’t be overstated, and we’re glad to be able to help our friends and colleagues adapt to a new, versatile work culture.