Even before COVID-19 (remember those golden days?), working remotely was exploding in popularity. Global Workplace Analytics, for instance, reports that the number of workers telecommuting in the U.S. increased 115 percent between 2005 and 2015. And why not? Contrary to once widely held concerns that allowing people to work off-site would hurt productivity, research shows that telecommuters really do work full shifts – and they take shorter breaks, take less time off and have fewer sick days, among other benefits to employers, resulting in a “productivity boost among the telecommuters equivalent to a full day's work.”
The benefits that come with having a workforce that telecommutes notwithstanding, there is at least one downside: isolation. In the study referenced above, people working from home reported that they became lonely, and a small percentage said they were less motivated because their team wasn’t around them.
With more people working remotely because of the pandemic, those drawbacks may be amplified by the general uncertainty of the times, coupled with the added challenges of things like overseeing kids’ distance learning. However, there are many ways that employers can continue to motivate workers and foster connection and camaraderie even as individual team members are working from remote locations.
Here are five strategies that are working for us at TPD.
Communicate in Real-Time
Email is great for some things, but it can’t replace in-the-moment collaboration or water-cooler conversations (not to mention the fact that a bottomless in-box can be quite stress-inducing on its own). Whenever possible use – and encourage the use of – more active means of communication with your team. Instant messaging, message boards and tools (such as Slido and GroupMap) that allow team members to work simultaneously on the same document, spreadsheet or other project can go a long way in fostering a collaborative virtual workspace. At TPD, we recently completed a major website redesign – check it out here! – using a variety of collaboration tools to bring our remote team together in real-time, including chat, video calls, shared documents via Google Drive and more.
Make Sure You’re Accessible
It’s easy to be accessible when everyone is working under the same roof. But when the team is spread out over multiple locations, workers may start to feel like they’re going it alone. When managing telecommuters, it’s crucial to be available. So be sure to make accessibility part of your daily routine. That means answering instant messages and emails promptly (even if the initial response is a confirmation of receiving a message and saying that you’ll respond ASAP) and proactively scheduling small team meetings and one-on-ones with your workers. Many managers at TPD recreate working under the same roof by hosting daily office hours, where coworkers can pop in to ask a question or even just have some company while working. As a manager, being accessible will go a long way toward maintaining your connection with your workers and strengthening team relationships.
Commit to Transparency
COVID-19 has upended every aspect of life, creating a lot of uncertainty in the process. You can quell some of that uncertainty while further strengthening your connection with your team by keeping employees abreast of what is going on with the organization with regular update calls and video addresses from company leaders. Being transparent removes “unknowns” for workers, giving them a clear picture of where things stand business-wise. At the same time, it provides the opportunity to gather as a group (virtually, of course) and reinforce the idea that employees are part of a team, even if the members of the team aren’t in the same location.
Continue to Mark Milestones
This year, TPD had its 40th anniversary. Ideally, we would have been able to gather as a group and celebrate together. Since circumstances wouldn’t allow that, though, our People and Culture team put together a day-long virtual celebration that included a company update, breakout rooms and a game of departmental Family Feud, among other events. It was a great time, and it really brought everyone together. Whether it’s giving birthday shout-outs, celebrating employees’ work anniversaries or marking organizational milestones, it’s important to find ways to celebrate together, even when you can’t be together.
Encourage Virtual Get-togethers
In addition to marking major milestones, encourage team members to get together on a more casual basis. Virtual lunches, happy hours and coffees are a great way to build and reinforce the social bonds that are so important among coworkers.