Picture this: At my desk in our home office with coffee steaming from a mug and pets and typical street noises in the background; I’m preparing to settle in for the workday.
The laptop dings and I toggle over to what I like to refer to as our “virtual conference room” to see an image of Elmo dancing around wishing one of our co-workers a Happy Birthday. Another post updates the team about staff changes with a large client, while a third updates our team about a new law that just went into effect in the state of Virginia. Finally, a fourth post solicits participation in a new project – “Who has capacity at the moment?”
This virtual conference room, better known to everyone else in the world as Microsoft Teams, is integral to our all-remote company’s ability to collaborate, meet, share and possibly most importantly, just connect.
Feelings of connection to work are vital, especially when some or all workers are remote.
According to The HOW Institute for Society’s Human Connection in the Virtual Workplace report published earlier this year, 44% of survey participants reported feeling less connected to their coworkers and “30% and 12% reported feeling less connected to their organizations and direct managers, respectively.” According to a Gallup survey, disengaged employees cost companies between $450 and $550 billion annually.
Employees who feel disconnected are employees who may be less engaged, less motivated, less productive, and more likely to leave but those feelings aren’t necessarily tied to any particular type of work environment. Culture drives feelings of inter-connectedness as well as engagement and inclusion whether in a shared physical space or just one that is shared virtually. Fortunately, technology offers tools that can help foster such a culture. There are many options, we just happen to use Teams.
So how do we, as an all-remote company, utilize a tool like Teams to our very best advantage to enhance employee connections and their feelings of engagement?
Meetings – team meetings, regular one-on-one check-ins with supervisors and many impromptu – “Are you available to help me with this?” calls can be done via Teams and the recording function helps keep those absent in the loop. Face-to-face, even virtually, is a great option to feel like someone else is in the room with you even when you’re working across the country.
Work Sharing – new developments in internal processes, external factors that may affect business operations, or other relevant topics can be posted to various “channels” to keep everyone informed and are easy to search for later. Our account Administrator has customized the channels to reflect our most relevant business themes, departments, and client types. Asking for a “thumbs up” allows the poster to see who has and has not had a chance to read a post.
Celebrations & Personal Sharing – Work anniversaries, co-worker birthdays, notes of kudos/shoutouts, new employee starts, and team and individual accomplishments are recognized and celebrated. We embrace warm fuzzies, when sincere and inclusive, to make a difference in our employees feeling like a valued and respected member of the team. Again, staying connected, on both a professional and personal level is a critical component in developing a functional remote culture. This includes other personal sharing, such as you’ve added a new pet to the family, a kiddo won their soccer game, how your vacation went, you passed a certification exam or letting your team know that you’re not feeling well and need to take a brief break to recover; all the things that would happen if you were face to face in a worksite conference room.
Don’t discount these conversations as a waste of time, they are in fact the small ways that employers can build cohesive teams that listen to each other and support each other through challenges and innovation. Worried about oversharing and offenses? Set some basic ground rules on what is off the table to discuss or inappropriate and have conduct expectations clearly lined out in your handbook. Coach employees who go too far in a timely manner – it’s no different than what you would expect for in-office interactions.
Status Updates – Keeping the team informed of your work status on Teams – “On a call,” “Away for an hour,” “Available to help!” – is a quick, efficient way to communicate who’s available right now, who will be free in 20 minutes, who is out of office and who may have room to add another yet another project to their day.
Reminders – While we all have regular due dates and scheduled days for various activities and actions it’s easy to let time get the better of us. A quick reminder to all on Teams can be just the prompt needed to keep the organization’s processes running smoothly.
Chats – We love the Chat function for questions that are too short to warrant an email, such as “Are you available for a call?”, need immediate attention or only need to be directed to one or two co-workers in particular.
Fun – Bring Joy to the workspace! Something as simple as Theme Weeks (“Dress for your Dream Vacation” & “Show your Team Spirit”) that encourage photo posting and creativity, as well online quiz games like Kahoot (“Get to know your new team member”), can be a great way to hijack a work tool for purposes of fun. And oh, did I mention that our Holiday Parties and Happy Hours are held via Teams, too?
As a caution, technology can make things better or worse depending on how it’s used, even a system like Teams. If everyone was blasted every 30 seconds with a reminder, had multiple conference or video calls a day, or every post was ten paragraphs long, it would definitely lose a lot of its effectiveness and negatively affect productivity.
We have made it our goal to use our technologies with professional and personal connections and information sharing top of mind, and to make our platforms an invaluable part of cultivating a culture that while remote, doesn’t feel isolated. You can, too.