Victoria Sambursky

Are you managing distributed teams all across the country – or all across the world?

Coordination and communication are key when it comes to creating a successful virtual workplace. But what about creating a sense of community? Luckily, we live in an age where there is a device, app, or software platform for making communication easier. However, these smart tools are only useful when connections are cultivated. We’ve gathered expert management tips and the latest tools to help keep your remote teams engaged, productive, and connected. Let’s get started!

Cultivating Empathy

An interesting study conducted by the Stevens Institute of Technology found that remote teams that had high levels of geographic differences also reported lower levels of trust, satisfaction, and performance than their counterparts with more closely located colleagues. Working in a virtual environment can cause these issues, but in many instances, it often causes feelings of isolation. Cultivating empathy between remote co-workers is an easy way to make deeper connections.

How can managers achieve this in telework? Learning about each other doesn’t mean people need to force contrived conversations. Having co-workers discuss simple things about their life can open the door to cultivating empathy.

For example, sharing things like a funny anecdote someone’s daughter did that morning, a photo of what the weather looks like outside a window, or allowing pets to be part of virtual meetings can create deeper conversations and personal connections. Zoom, Skype, and Hipchat are not only great for professional collaboration and communication, but these video and instant messaging platforms can make building connections fun. Zoom even has a virtual background feature from cosmic galaxies to nature scenes.

Sharing Information

Making sure employees across different departments have access to the same information helps prevent anyone from feeling left out. Traditional work email has its place in the remote workspace. But when you want to quickly share a creative thought, screenshot, a funny meme, or other casual information, communication tools like Slack, Troop Messenger, Chanty, and even WhatsApp are great for keeping remote teams connected.

For example, conversations in apps like Slack happen in dedicated spaces called channels. You can create channels for every topic, project, and team – keeping every department in the loop. Many of these tools also have video options that can be used to bring people together to celebrate team wins, birthdays, and other fun milestones. Using these platforms can prevent leaving anyone out and build lasting relationships.

Keeping Social Connections

How can managers keep virtual teams social? A recent article in Forbes suggests a few creative and fun solutions to keeping your team’s spirits high and communication strong, including:

  • A virtual happy hour (or coffee hour) one day a week
  • Using channels or discussion boards to share favorite recipes, pet photos, or personal news
  • Asking playful questions, such as “What makes you feel like a kid again?” as a way to learn about teammates and share some laughs
  • Dedicating a few minutes of team meetings to catch up on one another’s lives

Google Hangouts is a great communication tool to use for establishing social connections. Team members can create chat rooms quickly as well as share photos and files. To help those in different time zones, Zoom can record video calls – making it easy to keep those employees in the loop.

Another social idea comes from customer support company Help Scout. They encourage virtual team members to create fun videos of their workspaces. Inspired by the television show MTV Cribs, video home tours allow employees to share more of their day-to-day life with their co-workers. In the past, employees have discovered that some colleagues raise chickens, and others have lie-down desks.

These tips and smart tools can help make a big difference in keeping remote employees engaged, social, productive, and most importantly, connected.

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