The virtual workplace: tips to keep your remote team connected

September 3rd, 2021 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. Heidi Kraak

There’s no way around it – lockdowns are pretty horrible.

Stay-at-home orders will be a reality for much of Australia into the foreseeable future, meaning those of us who can work from home will likely continue to do so. Plus, pandemics aside, remote and hybrid working arrangements are becoming increasingly common – not only do they allow businesses to draw from a much wider talent pool, but they place fewer limitations on where staff can live.

According to the Harvard Business Review, more than 40% of US employees would start looking for another job or quit immediately if they were ordered to return to the office full time.

Clearly, remote and hybrid working arrangements will not be ending when lockdowns finally cease. As such, businesses, managers and supervisors need to consider how they plan to keep staff connected while working remotely.

Why is a sense of connection important for remote workers?

There is a growing body of research that suggests that positive work cultures lead to a host of benefits over time, including improved employee performance and wellbeing, staff retention and even an improved bottom line for the company. A major element of creating a positive work culture is ensuring your staff feel connected to each other as a team.

If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to begin thinking about what proactive steps your team is taking to stay connected while working from home. Whether remote work has been forced upon you by lockdowns or your company is moving away from office-centric working arrangements, keeping your team connected will contribute towards the sustainability and effectiveness of your team in the long run.

7 tips to keep a remote team connected

1 – Develop and implement remote working policies

Policies and procedures may not seem like the obvious place to start when it comes to keeping your team connected. However, in the instance of a sudden lockdown, having a clearly communicated plan that outlines expectations of staff is a simple way to avoid confusion, panic, miscommunication and lapsed productivity. It provides staff a level of confidence – they know what is expected of them and what actions to take.

Prior to COVID-19, it would have been understandable if businesses had not developed any remote working policies. However, by this stage in the pandemic, establishing clear procedures and outlining expectations for staff in the instance of a sudden lockdown should be a priority for businesses and managers.

2 – Establish regular, structured check-ins

Loneliness and feelings of disconnection are common experiences in lockdown. A criticism of remote work – both in lockdown and ongoing arrangements – is that it’s harder for staff to experience the same sense of camaraderie, cultivate a team culture and exchange ideas. If you’re a manager or supervisor, scheduling regular, structured check-ins with your staff, both individually and as a team, can be a good way to counter feelings of disconnection. It also helps re-assert working rhythms that may have been disrupted.

3 – Collaborate on projects via teleconferencing

As mentioned before, a major criticism of remote working arrangements is that it becomes harder for teams to collaborate on projects and share ideas. One way to counter this is for teams to work on projects collaboratively via video chat. Make the most of apps like Google Docs or Sharepoint, which allow multiple people to edit the document at the same time. While it’s hard to replicate the conditions of real-life collaboration, this is the next-best thing. Keep these sessions relatively short, though – Zoom fatigue is real!

4 – Account for ‘Zoom fatigue’

While it’s important to ensure you have scheduled time to meet with your team over teleconference, don’t overdo it. Video conferencing can be a lot more tiring than face-to-face meetings. Standford study found that video chats fatigue humans in four key ways. One, excessive amounts of close-up eye-contact is highly intense. Two, constantly seeing yourself in a video chat is tiring, and can lead to you becoming more critical of yourself. Three, video chats dramatically reduce mobility. And fourthly, the cognitive load is much higher in video chats, as you cannot rely on non-verbal communication to send and receive signals. Avoid ‘Zoom fatigue’ by ensuring any video chats you schedule with staff are relatively short and structured.

5 – Make the most of available apps

Let’s face it, email is not an effective medium through which to keep your team connected. There are, however, a huge range of applications and programs on the market that do this really well. Slack, for instance, is a versatile messaging app that allows workplaces to set up channels which can be created based on teams, interests or particular projects. Asana, Monday and Trello make tracking remote workflows that require team collaboration a breeze. There are also a heap of end-to-end encrypted messaging applications available. Email certainly still has a place in workplace communications – just don’t make it the platform you rely on to keep your team connected.

6 – Create opportunities for social interaction

Creating opportunities for staff to interact socially doesn’t have to look like a weekly game of trivia over Zoom. There are so many other ways to foster connection in your team that don’t require a video chat. Be creative! Maybe you could start a book club and discuss the plot on a dedicated Slack channel? Maybe your team could take part in an exercise challenge like STEPtember? Maybe you could start a team-wide game of Words with Friends? Otherwise, Zoom trivia can actually be pretty fun!

7 – Offer support and encouragement

If you are a manager or supervisor, it’s important to vocalise to your staff that you are available if they need support. You may not be a qualified counsellor or therapist, but you can always lend a listening ear and offer a word of encouragement. If needed, you can point staff towards professional support and mental health resources. Studies have shown that the emotions and responses of managers has a “trickle-down effect” on other staff – if you, as a manager, vocalise and demonstrate a culture of care and empathy, it’s likely to “trickle down” through staff as well.

Keep your team connected with reliable, high speed connectivity

Whether your staff are working remotely as a result of lockdown or your workplace is moving away from traditional in-office working arrangements, taking steps to ensure your staff feel connected is important.

Ensure your business and staff have access to internet services that can power all the applications you need to stay connected while working remotely. Cloud-based applications and teleconferencing are both incredibly bandwidth-intensive, so it’s important you select a plan proportional to your needs and an ISP known for it’s customer service and quality network

Connect to fast, reliable nbn™ with Aussie Broadband, hassle free. Making the switch is easier than you think – check out our great plans here or give our award-winning Australian-based team a call on 1300 480 905.