As employees settle into their new work-from-home habits, one thing has become abundantly clear for employers: remote teams need more than computers, internet connections, and fancy apps to thrive at home.
It turns out, remote workers need more support from their managers, as well as more access to information, than their office-based counterparts. In addition, they suffer from isolation and miss the social interaction that comes naturally with an office setting. When left unaddressed, these challenges can lead remote workers to feel disengaged and isolated, and they may even leave their organizations entirely.
Because distributed teams can’t rely on a shared space to bring coworkers together and foster a sense of belonging, employers should take the initiative to help their teams connect, communicate, and collaborate. Fortunately, organizations can implement many different strategies to motivate their remote workers and help them feel a greater sense of belonging.
1. Host daily or weekly check-ins
Office workers can easily stop by a coworker’s desk or knock on their manager’s door when they have a question or want a project update. Remote employees, on the other hand, don’t always “clock in” at the same time, which puts the burden on employers to plan for these types of interactions in advance.
Many remote teams check in with each other regularly, often using a daily video call during which employees quickly share project updates and accomplishments, as well as discuss any problems or issues they face. Teams that work more independently can check in using team messaging in a dedicated channel.
Regardless of the format, daily team check-ins bring employees together regularly and ensure that work is getting done in a timely and efficient manner.
2. Set clear expectations
Employees also report feeling lost or overwhelmed if they don’t have clear direction. Unfortunately, remote employees often struggle to get answers when they need them, which only gets more difficult when teams work on different schedules and use different tools.
The best way to set up remote employees for success from the get-go is to include communication strategies in the onboarding process. At the very minimum, the onboarding process should cover the organization’s core work and communications processes, such as:
- Preferred frequency, tools, and ideal timing for team communication
- Team schedules and work hours
- Emergency contact information
- The employee’s specific goals, project timelines, and expected deliverables.
Whether this information gets delivered via shared document, video call, email, or a combination of tools, employers should make the information easy to find and update it frequently, so employees don’t have to waste valuable time searching for files or sending messages to colleagues.
3. Choose the right communications technology
Staying connected and, more importantly, collaborative during periods of remote work is essential to keeping the organization running smoothly. Employees need tools that enable seamless communication and collaboration wherever they regardless of the device they use.
The right technology allows remote teams to effortlessly switch between different modes of communication on different devices. For example, a manager might choose to engage a team about a high-profile project using team messaging. If that manager needs more immediate clarification from the team, however, that message might need to escalate to a call or video conference to get more details. The same might apply for daily and weekly check-ins.
Switching modes of communication shouldn’t get mired in roadblocks, though. If employees have to switch apps, enter login credentials, and find and input meeting IDs every time a meeting takes place, they simply won’t use video conferencing unless it’s necessary. As a result, collaboration is hindered and productivity suffers.
Unified communications solutions combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform where employees can switch from one mode to another with just a click. The unified platform allows employees to do everything under one roof, including messaging, file sharing, calling, joining video meetings, and even assigning tasks. A unified platform creates a seamless user experience that gives remote teams the tools they need to drive productivity through any future work-from-home event.
4. Encourage social interaction
From impromptu chats in the office breakroom to post-work happy hours, physical office spaces provide plenty of opportunities for chance encounters and interactions that facilitate the team bonding necessary to feel happier and less stressed at work.
Replicating this experience online for remote teams can be challenging—but far from impossible. For example, managers can start by dedicating a few minutes at the beginning of team calls to discuss “non-work items,” such as weekend plans, pets, kids, or memes.
Employers could also look into hosting virtual pizza parties, creative performances, trivia nights, and book clubs for their employees via video conferencing. While virtual team bonding events are a little more structured than their casual, office-based equivalents, they can go a long way in helping remote employees feel less isolated and a deeper sense of belonging.
5. Support employee well-being
Remote work can relieve stress for some people, but it can take time for employees to adjust to the distractions and social isolation that come from working at home. To help make the transition as smooth as possible, managers should set aside time outside of regular work meetings to see how their employees adapt.
Listen carefully to employees’ anxieties and concerns, acknowledge their stress, and empathize with their challenges. This one-on-one support will help employees feel seen and heard, while also giving leaders valuable insights that can optimize the work environment.
Another way employers can support their teams is by adopting a two-pronged communication approach. By acknowledging the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling, while also affirming their confidence in their teams to overcome the challenges ahead, employees will feel supported and gain a renewed sense of purpose and focus.
6. Provide frequent recognition and rewards
The best way to motivate people, regardless of location, is to reward them for positive behavior. Some people are extrinsically motivated, meaning they prefer tangible benefits like pay raises, bonuses, and benefits. By contrast, intrinsically motivated people prefer intangible benefits like feelings of accomplishment, purpose, agency, or progress.
Beyond financial incentives, other great extrinsic motivators for a remote team include technology allowances, home service perks, and workspace upgrades. On the other hand, great perks for intrinsically motivated employees include online training, employee spotlights, flexible work hours, extra vacation time, and advancement opportunities. These help intrinsically motivated employees feel like they’re moving in the right direction and that their employer trusts them enough to take ownership of their work.
The building blocks of a strong remote team
The key to remote team building? Be intentional. When people share the same physical space, actions like getting feedback and team bonding can be a lot more impromptu and casual. Without the spontaneity that comes from a physical office setting, employers need to be more intentional and purposeful when creating remote team engagement processes to make sure that everybody’s needs are met and no employee (or project) slips through the cracks.
Originally published May 27, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023