As offices go virtual and coworkers connect via phone or email, many organizations find themselves struggling to create company norms, a group mindset, and most importantly, trust and rapport. Even those with a physical office may find themselves challenged by work-from-home policies, travel schedules and diverse workforces. To bridge the divide, organizations must be mindful and deliberate about creating office and team interactions, in essence, creating a virtual watercooler.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
For employees to be on the same page, it helps to have a similar starting point. Create a plan that spans several weeks to introduce employees to the organization, computer systems and tools… but also to teammates. A list of team members, their contacts and a list of their skills is helpful. A team call where the new employee recaps their background and shares interests outside of work gives team members fodder for follow up conversations. Have each teammate call to introduce themselves – and cover part of your processes or explain a job task during the onboarding period too.
Technology provides lots of options for employees to communicate informally. Numerous Web-based services offer free or low-cost video conferencing and messaging that enable even the most dispersed of teams to feel more closely connected and “see” each other each day. Go beyond typical messaging programs, like Skype and Jabber with collaboration channels, like Slack and Zoom. For fun, introduce themes for each week, like ‘I Love my Pet’, and ask employees to share photos of their furry friends while also sharing a piece of their lives. Posting memes and videos or sharing a Spotify station or favorite song are other ways to connect.
Share, Share, Share:
File-sharing tools allow your workforce to access documents, procedures and shared resources from anywhere in the world. Set up an organizational system and shared documents. These kinds of tools allow team members to maintain consistency, reduce duplicated efforts, and ensure quality control across the business. A shared team journal encourage employees to swap ideas, notes and even lessons learned with each other. Ask everyone to journal at least once a week.
Meet Up Occasionally:
Remote teams can get a big boost in energy and creativity by meeting up in person. Learn-a-thons, conferences, and team building day trips are all good opportunities for structured and informal face time. Use the togetherness for brainstorming, relationship building, and resetting expectations and interactions. Choose a time and activity that meets everyone’s needs – not just Happy Hour after work or a company picnic on a Saturday. The expense of bringing everyone together – at least once a year – is well worth the uptick in productivity.