Millions of professionals in the United States relied on their co-workers for daily human interaction, whether in a cubicle or at the water cooler. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, workers around the country turned into remote employees overnight. Uninitiated to the virtual workforce, these individuals were suddenly thrust into the role of telecommuter, tasked with learning new ways to complete projects and communicate. Even after weeks of stay-at-home orders, staying connected in remote teams remains difficult.
If you’re fresh to the world of remote work, virtual communication and connections aren’t inherent instincts. You need the latest technology and a few handy techniques to master the process. But once you understand the basics of staying connected, you’ll open up a world of communication that’s tantamount to traditional office settings. That’s a flexible skill that’s likely to become more coveted by employers in the coming months and years.
Tools for Staying Connected in Remote Teams
Just like a carpenter can’t hang a cabinet without a drill and a level, you can’t expect to learn the basics of staying connected in remote teams without the proper tools in your toolbox. Fortunately, the virtual world is filled with an abundance of options that help your team connect, communicate, and collaborate. If you need solutions for your new telecommute role, here are a few instruments to try.
Cloud-Based and Online Team Collaboration Software
Facebook and Whatsapp are great for chatting with new connections and old friends. Even email has its place in the great expanses of the virtual work domain. But these all take a backseat to cloud-based and online collaboration tools.
Designed specifically for remote teams, collaboration software provides instant messaging, a forum for exchanges of ideas, and a place for “water cooler” chats. Some of the most popular include:
- Microsoft Teams
If you’re unsure where to start, many of these tools are free or come with a free trial. Use these to guide your decision to the collaboration software that will benefit your team the most while meeting your budgetary restrictions and other needs.
When direct messages and emails won’t suffice for communication or management, you may want to try a face-to-face option: video-conferencing. The growth and quality of numerous video-conferencing and video chat apps allow for direct contact. By using this method of communication, you can master the art of staying connected in remote teams while also getting any vital points across. While there are some well-known leaders of the video chat pantheon such as Skype and FaceTime, you also have some emerging players to choose from:
- Google Hangouts
While Zoom has garnered all the attention as a standout video-conferencing platform since COVID-19, it still has some drawbacks. Non-subscribers are only allocated 40 minutes of facetime before they have to back out and restart the session. This could present a problem for long meetings, client sessions, or even casual after-work hangouts. Like the collaboration software titles, choose one that works for you. (Unless of course, you bought stock in Zoom.)
File Management Apps
File management and file-sharing are integral aspects of staying connected in remote teams. Without them, you can’t easily share the files that Person A and Person B need simultaneously. In addition, you might have to continuously email certain files to the right people over and over again. It’s all a bit inefficient.
Enter the world of file management apps. These apps allow you to streamline the process of file-sharing. As a result, you can put files up for everyone to use at their leisure, provided they have access. Some of the most popular file management apps include:
- Google Drive
Each of these programs provides seamless file management, and some also give others the ability to access, edit, and comment on each particular file. Think of these as your virtual filing cabinet. For the sake of organization, there are no better remote options.
Project Management Tools
Whether you’re a manager, employee, or owner, hopefully, your team is working toward a singular goal. That’s why you need a project management tool. Armed with one of these options, you can ensure that everyone adheres to their individual tasks and the collective goal of the organization:
- Google Apps for Work
Used in unison with other apps, project management tools help you right the course and stay on track.
Time Management Apps
If you want to make sure your team isn’t getting hooked on YouTube or sidetracked with video games, time management apps are a godsend. By seeing when everyone’s online and even allowing you to get screenshots if you wish, you can ensure that your staff is beneficially staying connected in remote teams. The most-used time management apps include options such as:
- When I Work
Although time management apps track how often your virtual team is working, make sure to give them time to adjust. No one likes someone looking over their shoulder, even if it’s in a remote capacity.
Techniques for Staying Connected in Remote Teams
Even with a professional mix of software and other tools, you need to become well-versed in certain techniques to stay connected in remote teams. By employing these ideas, you can improve communication, stay on task, and create a robust online work platform.
Allow Time for Adjustment
Even the most productive and well-seasoned teams need some time to adjust to the work-from-home lifestyle. It’s a necessity of staying connected in remote teams. Distractions, parental duties, and an imbalance of work and life can throw everything out of whack for many of your team members. Be understanding. Be empathetic. After a few weeks or a month of remote work, you’ll have some semblance of order and routine that allows you to return to a more traditional (and serious) work atmosphere.
Schedule Weekly Meetings
Staying connected in remote teams and transitioning to telecommuting is easier with some familiarities to a traditional office setting. The easiest way to emulate such a scenario is by scheduling weekly meetings. However, the purpose and subject matter of these meetings can vary depending on the week’s goals and projects.
Holding meetings just to see how everyone is adjusting to COVID-19 is an uplifting experience. It lets everyone know that they’re in the same boat, providing a sense of solidarity in adversity. Plus, it can help your teams get to know each other a bit better, especially those from different departments who seldom communicate.
You can also schedule weekly meetings that get down to business. While you should definitely give some leeway to your workers at first, you also should make sure that they’re completing their tasks in a timely fashion. Mixing serious and casual meetings throughout the week is perhaps the best choice for staying connected in remote teams. This way, everyone’s on the same page while also feeling relaxed.
Whether you create a separate channel on your collaboration tool or you schedule a meeting, you should take suggestions on how to improve your remote work situation. Processes and interactions can quickly go awry during the change from a traditional office to a remote office, leaving workers confused. If this situation carries on too long, your business can suffer.
Therefore, you should take suggestions and put them to good use. Allowing your team to collaborate in this fashion gives them a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. You won’t get that trifecta of emotions in many other ways.
Loosen Your Schedule
If at all possible, loosen your schedule. This goes hand-in-hand with an adjustment period. By allowing your crew to set their own hours (within reason), you provide a degree of autonomy that’s appreciated by your entire workforce. While you may require a core group to hold office hours, let the rest of your team complete tasks at their leisure while they get acquainted with work-from-home practices. Over time or as necessary, you can create a more structured schedule. But don’t make immediate plans or a rigid timetable for such a change.
Use Empathy to Forge a Sense of Unity
Empathy is the glue that brings remote teams together. In fact, one report stated that 96% of workers rate empathy as an integral quality of employers and colleagues. As such, you need to implement it in your new remote strategy.
Empathy goes far beyond just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s a quotient of emotional intelligence—a basic human understanding that binds workers and people together. By understanding others’ issues and plights—especially as they pertain to COVID-19 and remote work—you can effectively boost morale and build unity. Without face-to-face interactions, empathy is almost as close as you can get to real-life meetings. Promoting this idea will surely improve connections between workers.
Defining goals is a hallmark of any successful company. Yet when you transition to a remote workforce, these can often get lost in the mix. This, in turn, can lead to a lack of communication and a lapse in collective goals. As a result, you should put together a list of goals, including ones such as “adjusting to remote work” or “meeting for a virtual drink.” With a mix of fun and serious goals, you can stay connected and on task.
Cultivate a Team Atmosphere
Staying connected in remote teams always requires the cultivation of a team atmosphere. The problem is that geographic independence can often hinder the prospect. Even with the best collaboration software, it’s still common for new remote workers to feel lonely and isolated.
Nevertheless, every effort should be made to grow a positive team atmosphere. Think of this as the culmination of all the aforementioned techniques. Together, these can build a work atmosphere that gets your team excited to wake up in the morning and get things done.
Learning the basics of staying connected in remote teams prepares you for open dialogue that fuels productivity and fosters business relationships. While you may not become an expert overnight, pushing yourself to master communication channels and collaborative tools will enable you to become a remote asset. Remember, practice makes perfect. But with an uncertain economic and employment future, your versatility as a connected remote worker will surely come in handy.
iStock image: ake1150sb
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