Beating the remote work blues: Why we need to be social while working in (semi-)isolation

By Robert Half on 29 June 2020

Teams everywhere are settling into the new reality of working remotely to meet their social distancing obligations – with many employees expected to continue to do so, at least part-time, even after restrictions are lifted. But with many now feeling the absence of that vital part of office life – direct social interaction – how can organisations ensure their staff stay socialised and engaged while physically distant from their team?

Strong communication and team cohesion have never been more important as many organisations face the complex challenge of staying open for business. Robert Half asked several technology leaders who are experienced in this area – Andrew Bain, CEO at Recreo; Grant Olliff, Head of Platforms, Cloud and Automation at OSS Group; and Richard Raj, Principal and owner of Knight’s Move Consulting – to share their advice on how to maintain that vital matrix of social connection within the team while not being in the same environment.

Check in regularly

Whether it’s work-related or casual, there’s no obvious substitute for staff being able to sit down and chat in the same room. While this physical separation can be helpful for tasks that require focus, Bain says this makes regular communication between managers and team members even more important.

“While productivity hasn’t necessarily decreased, I’ve seen work being delivered without there being steady communication along the way.” He says this can result in issues not being addressed in a timely manner. Another challenge is maintaining a separation between employees’ professional and personal lives. “Some might have kids, while others are living alone and don’t have someone to speak to regularly.”

To help prevent feelings of isolation and ensure team members stay on track, Bain says it’s important to schedule regular meetings, both as a group and 1-on-1. At his organisation, 9am, 12pm and 5pm are specifically set aside for remote meetings. “We also hold daily huddles by videoconference, if team members want to connect that way.”

Keeping the team together

Daily team meetings will give employees the chance to discover how to work together effectively as they adapt to the new reality of remote working, or semi-remote working. It can help staff to maintain a sense of community and share their ideas on how to navigate the transition.

Raj says that the latest team meeting software provides many powerful features that facilitate better communication. Screen sharing and chat boxes let employees exchange questions and information, while video conferencing can provide that extra personal touch.

For larger meetings especially, Raj says it’s vital to set clear ground rules, to ensure the time is productive and that everyone feels included. This should include things like:

  • Wearing work-appropriate clothing on video calls
  • Muting your microphone while others are talking
  • Not calling from where there are distractions, such as children or loud machinery
  • Having already read the agenda and being ready with any questions

Raj recommends sticking with online and web-based communication tools, as they tend to be more cost-effective and can be used from any PC, laptop or phone. “Even if you don’t have experience in online collaboration, a reasonably knowledgeable person can set it up in a day or two, and you can also get a free trial before having to pay for a subscription.”

Staying social while being apart

People are innately social, and it goes without saying that a social workplace is a happier workplace. Keeping those personal connections alive during these times is a challenge, but definitely not impossible, as Bain and Olliff have found.

At Bain’s company, they have been able to bring many of the fun and sociable aspects of the workplace into the virtual world. “Our slogan is live large longer, which speaks not only of the work we do, but is what we want for ourselves as well. We do things like the wacky shirt Friday, where people wear their loudest t-shirt on the video call. Or we might ask employees to share their ‘live large longer’ photo, which could be them playing golf or baking a cake – anything that defines where their happy place is.”

Maintaining a social connection with customers is also possible through remote collaboration technology. Olliff’s virtual coffee meetings are an example. “Instead of popping down the road and having a cup of coffee with a customer, we’ve done a virtual coffee session via video call, and some of our customers have enjoyed that.”

it’s virtual yoga sessions, cooking competitions, or Friday night drinks over Zoom, the key is to be creative. Be open to trying different things if your first idea doesn’t click with everyone. The more you can stay connected with your team, the faster you’ll be able to return to normal when offices reopen, and social distancing measures are fully lifted.

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