Max is former member of the Engineering team at Bonusly. He loves building useful tools with code, writing music, and pretending to be a runner.
How to Connect with Your Remote Team and Build Culture
"In this trying time..."
If you feel like the world’s turned on its head, you’re not alone. With the sudden and overwhelming switch to remote work, many of us are finding ourselves trying to recreate the professional and social environment of our jobs from our homes.
From awkward Zoom calls with entire teams to the sudden absence of water cooler talk, participating in the workplace culture now feels like a job in itself. This transition can be different levels of jarring depending on how remote-friendly your company is, but there’s no doubt some of us are bravely entering the remote world for the very first time.
There are lots of great resources out there on managing the logistics of remote work: running meetings, holding 1:1s, getting dressed, setting up your home office, and creating boundaries between work and home. At Bonusly, we spend a lot of time thinking about building a culture of appreciation and gratitude.
Although most of our colleagues work from home one or two days a week, Bonusly made the jump to a fully remote workforce two weeks ago as the COVID-19 crisis hit. Informed by our own experience, I wanted to share some thoughts on how gratitude and recognition can help your remote team stay connected and engaged.
A lonely world
Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019 found that 19% of remote workers report loneliness as their biggest work struggle. And, if you’re used to working in an office most of the time, the problem might be exacerbated. Loneliness is problematic for a few different reasons:
- Burnout: a common and well-documented trap of remote work is longer hours, caused by the frail boundary between work life and home life. Being disconnected from your coworkers might hamper your expectations around productivity and availability, leading you to work unsustainable hours.
- Disconnect: a recent study found a link between loneliness and decreased performance at work, a disconnect caused by a lack of information sharing and personal investment. Detachment from social connections and organizational goals leads to unhappier employees.
- Loss of creativity: working remotely eliminates the unplanned interactions that happen when you bump into your coworkers in the office kitchen, hallways, or at the proverbial water cooler. As a result, lots of informal knowledge sharing and serendipitous idea generation dissipates without an intentional effort to connect with your colleagues.
- Mental health: humans are social beings, and lack of social interaction has tangible downsides. Isolation has been repeatedly linked to poor mental health and higher morbidity and mortality rates. We spend a lot of our time at work—let’s make sure it’s not isolated time.
The first thing to realize is about loneliness: you’re not alone. Even experienced remote workers feel lonely without intentional interactions, first-time remote employees need to strive extra hard to create meaningful connections online. In the next section, we’ll explore some specific ways to go about this.
Staying connected: The basics
Let’s establish some ground rules for remote communication, both social and professional:
With so much information conveyed by tone and body language (93%, according to a commonly-cited UCLA study), it’s essential that you overcommunicate your ideas when writing or even over video chat. State your assumptions, cite your sources, and be clear about your desired outcomes. Another helpful technique to refer to is BLUF (bottom line up front), where you lead with the conclusion in order to make your intentions clear.
- Default to video
Try to jump on a video call whenever possible, especially if there’s even a hint of miscommunication. Seeing your coworkers’ facial expressions and hearing their tone will make it easier to find common ground.
- Show extra empathy
Many of us are facing new and additional responsibilities, from caring for our children, parents, and loved ones who may be sick or quarantined, to financial pressures and existential dread. A rule we try to follow at Bonusly is: “assume positive intent.” Try to be extra patient and kind with your coworkers, and you’ll help create a culture of trust and encouragement, not pressure and shame.
Staying connected: ideas
“Okay, I get it!” you might be thinking, “It’s important I connect with my coworkers intentionally and in a kind-hearted way. But how do I go about it?”
I’m glad you asked! Here are a few ideas you can champion in your organization.
Check in on your coworkers
With the missing serendipity of passing by your coworker’s desk or bumping into them in the kitchen, you’ll need to intentionally reach out to see how they’re doing. You don’t need a work reason to check in. While you don’t want to overdo it, a once-in-a-while, “hey, how are you doing?” can help you and your coworkers feel less alone. The advantage of doing this over an asynchronous communication tool like Slack (or email) is that you won’t interrupt their work – they can respond on their own timeframe!
Remember to listen actively, give your coworker the space to feel whatever they’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to share your own worries and frustrations. After all, trust is built through vulnerability.
Knowing someone out there cares about how you’re doing – not just your work product – can make all the difference.
Be explicit about recognition and praise
We spend a lot of time thinking about recognition at Bonusly. We believe that when great work is visible, it keeps everyone informed and inspired and helps people understand why their contributions are meaningful. Positive communication helps employees feel more connected to and engaged with their work. So, be explicit about recognizing your colleagues – thank them publicly and in detail for their work via email, on Slack or Microsoft Teams, or with a dedicated employee recognition tool like Bonusly.
Create dedicated social spaces
Bring everyone together over Google Meet or Zoom for the sole purpose of hanging out and catching up! Holding virtual happy hours, team lunches, or even employee-led yoga classes is a great way to create low-stakes opportunities for meaningful connections. A social gathering can be a great way of bookending the workday, signaling that work is over, and helping prevent the remote burnout we mentioned earlier. Finally, tools like Donut for Slack can randomly pair you up with your colleagues for informal small-group chats.
A few particularly creative Bonuslyans (hi, Connie!) have helped our team come up with all sorts of great and silly ways to have fun together over Slack.
- We completed our first Starch Madness, pitting 16 forms of potatoes against another, leading to an unbelievable finale.
- We played “guess this baby,” trying to match baby pictures with our teammates.
- We started a remote lunch-and-learn, where coworkers share their hobbies, passions, and learnings.
- One of our coworkers started a weekly remote yoga class.
- We made a video series for everyone to share their remote setup.
To learn more about culture-building activities for remote teams, read 10 Great Culture Building Activities for Remote Teams.
We're in this together
At a time when more and more of us are isolated and trying to stay productive, it’s crucial that we intentionally connect with our coworkers. For all the awesome benefits of remote work (freedom, flexibility, focus), it’s important that your coworkers don’t start feeling “out of sight, out of mind”. You can nourish your company culture and encourage employee engagement while everyone’s WFH by expanding meaningful relationships, publicly recognizing great work, and creating dedicated spaces for social connection.
Whether your team continues to work remotely or happily reunites back at the office in the distant future, you’ll be stronger for it.
--> Our recognition solutions are here to bridge the disconnection gap. Creating a space for daily connections fosters strong relationships—leading to better outcomes and that all-important sense of belonging. Try a fast and free demo of Bonusly today.