Some teams have always used a remote or hybrid work model, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced more than ever to work from home. Now, 70 percent of workers want to stay at least partly remote. But loneliness is a real problem, with a Cigna report revealing that 61 percent of Americans felt lonely even back in 2019. So it’s more important than ever for supervisors to create connection among dispersed team members. Here are some tips for how to do that.
1. Eat Together
There’s a reason we all connect over food: research shows that eating together makes people feel more bonded, connected, and happy. Taking time for meals together as a team—not just for working lunches—provides time and space for personal conversations. Food can be used to celebrate holidays, reward accomplishments, honor cultural traditions, and create breaks in the day. Consider sharing a discussion question in advance of meals to get the conversation flowing.
One way to set up meals together is to have everyone log on to the team video conference with their own food at a certain time. This is a simple solution, but you may need to create an expectation that folks turn off their email notifications and enjoy the time together.
You can also have meal packages sent to your team members’ homes. You can order from a local restaurant or use a company such as Spoonful of Comfort, which ships soups, rolls, cookies, and fun extras. Sending food shows your employees that you value them and their time. It removes the tasks of grocery shopping and making lunch. By sending meals, you gift your employees time to destress as a team.
2. Leverage Technology for Connection
Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the video messaging app Marco Polo saw a 745 percent increase in downloads. “Zoom” replaced “Skype” as a verb for video calling someone. The early days of the pandemic taught us to make the most of available technology to stay in touch with our family, friends, and coworkers.
Your office likely has messaging and video calling solutions already in place. But check to see if you could use other technologies to keep your team connected day-to-day. If you use Slack, that might look like various personal interest channels within Slack. If you have several team members who enjoy video games, Discord could be a way to connect.
A word of caution: If you add a technology, you’ll probably need to commit in order to get buy-in. It shouldn’t be redundant to something you already use. Set up guidelines (for example, “No work-related Marco Polos after hours, and don’t use your work Marco Polo account to send personal messages”). Remember: if it feels like a chore, it will become one. But if done right, it can open up a new channel for your team to relate and communicate.
3. Set Boundaries Around Your Team’s Time
To help build trust, your team members need to know you respect their time and energy. One of the best ways you can do that is by creating clear boundaries around their work. In fact, the Cigna report found that communicating more than preferred can actually increase loneliness.
More than half of remote workers say they work more hours remotely than from the office. Rather than taking advantage of that and risking burnout, encourage breaks, limit email-sending hours, and ask for feedback on workloads. Your team members might be saving time on commutes, and you can encourage them to use that time for themselves. By doing so, you create more opportunities to connect when folks are on-the-clock—because they’re not burned out.
4. Support Your Team’s Mental and Physical Health
Just because employees maybe can’t hit the gym together doesn’t mean they can’t work on their health together. Consider scheduling Peloton rides together, using a fitness or run-tracking app such as Strava, or sponsoring workout challenges among your employees. Ensure that employees have access to mental health services through insurance, or share free and online resources for counseling and personal growth.
You may also consider encouraging folks to take breaks, especially if your team members spend the bulk of their time on calls. It can be hard to take breaks during a work-from-home day. Help your team members understand that breaks are expected.
5. Set Up Structures for Recognizing Big Moments
Setting up structures and habits can help you remember to connect with your teammates when big moments happen. Having these structures in place gives team members confidence that they’ll receive care and appreciation when warranted. This security can help people feel more connected.
A few ideas for structures that foster connection:
- Schedule time for shout-outs at the beginning of regular all-team meetings. This is also a good time to ask for life updates from those who would like to share.
- Set up a birthday and holiday calendar, then have the team subscribe. If you have someone who can be in charge of sending birthday cards and gifts, even better.
- Make a habit of celebrating big wins as a team. For example, you could send Starbucks gift cards and enjoy coffee together virtually when a team closes a big sale.
- Send care packages when one of your team members endures an illness, undergoes surgery, or loses a loved one. Spoonful of Comfort, mentioned above, offers care package options with cookies and fuzzy blankets, plus many other options.
Remote and hybrid work has many benefits. With a little thoughtfulness, you can help your team stay connected and foster happier, more productive employees.