How To Unite Your Team When Working From Home
There you were, happily working alongside your team each day in the company office. All was well until the world turned upside down overnight, we entered differing levels of lockdown and you found yourselves working from home and struggling to unite as a team. It’s tough. Communication is naturally that much harder when we’re not physically together. But, with a little creativity and planning, there are ways to translate the strengths of your team over to a virtual setting.
What holds your team together
So, you’d rather be working side by side with your team in the office. But why? What is it about being in the same physical location that makes teamwork and communication that much easier? By identifying what’s supporting you in your normal work environment it’s going to be that much easier to try and replicate at least the essence of that in a virtual (socially distanced) setting.
A typical day in the office
When you’re working out of the same office, it’s more than likely that your team starts out each day with some general conversation. They’ll ask each other about their weekends, what they got up to the night before and will share Netflix recommendations or discuss a fun restaurant they discovered that evening. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss these conversations as wasting time at the start of the day, they’re actually essential for the unification of your team. Casual conversations are what enable your employees to forge deeper bonds and more meaningful connections, meaning they’ll be able to work together that much more fluidly.
Later that day, a small group of your colleagues might catch-up whilst waiting in line for their coffee. They’ll share what they’re working on and bounce around new ideas to implement different technologies or try out different working practices. Then, they return to their desks feeling refreshed and inspired ready to knuckle down to work before the team meeting.
Once the meeting is over, your team walks back to their desks whilst reviewing what was just shared in that session. They’ll talk about how to put these new ideas into practice and share different ways that the actions from the meeting could be implemented.
A few hours later, one of your employees gets stuck on a particularly tricky task. So, they turn to their desk neighbour who’s a few years more senior than them to ask their advice. They work together to solve the problem, with the more junior employee gaining a new understanding of how to avoid such issues in the future.
Do you notice the pattern here? It’s the casual unplanned interactions that can have the biggest impact of your team’s cohesiveness and communication skills. Surprisingly, it is possible to continue this style of interaction even in a situation where the majority of your workforce are working from home and communicating virtually.
A (not-so) typical day of virtual communication
When your team is working remotely, it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of always focusing on the action and cutting straight to the purpose of each interaction, often skipping the connection building that naturally falls before when speaking face to face. This is where communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams really come into their own.
By setting up a Slack channel that’s purely for casual conversation, you’re going to open the door for your team to reconnect with each other whilst avoiding distracting chatter on other platforms. Start each day by greeting your team and encouraging them to say good morning to one another in this channel, ask them what they got up to the night before and send through photos of your home workspaces. You’ll soon see connections forging again with just a few minutes of time invested each morning.
Instead of having idea sessions in the coffee queue, why not organise coffee sessions at home? Arrange a time for your team to have a weekly chat that’s purely for idea sharing. This is a set time where the floor is open for new suggestions, problem-solving and simply sharing what’s on their mind. You could even organise for some local snacks to be sent to your employees’ homes to make the experience that much more special.
After your meetings, encourage your employees to follow up with one another on Slack. As the team leader, it’s up to you to lead by example and set the tone for the rest of your team to follow. Make a point of sharing your action ideas after each session online and invite your employees to follow suit. It’ll soon become a habit that forms a natural part of each day.
When your employee gets stuck on that tricky task again, take notice. Just because your team’s dispersed doesn’t mean that they need to solve their problems on their own. Encourage each team member to set their own ‘office hours’ when they’re happy for their coworkers to reach out to them with questions. This way, your junior employees get access to the knowledge they need whilst your senior employees get to move through their days focussed and distraction-free.
Show your face
55% of communication comes from reading facial expressions. There’s a reason that presidents address their nations by speaking straight to camera on television – it helps to build those more personal connections. It’s human to human, even if there’s a screen separating you.
No matter how much effort you put into uniting your team from their different workspaces, you’re going to struggle if they don’t see your face. And they’re going to struggle to communicate with one another if they can’t see their coworkers’ faces.
Turn on the video.
Every single time you have a meeting with your team, make sure it’s a video call and that everyone has their camera turned on. It might take some getting used to at first but that face-to-face interaction is essential in order to know that each person is listening, engaging and understanding what you’re saying. Even if it is in a virtual setting.
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