Working from home isn’t a new phenomenon. Even before the pandemic pushed us to define what lockdown work environments might look like, companies of all sizes employed remote staff. Those teams ranged from small satellite offices for a group of staff to individuals working in their own home office. The pandemic, however, introduced the ‘at home’ work experience to a wider berth of employees.
Suddenly we were all remote because lockdowns and other restrictions required it. Unless we were an essential employee that needed to be on-site at an essential business, we were carving out room to work in a corner of our living space.
As the world inches closer to “business as usual,” some organizations and their staff aren’t quite ready to return to pre-pandemic work environments. Some are extending their work-at-home status full-time and others have adopted a hybrid schedule that mixes in-office and at-home days.
If hybrid environments are new to you, however, you’ll need to re-evaluate your approach to cultivating a sense of team and connection. With staff in multiple locations (and potentially multiple time zones) team-building takes on a different look.
Create Casual Touchpoints
Teams that gel and work well together are rarely focused on business all the time. They get to know one another on a personal level. In other words, get to know the person and not just the role they perform on your team.
Working together in the office affords us opportunities to make those connection points. There are the personal touches to our work spaces or watercooler chat about last night’s episode of the latest buzzworthy reality show. With hybrid teams, creating these spaces requires a bit more intentionality. Leave space before team meetings for casual chatter. Devote channels on Slack for fun exchanges. There’s nothing wrong with a #Latest Streaming Binge or #Fantasy Football channel. In fact, there’s potentially a lot right with it.
Start with a Check-in
You’ve fired up Zoom for this week’s weekly team meeting. Before you jump into the meat of the call and get on with the heavy lifting of business, create space for members of your team to check in. This isn’t just a “what’s going on at your desk?” type check-in. This is a “what’s going on with you?” check-in.
Leaders, go first to set the example. Talk about where you are in terms of work and life. “I’m feeling really energized after that big meeting with our new client. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I’m excited about the potential here. I think it’s going to stretch us in new ways and open the door to bigger things going forward. On a personal front, it was great to get away for a few days on vacation with the family. It was a nice break from balancing work, and soccer practice, and homework and all those other things that fill our days!”
Some of our best brainstorming happens in those casual spaces when we’ve struck up a conversation in the hallway as we make our way back to our desks after refilling our coffee cups in the breakroom. It happens in those quick conversations that occur when you pop your head into someone else’s office with a question. Be intentional about creating those spaces with your remote team members, too.
If you’ve had an eye-opening conversation over lunch with a team member, summarize the conversation for the rest of the team in an email or online team communications platform. Invite feedback. Don’t just throw out, “Hey, Jill and I had a great chat and this is what we came up with. Going forward, let's do this.” Try, “Jill and I were just tossing around this idea. I want to get your feedback on it. Thoughts?”
Fun and Games
Whether it’s the aforementioned fantasy football thread on Slack or a rousing tournament of Words with Friends, create space for online fun and games within your team. Once a month hit your team’s Venmo account with enough cash to buy lunch and invite them to an engaging game of Pictionary over Zoom. Get creative about how you have fun together.
As a leader, set aside time to check in with each team member on a regular basis. For your on-site team members, sit down together. For your remote teams, schedule a video call. Face time matters. Remember, check in with the person, not just the job. “Hey, did your daughter get her college app in on time? How is she feeling about it? I’ve got my fingers crossed for her!” is just as important as “Any updates on the contract with your client?”