Keeping Remote Employees Connected and Optimizing Virtual Team Collaboration

Tara Storozynsky
August 14, 2020
1 min read

Since work as we know it has transformed over the past few months, employers from a wide variety of industries are facing the challenges of keeping remote employees connected and productive. Between technical challenges and stressful times, it’s important to find the right balance in order for effective virtual team collaboration and brainstorming to flourish. Whether you’re new to managing a virtual team or have been doing it for years, you’ll appreciate these tips for setting up your crew up for long-term success. These remote teams best practices will help your team stay optimistic, engaged, and on track to accomplishing goals together.

1. The Lowdown on Keeping Remote Employees Connected

There are some major differences between working from home and working in an office. There are benefits and disadvantages or remote working, but the greatest challenge is often keeping remote employees connected and establishing a real sense of belonging when teammates aren’t sharing physical space. Chances are that will you will have a very different experience keeping remote employees connected if your company is built around remote teams than if your company suddenly made the switch to remote work. Many intentionally remote companies tend to be smaller, with well-established tools and processes in place to ensure a sense of unity. Onboarding only occurs as new employees are recruited. There’s infrastructure that has had time to develop, improve, and thrive.

If your entire approach to work has changed due to current events, you’re probably going through a much different process. Between figuring out IT support for remote teams, ensuring everyone has the hardware they need, and establishing the most basic video call protocols, forming a sense of connection and unity for your newly remote coworkers may not be the top priority on your list — but it should be.

If there’s one company that has a great understanding of remote work challenges, it’s Slack. They surveyed remote workers across the United States and found the transition to remote work, “… can strain professional connections. Nearly half of newly remote workers say that working from home has negatively affected their sense of belonging. But experienced remote workers show us that connectedness can improve over time.” This shows us that while there can be problems with virtual teams, they can be remedied. Time can help, but prioritizing best practices, improved workflows, and flexibility is paramount.

As you ask yourself how to build a strong culture with a remote team, it can be beneficial to think about what makes team building feel easier in an office. Group activities, in-person brainstorms, and one-on-one connections tend to flourish in a shared physical space. The good news is, you can still achieve this in a virtual environment:

  • Schedule regular video calls that include everyone on your virtual team
  • Keep things creative with inclusive brainstorming sessions
  • Be transparent about your team’s shifting priorities and your company’s current goals.
  • Don’t expect people to be perfectly polished. Times are stressful enough without your team worrying about their cats blocking their webcams.
  • Embrace the best technology for working remotely. Try new things and figure out what works best for your team.

2. How to Engage Remote Employees and Nip Burnout in the Bud

This is probably one of the most common challenges you will face when managing a remote team. Let’s face it, even in an office setting, not all of your colleagues are fully engaged all the time. It’s not always due to a lack of interest — some folks are just naturally introverted and make great employees even if they don’t speak up in meetings all that often. The difference is that when someone is sharing physical space with you, it’s pretty easy to tell how present they are. But when you’re managing a virtual team, radio silence on Slack can be cause for concern. Effective engagement is the foundation for inspiring individuals and motivating virtual teams.

The truth is just about everyone who works from home will experience some level of distraction. It’s a great idea to set up a work space that will help you focus. However, while many professionals have been working from home for years or even decades, what’s different now is that world events have become arguably even more distracting than our physical environments. The COVID-19 pandemic and other current events now make up a lion’s share of the attention economy. And even if your team members aren’t reading or watching the news during work, it’s hard not to be preoccupied with what’s going on. Some of your employees might be a little disengaged and distracted, but others will react to this stress differently. You might notice that some members of your remote team are working long hours, skipping breaks, and cranking out work like never before. It sounds great in theory, but it’s also a recipe for burnout.

Don’t ignore it. Don’t fight it. Lean into it.

Establishing open communication right now is key to understanding how to engage remote employees and help them establish balance.

This is a great opportunity to get your dispersed team to connect over something even more significant than new clients or new projects. Encourage conversation, check-in with them, and validate their concerns. By keeping an open dialogue around current events, you’ll create a grounding environment that will encourage communication in your virtual team. If a decentralized team is able to discuss their emotions together, they are more likely to bond and feel a sense of belonging during this time. Just the simple act of voicing concerns or anxieties can help relieve your employees’ stress.

Not only will open conversation support your team’s mental health, but it will also lay the groundwork for improved communication over work tasks as well. As you focus on how to engage your remote employees, you may notice them become more present, vocal, and enthusiastic as they develop a rapport with you and other team members. Motivating remote teams relies on motivating individuals first. Once everyone feels included and supported, real collaboration can begin — even online.

3. Get Specific with Virtual Team Collaboration

If your remote employees have barely left their homes recently, a team Zoom meeting can quickly descend into a frenzy. People are excited to see each other and also excited to share ideas. This is wonderful, positive energy, but it can eat up time and obscure the tangible goals in front of you.

Provide specific agendas for meetings, and don’t be afraid to classify exactly what everyone will be doing in the meeting. Is it a working session? A brainstorm? Let your team know. Set clear expectations for deliverables — clearer than ever before. If something’s even a little fuzzy, clarify it. Don’t be afraid to reinforce roles and responsibilities and set clear boundaries.

Online communication can lead to ambiguity, and if your team is still getting adjusted to remote work, they may not be able to infer what you need. Help improve virtual collaboration by bringing everything into focus. Once your vision is crystallized and people know exactly what they need to do, your decentralized team can easily work together to achieve results.

Another strategy for improving collaboration is to create group projects with smaller groups. By streamlining the number of participants in a specific project, you can save everyone time and improve their ability to focus on a select few projects, rather than everything in the department. This technique can also give your remote team a greater sense of pride, ownership, and enthusiasm for the projects that they are assigned to — motivating remote teams to do their best work.

4. Choose the Best Technology for Working Remotely

The best technology for working remotely can do a lot of the heavy lifting for improving communication and keeping remote employees connected. Using a messaging tool like Slack, a video conferencing solution such as Zoom, and an intuitive project management tool like Asana can improve virtual collaboration significantly. Check out this guide to the best remote collaboration tools.

While a lot of these tools can improve virtual team collaboration and communication, they won’t necessarily clarify which digital assets to use for certain projects or clients. And if this was a weakness when your team was in office, it can become an even greater challenge now that you’re remote.

Every office has one — that go-to person you bug every time you need to dig up a specific digital asset or piece of information. Now that your team is reaching out virtually instead of swinging by a desk, this pain point is suddenly becoming glaringly obvious. And if that individual is on your team, you’re finally realizing just how much this detracts from their core responsibilities.

Many companies recognize the importance of having a centralized, single source of truth for their employees. Maybe a digital asset management solution has been on your wish list for some time, and the dramatic shift to remote work has made this resource more desirable than ever before. After all, an effective DAM solution can:

  • Keep remote teams connected without drowning them in busywork
  • Provide new insights into how your assets are being used.
  • Provide accurate, easy to find information and assets
  • Improve brand consistency

There are weaknesses in every workflow, but they can become more stressful when you’re managing remote teams. Effective digital asset management can make all the difference in calming the chaos and streamlining your workflow. The World Bank implemented one such system to be collaborative and empower everyone to share and see content at the same time, without creating bottlenecks.

 

Curious about how digital management can make remote working easier?

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