November 3, 2020
8 tips for managers who want to work on relationships within their teleworking teams
Whether desired or endured, remote working continues to be a divisive issue. Although it is often perceived as a source of personal efficiency, it also seems to represent a risk for team bonding. When we discuss these issues with managers of large companies, they are concerned and notice the disappearance of those informal exchanges that usually take place at the iconic coffee machine.
With our company you can work from anywhere you want, at Ferpection we have some experience with remote team collaboration. Here are 8 tips we've learned from our mistakes for managers who want to improve relationships within their remote teams.
1. See beyond the coffee machine
The coffee machine and others - smoking breaks, unexpected run-ins in the hallways, discussions after meetings - are great! These are the ideal places for serendipity, the serendipity that allows you to find ideas and information that would not have occurred otherwise. They will also allow you to build a strong bond with your colleagues beyond your work relationships.
However, the coffee machine does not ideally target these two aspects:
- serendipity: an unexpected discussion can indeed reveal that a project very similar to yours already exists in the company. But isn't this just a sign of a lack of communication that should be dealt with beforehand rather than relying on coincidence alone?
- relationships: we've all been able to build strong relationships through random encounters. However, these encounters often limit us to a specific group, whether it is the break room on our floor or the group of smokers. Without even realizing it, we limit our relationships within the company to a silo, be it geographical, behavioral, social, hierarchical...
2. Put teams at ease
Ironically, video conferencing provides you with a window into your colleagues' homes that you might never have had otherwise. While remote work is considered cold and practical, it puts you in the center of people's intimacy and lets you see their children, roommates, spouses, pets, etc.
These windows are all opportunities for us to open up in a meeting and talk about the places and people that matter to us. I can't recall the number of people who have said hello to my daughter, who regularly appears on the screen when looking for a comic book!
By accepting other people's lives, you bond with the team just as much as you do during a break. Better yet, you allow exchanges to take place on a more emotional level, which is often tricky in a professional setting.
"Bringing out serendipity, those serendipities that allow you to find ideas and information that would not have occurred otherwise."
3. Find new w to develop informal moments while remote working
If I ask you how to bring emotion back into written communication, you spontaneously answer with emojis 😺. These characters from our text messages have been invited into professional exchanges to moderate our interpretation of other people's writings.
Good news, there are other ways to combine informal and formal:
- Include informal topics in your internal communication with pictures, movies, trips, restaurants, stories, jokes, etc. Tools such as Slack or Twist add by default a dedicated space for "random" topics to your collaborative workspace.
- Dedicate an official moment in your team meetings to the informal: good news, current series and movies, solidarity between team members...
- Organize a regular "Let's Talk" meeting that is entirely focused on sharing. For example, our Product team takes 30 minutes every Thursday to discuss everyone's difficulties as well as everything and anything.
4. Create unexpected encounters
As noted previously, spontaneous discussions within a workplace are not that random and, even if you have one or more acquaintances in the mailroom, it is rare that you have access to your entire building, let alone your company.
A life-saving practice in a remote work setting is really going to be to talk to random people. For instance, at Ferpection, we have a "random buddies" system. We use an in-house algorithm that creates pairs of people in the company and suggests that they meet in the following 15 days. It's up to the two people to arrange this and to give the desired format to this discussion. This brings us all to talk to each other!
Based on our experience, these 45-90 minute conversations often start with mutual questions about each other's lives and allow people to get to know each other on a personal level. This is followed by the phase where work, projects and colleagues are discussed!
5. Experience group activities while remote working
Nowadays, it is possible to conduct many activities remotely but also in groups. They are often leisure and creative activities. You can start with a simple video or Skyped cocktail party and then take it up a notch with karaoke, sports, yoga, meditation, quizzes, online board games, werewolves games, online role playing, virtual escape games, group drawing, crafting sessions, cooking classes, watching a movie together, etc. At Ferpection, we have done more or less all of these activities with groups of 4 to 15 people, so it's definitely possible!
There' s something for everyone and it's an opportunity to try new things. Before you start, it is essential to prepare and work out the logistics. As soon as you go beyond the appetizer stage, clearly explain what is expected of everyone and give each person time to connect.
6. Meet physically despite the distance
We remain social beings and physical presence, using our five senses, is key not only to our relationships but also to our well-being at work and elsewhere. And, after all, why not? That lunch you were going to have in the cafeteria, can also be organized in the morning and done in a downtown restaurant. Alternatively, if you need a workspace, meet in one of the many coworking spaces now available.
Let's take a practical case, half of my team lives 450km away from me. I work with them every day remotely. When I come to Paris, I try to schedule lunches and other times to meet face to face. If I can do it with this distance, it should be possible for you to do it if you live in the same region.
7. Involve the team
The problems you notice are not necessarily the same as those expressed by your colleagues. More generally, an initiative will be more easily adopted if it comes from people themselves.
At Ferpection, we regularly go through listening phases in the form of surveys or interviews. Yes, this may come as a surprise to you from a company that specializes in user research 🤣. Here is an example of a result:
This allows us to agree on the priorities to be addressed. A working group usually gathers together around the topic, informs the others of its progress, consults with different people depending on the amount of change, and generally comes up with actions that are quite simple but that everyone will implement, despite the distance!
8. Enjoy a coffee together from your own home
This last tip is more like a footnote. No one is stopping you from asking a colleague if they have 5 minutes to relax, click on a video link and chat while drinking their own beverage, whether coffee or another beverage! Does it really require more effort than waving to your colleagues in the office?
In conclusion, although it is true that long-distance relationships are less spontaneous, this does not make the objective of building relationships between employees unattainable. It just requires a little more investment and inviting chance into your discussions :-)
Ferpection helps companies understand their users' behavior in order to use it to drive their business. Our liberated company organization provides us with the energy and flexibility to satisfy our clients every day. If you would like to join our team, please take a look at what our company culture, what job listings we currently have available or send us your unsolicited application :-).
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