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How to foster connection in remote teams

I’ve been contemplating space.

Not the universe kind, but the stuff that we can’t see and which should surround us.

And, more than simply physical space, our mental space too. It’s not something we have much of these days and that is something that really worries me.

We live in a world where pretty much everything invades our mental space. We are ‘always on’, continually available, busy-busy-busy.

The hidden benefits of informal interactions at work

Let’s get into the detail for a moment. Think about the difference between being in an office and working from home.

You’ll no doubt start with the benefit of avoiding the traffic, all the things you can do with that hour or more saved in a day. You might prefer the ability to make a nice lunch in your own kitchen, the fact the working environment you have is quieter or there are less interruptions.

But do you think about the social interactions you no longer have? Often, these can be easily forgotten.

The corridor meeting, the watercooler chat or the quick word in the margins of a more formal meeting which gets something decided or triggers you to jot down an action for later.

Two people talking together standing around a watercooler shown on the screen of a laptop computer, making in-person connections in the office

Feeling the loss of social learning opportunities

I received some feedback during some sales training I was delivering recently. One of the delegates said: “I miss the office and hearing other salespeople on the phone. I used to learn without even realising.”

It was this comment that got me thinking. Leaders have a duty of care to ensure their people can still benefit in this way but how can they make it happen when everyone is remote?

The answer, although not always straightforward, is simple.

Create the time for knowledge sharing remotely

If there’s an online team meeting, add an agenda slot that allows people to share pearls of wisdom at the start.

Or ask everyone to bring an example of a tricky deal they’ve won and share what worked for them.

Creating this opportunity to foster this connection means people feel included, part of a team and that it’s still ok to share (and to admit that sometimes we need examples from others to learn).

Encourage vulnerability by setting some ground rules

To make this work well online, it will need facilitating. Set some initial ground rules – everyone muted unless speaking; use the hands-up function to contribute; and so on.

I have found that setting the scene and a few guidelines gives people permission to be vulnerable and to ask for whatever they need.

For example, I’ll start by sharing what I think the team are experiencing, what they are struggling with, where we think there could be areas for improvement. This opens the door for people to share.

In effect, we’re recreating a conversation that would happen naturally if we were all in the same building and therefore needs adding back into our more sterile online interactions.

a man smiling at his computer screen whilst working from home, taking part in a remote work call

Seek diverse perspectives

Of course, depending on your company culture, this type of session might work better with an external facilitator and it’s something we are often asked to deliver as part of our sales training work. It can be easier for people to open up to a neutral party and that is ok.

The most important element of this is that they have the chance to share.

The “board you can’t afford” brainstorming

Another approach that I have always enjoyed is to bring together a group of great minds to brainstorm a problem that’s affecting your business. I’ve heard this called ‘the board you can’t afford’ and it works on the basis that everyone in the room, whether physical or virtual, will benefit from finding a solution to the challenge but that none of them would necessarily ‘own’ the problem if left to their own devices.

A laptop screen showing multiple smiling faces of 13 people working remotely, joined on to a work call

Sharing leadership experiences to solve a problem is very powerful.

Running sessions like this always reminds me that we need to make space for this type of interaction because it helps every individual to grow.

Bank your commute time for connection instead

There’s one more suggestion I want to share. Earlier on I mentioned the time we’ve saved by not commuting. Perhaps, rather than squandering that saving, we could make a pact to ‘bank’ this time for some quality conversations. It could be a time we have available in our diary for chatting with colleagues, enabling people to get something off their chest or even brainstorming solutions to a challenge.

A worker talking to her team online, working from a cafe, sitting with a laptop and a coffee with headphones on, building connections

The importance of space: my call to action for you

In some ways it doesn’t matter what we talk about, just that we have the time and space to do so.

Get in touch to speak to us about facilitating a session for you or designing a bespoke development programme for your remote teams. Call us on +44 (0)1488 658686 or email [email protected].

Thoughtful female digital remote worker looking into the distance, seeing a city skyline

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