Updated: Apr 5
Original post on Linkedin.
While I personally love Zoom drinks with my colleagues, they are not for everyone. I think the single most common question I hear when people are look at working from home more is… how can I remain connected? If you’ve been working from home, you have probably felt it too. There are not those same informal interactions, and you do not build relationships and rapport in the same way that you do when you are in the office.
And to be honest, this is absolutely a risk. If you are not intentional, feeling disconnected from your colleagues is one of the biggest pitfalls of #WFHlife. This can be doubly so if you identify as an extrovert like me, and get charged up from connecting with lots of people. You can really miss the energy that you get from seeing your colleagues in person.
That doesn’t mean that WFH will not work for you, or that you can’t create meaningful connections with people working remotely. Here are a few uncommon ideas for how you can maintain connections with your colleagues when you are working from home.
1. Check in with people, properly
You probably don’t need me to tell you that you should reach out to people when you are working from different locations, check in with them, ask them about their day. In fact you are likely doing it already. The big problem I see when doing this on email or instant messenger, is that people go straight into the “ask”.
“Hey, how are you?” and then follow it almost straight up with “... and can I get your help with [this thing]?”
When people see that message and respond, they'll probably give you that “Yep, good” and then respond to your work query. This isn’t inherently bad, but what you have is you've missed that opportunity to truly connect.
This sets up a challenge.. how do you check in with someone, properly? Because often it's only when we are prompted by a task that we actually reach out. Particularly when we're working from home, we don’t see someone walk past our desks and strike up a conversation.
One of the best ways that you can create the space for that is to run on a lower level of stress. When we are on a lower level of stress and create more time in our day, we can invest that in reaching out and checking in with people. No other motive. Asking questions like “how did your family's production go yesterday?” or “I saw that you hit that milestone yesterday, congratulations. How does it feel?”
These kinds of questions happen more naturally when you see someone in person. However you can still get a lot of value and connection from checking in with people without the agenda of “oh and I need this thing from you” (which we are all guilty of, right?).
2. Give specific “thanks” and feedback
Another unconventional way to build connections with your colleagues at work is to make a practice of gratitude and a practice of feedback.
Imagine this: whenever somebody joins you in a meeting, or where you have some kind of interaction, you make a personal effort to follow up with them. It may just be a quick thank you, 2-3 lines that show appreciation for what they have done and contributed. How would they feel about working with you?
This is something that we often miss when we're working from home. You get off a meeting, run straight into the next one. You can miss that moment that happens in person when you walk out of a meeting together, where you share something like:
“Great job, that was awesome. I really loved how you did this part. I think next time it'll be really cool if we hit it from this angle.”
These kinds of informal moments of gratitude and feedback build trust with your colleagues. If writing is a medium you struggle with... have you thought about sending a 2 minute voice note after a meeting?
3. Make the most of in-person catch ups [if they are possible]
This tip is for if/when you have the luxury of catching up in person, and how you can be really intentional about that time. However they can equally be done in a virtual way if in-person just isn’t happening.
One idea I use is to see how I can help serve them. That might be coming along to a meeting to support around something that is important to them. It might be helping them close a deal, or thinking through a problem. I do my best to make sure that the limited in-person interactions I have with my colleagues are ones where I am helping them.
Another idea is to do some kind of team reflection strategy and connection. A really easy exercise that you can do anytime is to get the team together. Put aside 1 hour, reflect, and look forward. Here is a practical example of how that might look:
First 30 minutes: let's look back
What are the things that we're proud of in the last [x] months?
What are some high points both 1) individually and 2) as a team?
Where do we think some of the biggest learnings are… things that we haven't got right yet?
Second 30 minutes: let’s plan forward
This is where you can get strategic around your team goals and priorities. There is a wealth of resources for how to run these kinds of processes, depending on your team structure. Some examples:
What do we need to Keep / Stop / Start Doing as a team?
Obstacles & Strategies... What are all the obstacles we are currently facing to achieve our goals? What is one strategy we can try for each obstacle?
Atlassian’s Team Playbook: Retrospective
I know I have listed these as ways to connect with people when you are face-to-face. However, you can also run with those remotely. All it takes is a little planning.
There are three uncommon ways you can connect with colleagues when working remotely. What have you found to be most effective?