how to stay connected to colleagues when no one works in the same place

With teams increasingly likely to be spread out across the country, managers are facing new challenges about how to keep team members connected and engaged. Here are five strategies you can use to ensure that geographically remote team members don’t feel the distance.

Having a standing one-on-one call with each remote team member. Otherwise, because you’re not in the same location, you’re less likely to have regular communication; if you leave it to chance, you could end up going weeks or longer without actually talking. Even if it’s brief, having a regular time to touch base one-on-one will help both of you feel more connected – and you’re likely to come up with uses for the time even if you don’t think you’ll need it. (This is a great time to give input on projects, act as a resource, give feedback, and generally check in about how things are going.)

Have a standing team call too. Try to get your team all together on a call every so often, so that people can reconnect with each other and have an opportunity to talk as a group. Obviously you don’t want to do this just for the sake of doing it, but you’ll almost certainly be able to find productive uses for this group time. For example, you might ask a team member to update everyone on how a project is going, or use the time for the group to brainstorm approaches to a challenge someone is having, or even have one team member teach everyone else a skill.

Make a point of developing personal connections. When you’re working in the same physical space as people, you generally get to know them on a personal level over time. Even if you’re not the most social bunch, you tend to learn about each other’s interests and hobbies, and often families and significant others, simply by sharing space and chatting in the kitchen or before a meeting starts. But when you’re remote, those personal relationships don’t develop as easily, if at all. That can matter because feeling a personal connection to colleagues can keep people more engaged and invested, as well as make them more likely to go the extra mile when needed. So take time to ask about how people are doing generally, as well as about people’s lives outside of work.

See part of your role as being to connect others on your team. When you’re managing a remote team, you’re at the hub of the wheel – you have some connection to each person on it. But, depending on the nature of the work they do, it’s very possible that your staff members know little about each other or what they do or how they do it. Make a point of spotting opportunities to connect team members to each other. For example, you might suggest that Jane pick Pedro’s brain about a project she’s working on because Pedro did something similar last year, or ask Lucy and Olive to work together on a project where they have complementary talents.

Think of creative ways to make people feel connected. For example, I once worked with a manager of a remote team who sent everyone a box of doughnuts on the same day, with a note saying “there are doughnuts in the kitchen!” as a play on what happens so often with teams who share a space. This same manager sent everyone a mini-bottle of champagne after the team successfully launched a major new product. Have fun thinking about ways to treat your team like a team – even though they’re spread out in different areas.

Originally published at Intuit Quickbase.

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. the gold digger*

    1. Brownies are never wrong.

    2. One of our team members is in Lithuania. Most of the rest of us are in the US. She scheduled a meeting for late afternoon, which was strange enough, as it was really late her time, and then insisted that the team here assemble in our boss’s office, which also made no sense as there are not enough chairs for everyone.

    She shared her screen and started showing us wedding photos. Then she told one of my co-workers to take the surprise out of his bag. He pulled out a cake. She had gotten married the weekend before and wanted us to celebrate with her. It was really neat.

  2. Cajun2core*

    At OldJob, our team was all over the place, Alabama, San Jose, England, San Antonia, East Cost, Oakland, Surry, the Niagara Falls area, etc. One of the best things we did was we all installed Yahoo Messenger. It worked great. You could just ask someone a question, send a comment, respond to something, send out info just as easy (if not easier) than going talk to someone in the same office. It also allowed us to see who was at their desk and who wasn’t. It really helped.

    Of course, it doesn’t have to be Yahoo Messenger specifically, any IM software would do.

  3. ThursdaysGeek*

    So now I just need a good way to send this link to my manager. Most of the group is in one location, but a couple of us are one time zone west, and a couple more are one time zone east, and we do feel a bit disconnected at times. Some of us use IM. One thing they have done is had us travel to the main location, so we could at least meet the rest of the team in person, and that has really helped.

  4. Wendy Darling*

    As a new member of a distributed org who is currently feeling adrift, I love this list!

  5. The Optimizer*

    I manage a remote team and we start every day off with a group email. We talk about what things ranging from everyone has going on that day, brief project updates, news on upcoming projects/accounts, vent on a problematic client/account, when we will/won’t be available, FYI on the big boss’s time out of the office, something stupid our dogs did, how the kid’s volleyball tourney went and/or what we’re having or making for dinner that night. It’s our virtual water cooler and it’s a nice way to stay connected when we are scattered all over the country.

    1. Weekday Warrior*

      Even though my teams are mostly in one location, it’s a big building and people are on different floors/in isolated offices. The morning group email idea is kinda cool. It’s exactly the virtual water cooler. I wonder if instead of email another software could be good, i.e. to not clog up inboxes. Some kind of IM or even a blog format like AAM. The morning open thread!

      1. the gold digger*

        I gave my cats a performance review after their first six months in our house. They got “exceed expectations” on throwing up, shedding, and yowling loudly late at night and “need improvement” on vermin disposal (catching a wee mousie and dropping her in the bathtub is not the right thing to do), on affection (being all loving is not required when I am making dinner; however, it is expected when I am watching TV), and on eating all of your dinner AT ONCE SHIRLEY so I don’t have to hide it from Laverne and then get it out of the cupboard five minutes later because you have decided that NOW you are hungry.

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