7 Ways to Engage your Distributed Team
Since adopting a hybrid or virtual workplace model, teams have nailed it from a “getting things done” and “running projects smoothly” perspective with ample collaboration and product management tools from companies like Slack, Atlassian, Microsoft, Google, etc. Startups already seem to be primed for remote working with all the infrastructure and agile processes in place. However, a rolling calendar of Zoom meetings that are purely about work can lead to burnout, as shared by Aneesa Chishti, product manager at Google.
Over the past year, the one thing teams have been impacted by the most is the style and mode of communicating with one another. We very quickly transitioned from a primarily verbal and often informal communication style to a non-verbal and formal communication style. This instant switch in communication style has led to changes in the way we interact within our teams and build relationships with our colleagues.
This has impacted individuals, teams and organisations on different levels. We interviewed team leaders, managers and other key stakeholders from innovative companies such as Google, Atlassian, Stripe and more on core challenges they’ve faced as a result of this change, and what they’ve done to address these changes.
This blog is part of a three-part series on fostering rich, informal interactions and emotional connection, which can be difficult to replicate and set up for virtual / hybrid teams but are essential for trust, collaboration, creativity, and culture.
How individuals have been impacted?
Peer-to-peer elevator chats
“Hey, what’s up?” “How was your weekend?” “Shall we grab a coffee?” were common questions we would ask colleagues as we bumped into them in the hallway.
“Gone are the days where a casual water-cooler chat or brief catch-up while passing by someone’s desk connected parts of our cultural fabric. The main difference is that, now, we actually need to invest effort into the activities that previously seemed to be obvious and simple,” says Anna Podchashynska, People Operations Manager at Finder.
The spontaneity of such peer-to-peer conversations played a huge role in developing trust, emotional connection, and forming strong interpersonal relationships.
What are distributed teams doing to recreate an environment that allows for such crucial micro-interactions?
- “We spin a digital wheel, and one person talks in detail about what they did over the weekend. It helps us understand what people are doing in their spare time,” says Michelle Macrae, Product Manager at Google.
- A few teams have been running virtual buddy or mentor walks, where team members are randomly paired and go on walks together. Conversation topics could range from house tours, introducing pets or kids, sharing interesting things around the block, hobbies, bucket list items to exciting developments in the organisation.
- “We use Slack bots to help us pair individuals, randomly over coffee chats.” says a Senior Program Manager and Team Coach at Atlassian. One advantage of pairing team members randomly is that it also helps connect individuals who might not have connected with each other naturally in an office environment.
Setting aside dedicated time for employees to connect, and including pointers and conversation starters to help facilitate such conversations can help team members have meaningful conversations.
A thin line between home and office
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Over the past year, the distinction between work and home, and when to work and when to stop has become unclear. Setting boundaries can be incredibly challenging when living and working from the same place. This leads to a culture of always-on non-verbal communication and the expectation that responses to messages and emails will be instantaneous.
“If we don’t take time out, we burn out. We don’t have a ritual of leaving the office, going onto a train, everything is at home now and you forget when to clock-off”, noted Christine Luo, the People Operations Associate at Airtasker.
What can team leaders and people and culture teams do to embrace the home-office and ensure employees can switch-off and have enough time to recharge?
- Emphasise the importance of time-off and advocate for healthy breaks during and after work hours. Managers are tackling this by sending fun calendar invites to their teams to simulate a break, such as — “Walk out of your office, go around the block, then go home”, “Check-out of home-office”, and even “10 squats & 10 more after every minute”
- Break the monotony by encouraging movement during meetings or set up walk-n-talk audio meetings. Some teams have also tried “Plank-ups, which are daily stand-ups but holding your plank for the entire duration of the stand-up!”
- Establish a culture where you welcome interruptions in calls. When pets, children, or partners interrupt a call, it’s an opportunity to bond instead of getting flustered!
- Other ideas can include encouraging employees to create physical boundaries between home and work, creating “Sorry, we’re closed” banners and of course turning off notifications.
Are you taking steps to ensure that individuals on your teams have time to build interpersonal relationships and are able to distinguish between work and home? Is this working?
In our next blog, we will take a deeper look at how this switch in the way we communicate is impacting teams and what some of the top tech companies are doing to address this.
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