How to Keep Your Remote Team Engaged

How to Keep Your Remote Team Engaged
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As an introvert and a resident of a rural town in Wyoming that has very few people and even fewer jobs, I love being able to do my job remotely. It’s nice to have a commute that just takes me down the hall, to a sunshiny (quiet) office with my own tea kettle and essential oil diffuser. I love having my husband working in the room next to me; and being able to shift between work responsibilities, household chores, short errands, and side hustles, depending on the needs of each individual day.

But working remotely has one serious drawback — it’s very hard to get to know your team members. Even as an introvert, I sometimes miss the personal connections that happen during lunch breaks or morning updates. I miss the shared sense of camaraderie that happens when you face shared crisis situations, check up on sick colleagues, or celebrate birthdays together. While some of us stay connected on Facebook, it’s hard to root for each other’s personal accomplishments or feel much sorrow when they move on to new jobs, if we haven’t been any more personal more than simply assigning tasks to each other. There’s something to be said for the human connection you get working side-by-side on a daily basis.

Some jobs, however, require remote work . . . but they are not doomed to remaining impersonal! Here are a few ways we’ve found to help team members engage with each other on a more personal basis (but not so much that it scares off the introverts!).

Fun (Non-Mandatory) Meetings

Every month we have a stand-up call for whoever is able to attend. It usually includes a brief update on new projects or upcoming changes, and is also a great time to introduce new team members or share farewell wishes with those who are moving on. But the thing that makes these meetings something to look forward to is our more personal discussion questions.

For example, during our last meeting we each shared how we first got connected to Weaving Influence. Some had personal connections with a team member, some met Becky at a job fair, and others quite aptly found the company through social media. It was fun to discover some shared connections and learn how the job met a different need in each of our lives.

Sometimes we discuss “silly” things like our favorite back-to-school or office supply, favorite type of M&Ms, or favorite tv show to binge watch. Other months, we get a little deeper and share things like personal goals for the year, a big dream we’re working towards, or a relationships that blesses us deeply.

For me, these questions are one of the highlights of our month, since it gives us a better sense of who we’re working beside, so to speak, and helps to build connections that last outside working hours and spill over into real-life friendships.

Bonus tip: always allow the introverts plenty of time to think before they have to respond.

Virtual Water-coolers & Bulletin Boards

At Weaving Influence, we rely on Basecamp for project management and team interaction. One of the things we love about it is the ‘Campfire’ feature — basically a virtual watercooler system, with a designated campfire for each project. These discussion boards allow for more interaction than what you normally get within the weeds of an individual project, but still keep things contained to only those people who have an interest in that topic.

For instance, if you have a general question or comment about Client XYZ’s project, only the team members involved in that project will see it. On the other hand, if you have something to share that involves everyone on the team, the main campfire is a great place to post it. We use that space to share personal news, pictures of cute pets or beautiful outdoor workspaces, troubleshoot website issues, ask for backup support or clarification, or anything else that you would normally share around a watercooler or bulletin board.

Another way we love staying engaged with each other is through automated check-ins. We have #MakeItHappenMondays to share goals for the week (work or personal), #TeamTuesdays for shout-outs to fellow coworkers, #WednesdayWins (work or personal), #ThankfulThursday, and #FinishItFriday to share how our week went. Though we don’t all participate in every check-in during the week, it provides a great space to learn what matters to everyone and encourage each other in other areas of life besides work.

Personal Updates from the Top-Down

Those in leadership generally set the tone for the rest of the workplace, even in a remote team. That’s why it’s so critical to have personal updates, even on the little things, from those at the top. A few ways we’ve implemented this is through weekly “Look Ahead” messages that cover upcoming meetings or events, changes in scope or schedules, company-wide questions or announcements, and anything else that’s helpful for everyone to know. We also have regular messages from our boss, letting us know her heart for the company, anything big on her radar (work or personal), and a quote or thought that has impacted her life recently.

It also helps to involve the whole team in making decisions and improving processes. While there obviously needs to be a clear leader, and a final decision-maker, it helps keep everyone engaged when they can all share input on things like improving team communication, developing or refining processes for certain tasks, or better implementing core values in the day-to-day work. We all have opportunities to share our opinions without being belittled or shot down. Discussions are respectful and gracious, even when we disagree, and we end up with a stronger, more cohesive team as a result.

Do you have any other tips for staying engaged with virtual team members?

About Elizabeth Johnson

Elizabeth Johnson loves the color yellow, strong {black} coffee, long books, and exploring the mountains in rural Wyoming and Utah, where she and her husband are serving as church planters. In her rare free time, she enjoys learning new things, blogging about biblical thinking in the everyday, and pursuing creative activities like hand-lettering and acrylic painting.

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