If you’ve ever worked remotely, you’re probably familiar with the saying “Out of sight, out of mind.” Unfortunately, remote employees are more likely to feel excluded or left out of the loop than those who head into an office each day. Luckily, there are small changes teams can make to help all members—even those calling in from a different time zone—feel a sense of belonging.
It’s also worth noting: we’re all remote workers sometimes. Whether we’re sending emails from a plane, calling into a meeting from a hotel, or just working from home because we feel a little under the weather, we can all benefit from these easy-to-implement steps to help distributed teams stay connected.
Always offer a virtual option. Get in the habit of sending your remote colleagues invitations to any meetings that might affect them—and make sure they have a way to dial in. At Humu, every event invite automatically contains a Google Hangout link and a dial-in number. Taking small proactive steps to make information sharing as easy as possible builds trust, helps everyone stay in the loop, and makes teams more productive.
Schedule smart. Try to avoid putting time outside of someone’s normal work day on their calendar. If your team is spread across several time zones, set core hours when everyone should plan to be available. Hold all-hands meetings during these hours to give remote workers an opportunity to connect with everyone in the office. Our daily 15 minute stand up—when the entire Humu team shares important updates—works across four time zones (and counting!). Mark, a remote member of our sales team, says joining stand up is especially important to him because it’s a “consistent routine to see everyone and hear about what’s going on around the company.”
Document discussions and share notes. Of course, it’s not always possible to have everyone in every meeting, especially if you’re juggling stakeholders around the world. If you have to schedule a conversation at a time some members can’t attend, make sure you communicate the purpose of the meeting, and then document and share notes from the discussion so people don’t feel out of the loop. Among virtual teams, careful documentation is especially important in boosting performance and trust.
Use the richest form of communication. Default to video conferencing—it’s much easier to connect with others when you can see each other. That said, if you find yourself running into constant technical difficulties (buffering, freezing, etc), switch to a phone conversation. A good rule-of-thumb is to use the platform that will let you get as much information—facial expressions, body language, tone, pitch of voice, etc—from the other person as you can.
Emotionally proofread your writing. Before you hit send, re-read what you’ve written in a few different tones. Could your words be misinterpreted? Have you explicitly stated everything you want to convey? There is a big difference in how “Let’s talk.” and “Got your edits and overall they look great. I have a few comments, let’s connect tomorrow to discuss.” will be perceived by the recipient.
Make it a habit to reach out. When everyone works in the same office, it’s easy to catch up in the kitchen or while walking to and from meetings. Since your remote colleagues don’t have access to these casual interactions, start verbally flagging moments when you find yourself slipping into important conversation territory. Try saying, “I’d love to get [teammate’s] opinion here. I’ll reach out.” and then make sure to loop them in later via a meeting, email, or Slack.
Get goofy. To build relational trust, start a virtual coffee break or dedicate the first five minutes of meetings with remote workers to catching up on each other’s lives outside of work. At Humu, we have a “#fun” Slack channel where team members can share funny photos from wherever they happen to be. When I worked as a Senior Analyst in Talent Analytics at Liberty Mutual, we scheduled time for a quick virtual game on Friday afternoons or the day before a holiday. We competed to make the best halloween illustration in MS Paint in 1 minute, had to write a song in 5 minutes after being given a few words as inspiration, or all go in on a game of GeoGuessr.
The best advice for helping remote workers feel that they belong is to communicate often, and communicate early. By taking proactive steps to ensure that everyone stays connected and has the space to share opinions and ideas, you’ll ensure that you maintain strong, productive relationships with all your colleagues, no matter where they work.