It’s been a few tumultuous years since COVID shutdowns ushered in an era that no business or worker was fully prepared for: the rapid rise in remote working. A cultural shift that developed rather suddenly seems to be here to stay. More and more companies are embracing the remote work culture, and employees are pushing for the more flexible lifestyle that remote working offers. With so many perks for everyone involved, the dramatic shift in the way we work is one that has been eagerly embraced.
But the new shiny color of this work-from-home lifestyle doesn’t make it perfect, and there are a slew of unforeseen challenges that are arising as a result of this dramatic cultural change. Among the most important of them all, is how interpersonal work relationships are being affected when workers are not in the office everyday.
It can be challenging for employers to maintain strong relationships with their remote employees, and for employees to maintain strong relationships amongst each other. In a physical workplace, there are dozens of daily opportunities for quick exchanges, group activities, coffee, lunch and brownie breaks.
When your team is spread across different locations and time zones, it can be easy to feel disconnected. The good news is that it is completely manageable to maintain and even strengthen these relationships while working from home, it just requires more effort and intentionality than is needed when you’re physically showing up for work each day.
A study by Buffer claims that 16% of remote workers consider loneliness to be their biggest struggle with working remotely, with another 16% stating their biggest problem to be difficulties in collaborating. Building strong work relationships can combat these feelings of isolation and drastically improve work satisfaction and overall well-being.
We’re going to share a few of the tips we’ve learned about how to build and maintain healthy work relationships from near, far, or wherever you are!
Effective communication is the foundation of any successful team, and this is especially important when it comes to remote workers. As an employer, you must ensure that your remote workers feel supported and connected to the team.
Some of the best ways to create a stronger remote work culture are:
- Organize virtual team-building activities that are more socially focused and slightly removed from day-to-day work
- Celebrate accomplishments and milestones as a team with virtual happy hours, offering to reimburse your team for takeout lunches, surprising everyone on your team with a little treat (like Greyston Bakery brownies!)
- Plan an annual celebration in a central location if your team is scattered across the country, or more frequent ones if you are closer-knit
- Encourage remote co-working sessions throughout the week, even working independently with Zoom in the background offers a sense of community and co-working sessions can be celebrated with a chat break at the end of the hour
- Choose to prioritize phone and video calls over emails and direct messages whenever possible – little changes add up
- Schedule regular check-ins with each remote worker to discuss how they’re doing and offer a space to share any concerns, big or small
- Establish clear expectations and continually make sure your remote employees understand their roles, responsibilities, and deadlines to help mitigate miscommunications
It’s also important to remember that not all work relationships are entirely professional in nature, and you can build connections with your colleagues by talking about things like hobbies and family life. These conversations may feel like they play less of a role in remote relationships because there is generally less casual overlap that might allow for these conversations, but they’re just as important to incorporate. A recent study by Microsoft found that Employees who have thriving relationships with their immediate team members report better well being than those with poor relationships (76% versus 57%).
At the end of the day, we all want to feel connected to the work we’re doing, and the people we’re doing it with. These are some of the many ways to continue making that a focal point of your work life or to facilitate that for your team, no matter where everyone is. And remember, the gift of food for your remote employees can go a long way toward reminding them that they are appreciated!