Remote work is definitely not going away any time soon and we’ve seen some benefits to it as well: less commute, which means more time to catch some zzz’s or hang with the family. However, it can also pose some challenges as we mentally and physically face our new norm. Over the last couple of weeks we have been talking about individual physical and mental wellbeing. If you are a manager, you may be thinking this all sounds good and dandy but “how do I promote employee wellbeing when my team is remote?” Sit back and relax because I’m going to share a few tips that can help boost the wellbeing of your team today.

Not only will your employees appreciate your active stand on ensuring their wellbeing, but it actually helps with team and company productivity!  As stated in a Forbes article, studies have shown that supporting your employee’s wellbeing positively impacts a company’s performance. Now you got to give it a try since it’s good for the bottom line. Am I right?

Let’s start with getting in the right mindstate, a relaxed one. A deep breath in for one, two, three, four, and hold for four. Breath out for one, two, three, four. Now, don’t you feel better? A quick and easy way to calm those nerves. Share with your team! Now that we are nice and calm, let’s dive right on in.

Champion Flexibility

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

While many of us have been working from home for some time now, it never hurts to reinforce flexibility on your team. As a leader of your team, you help set expectations and influence team morale. As such, it is important that your employees and team members feel comfortable stepping away from their laptop. What this pandemic has shown us is that more than ever, people need to think about their physical and mental wellbeing. Ensuring your team knows you are a champion for flexibility goes a long way and demonstrates that you trust them.

I remember when I first started working remotely some years ago, I was so paranoid to have my instant messenger status say “away.” I felt like I had to always be on since there was no way for people to see me in the office. I also didn’t want people to think I was taking advantage of working remotely. It wasn’t until my leader shared that it is okay to step away, take a breather, go for a walk that I felt comfortable. I felt such a sense of relief, like a weight was taken off of my shoulders.

Up until then, I didn’t realize how much it actually affected me. Stepping out to go for a walk around the block when I need a break from the screen has been huge. Make sure you not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Employee wellbeing will increase when yours increases.

Check-Ins (no agenda needed or required)

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

When you are in the office, it is easier to pick up on cues that a direct report may be going through something or just that they are not 100%. In this remote world, it is more difficult to see that. It’s not like we can just swing by their desk and check in. It takes more of an effort now. Check in with your team outside of team meetings just to see how they are doing. It doesn’t always need to be business so these check-ins can be to catch up, reflect and have non-work related conversations. No agendas are needed,  just what is on someone’s mind. Feel free to do this as a team or individually. As Ryan Lynch, managing partner from Beardwood & CO, says:

“When you are talking to any of your team, it’s important to be truthful, specific, and positive. Remote working has made this even more applicable.”

This is a small effort as a manager or leader, but can impact your team in a good way. Sometimes we just need to talk about non-work related items. While these don’t need to be long, these check-ins can also impact your relationship with your direct reports, improving team morale.

Set Boundaries and Expectations

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

While working from home can be so beneficial, it can be quite difficult separating work life and your personal life as it’s basically the same four walls now. I no longer have the hour-commute, but there goes that separation from being in the office to a home setting. As many of you, I have found myself working longer. This can lead to fatigue and burnout.

As your team’s leader, take it upon yourself and set those work and personal boundaries for your team. Let them know you don’t expect them to always be on. If an email comes in after hours, you don’t have to answer it right away. A healthy balance between work and personal life is needed, especially now. Let me tell you, burnout is real and setting those expectations with your team helps alleviate the stress of needing to constantly answer those “off hour” emails or calls. Encourage those boundaries and set expectations for “off work” hours.

With flexibility, open communication, setting expectations you can easily and actively  help your employees thrive in a remote environment. Let us know how these work tips work out for you and what strategies you put into place that puts your team’s well-being as a priority. 

Over the last several years, I have worked on many distributed teams, meaning my team has been spread across various different states and not necessarily co-located. I was never in the same location as my boss, unless I flew into that office or vice versa, which used to happen quite often. Coming from an institution where everyone was colocated in the same building/ area to joining a company and team that was so dispersed gave me some anxiety at first. With only a few team members in my office, and my boss elsewhere, where is the employee connection? Well, my boss was a mastermind at keeping the team engaged. She had individuals across three states and three time zones. She found ways of engagement where she would hold weekly video conference calls with the team and then hold weekly to bi-weekly calls one-on-one. I was also on constant calls with my teammates in other offices. It didn’t feel like we were so spread out. 

Since then, I had various different bosses. The video meetings stopped and so did the one on ones with my manager. I still had various calls and meetings with teammates throughout the day and week so I felt some sense of connection, yet it was different from before. Due to personal circumstances, my family and I decided to move. Luckily, I was able to become a telecommuter or remote worker. While the company has had remote workers, I was the only remote worker on my immediate team at that time. Slowly things started to change, where individuals didn’t want to make the two-hour commute to and from home, fighting traffic. More and more people would work from home a few days a week. 

Now fast forward to 2020. I am on an entirely new team. I am one of two remote workers on my team and the only team member on the west coast. The time zone difference can be a little challenging at times, but I’ll save that for another day. I miss some things that would  have been shared during an office chat or a quick drop in. Having to pick up on cues and listen intently on team calls is a critical skill that I’m developing. I need to interject often so individuals realize that certain things that are discussed in side conversations are best for team calls. Then COVID-19 happened. Everyone went remote. The silver lining to all of this is that my team members and managers now see the importance of communication and employee connection beyond the office walls. Remote work has changed the face of business and how we manage our teams. 

Remote work has changed the face of business and how we manage our teams.

While remote working isn’t all rosy-posey, it does provide opportunities that are lacking from a face-to-face employee connection. I found that face-to face meetings can also feel intimidating for some, especially if they do not feel comfortable speaking up in a big team or broad audience setting. Therefore, people’s thoughts and feelings may go underheard. Secondly, when you do try to put in a word, you may get overshadowed by the dominant speaker that may not pick up on the social cues that let you cut in and allow them to take a breather. Lastly, there can be budget constraints that only allow for some to attend face to face and some virtually. 

With many going virtual and the need to social distance for safety precautions, remote work has allowed teams to be connected on a different level than before, especially with the use of technologies like zoom, slack, and box and others. 

social remote working

Finally Be Heard

Technology has truly provided a platform that connects others in ways that was somewhat inhibiting when we were all face-to-face. As mentioned by business.com, “Thanks to a proliferation in communication technology, virtual teams tend to connect more frequently and on a deeper level than they would in person.” I was able to experience this firsthand last week when I attended our first ever leadership conference for my client group. 

As I helped my client group prepare and restructure an event that was supposed to be in person, yet had to go virtual due to the pandemic, we were so worried that there would be a lack of energy and engagement, especially that it could allow people to multi-task and not truly pay attention.  I’m happy to report we were quite wrong and found that the connection was profoundly and surprisingly unique. 

We used Zoom Meeting that allowed for video and chat to take place all at the same time. It also helped that the energy from the presenters was off the charts. From the very start, people were not shy to share their thoughts and feelings in real time. There were so many “YESSSS”” and “100%” showing agreement or posting questions and thought-provoking messages that added to the conversation that the presenter was having with the audience. These messages not only came from the vocal ones but from some that I have not heard from before and finally coming to the table. It somehow became easier to share your sentiments. I, personally, found myself contributing more than I normally would. While I’m not shy to share my feedback, I just couldn’t help engaging with others from all over. This virtual format just drew you in. 

When our Australian and New Zealand colleagues joined, the chat blew up welcoming them to the conference and the journey. Although it was 3am local time for them, their dedication and commitment were unparalleled. This virtual conference expanded its reach like never before and employee connection was strong.  

This virtual conference expanded its reach like never before

The most effective networks optimize virtual communication and productivity in tandem, bringing together skilled workers across states (and even countries) and allowing members to share tips and stories and forge connections with one another. These relationships simply wouldn’t happen outside of a virtual environment.” Business.com

Couldn’t agree more. We even had senior vice presidents who normally would jump in and out of the meeting or stay for a short period due to other in-person engagement, who stayed for the ENTIRE conference. Way to go team! Engagement was important and the video and chat functions allowed for you to converse with individuals from all over the world and all levels. The real-time response was phenomenal. Unlike holding your questions or feedback to the end, these virtual means allowed true engagement from the start. This virtual platform felt so intimate like I was having a conversation with friends and family and not necessary with our 250+ global attendees and across all levels of the company. 

When we return to in-person events, we NEED to keep up this sense of real time connectedness. The virtual platform allows for a greater global audience to join in (even if it was 3am local time). Going hybrid for future events (in person and online) will be our next challenge. Thankfully, we have a year to figure that one out. 

Sticking to the budget

This option also illustrated a budget-friendly way to congregate. It was a record-breaking year of registrants and attendees. Not incurring a cost to fly and stay in a hotel helped fuel a bigger presence. Remote working has proved to be helpful in more ways than one; employee connection was on a deeper level, chatting and sharing ideas became easier and it was budget friendly all at the same time. 

Lessons Learned

What made this event and virtual engagement was the platform and speakers we chose. It is important to select a platform that provides an opportunity for individuals to engage, whether it is through a chat function or breakout rooms for smaller group discussions. As Forbes mentions, “It also creates the familiarity of engagement and is an attractive option for the introverts who may be overwhelmed by the larger virtual events.” Additionally, the real time feedback provides the ability for different individuals, whether you are the life of the party or a bit more reserve to share what you are thinking.  Your audience is key so picking speakers that can energize a room, even a virtual one, with relevant topics in short bursts will go a long way. The more you engage your audience through communication and excitement, the more you will be able to keep them focused and follow along. This can be done with small and large teams. Ensure your team touchpoints provide an avenue for all members to socialize with each other and connect with the topic. The length of a virtual meeting will be critical and think about frequency. Finding the ideal mix of frequency, communication tactics, and topics is necessary and will enable successful employee connection.