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.