Maintaining Remote Relationships
Many employees have found themselves in a new, potentially challenging situation as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, but some of us have been working remotely for years. I’d worked remotely up to half time at several companies before I joined Seeq, a virtual company, over six years ago. I thought I knew what remote work was all about, but soon discovered that a fully virtual company had different benefits and challenges. Thankfully our team was committed to making it work by thinking outside the box. Over 60 Seeqers contributed to the following points we’d like to share with those of you new to the experience!
Take Social Breaks
No one goes into an office, sits at their desk, and works non-stop until it’s time to go home, and yet that is what many people imagine they should be doing when working from home. There are a lot of other things that make up a typical office environment, including the proverbial water cooler chats that happen simply because your co-workers are all in the same physical place at the same time.
While you must be more intentional about these types of interactions in a virtual workspace, they are just as important. Allow yourself some time to conference call or chat with co-workers about life and be open to them doing the same—it may be more important now than ever before.
At Seeq, we use software that enables us to advertise our current availability to our co-workers, making it easier to know when someone is available for a chat or to help with a work-related issue. Managers should embrace this social time as it’s important for building and maintaining teams, and it often mixes with and spills over into productive work-related discussions.
Have Some Fun
Think office parties are a thing of the past? Think again! Over the years we’ve hosted a variety of virtual parties from baby showers to Halloween murder mysteries. These can require a little extra creativity but are well worth the investment. Supervisors should encourage time for planning and attending social events as a mechanism to build and maintain relationships among co-workers.
Day-to-day, you can choose to use video conferencing tools while having coffee or lunch virtually with co-workers. Play Pictionary with screen sharing, an online card game, or simply throw together a quick presentation about something in your personal life to share with your office in a kindergarten-style Show ‘n Tell.
At Seeq we’ve been spending fifteen minutes a day doing just that for years—everything from pictures of your most recent vacation to your favorite Pi Day pie recipe, or your new kitchen gadget that makes it easier to make the pie.
Daily meetings and get togethers like those mentioned above can help minimize feelings of isolation. Kids and pets should be welcomed into this part of your day and are often the subject matter. Even better, you can use online tools to host virtual gatherings with friends and family outside of work.
Although it’s more of a challenge now, we find that volunteering and other community activities help us fight any tendency to isolate. It’s worth the effort to find a virtual option to fit your personality.
Using video during meetings can be a game changer. A lot of context is lost in the written word, which can result in tension among team members. When it’s required, write everything from the most positive perspective and re-read everything to check for clarity of meaning. If you are feeling negative or you think something could be taken negatively, a conversation is your best bet, rather than risking a terse text or pithy email.
Using video will minimize the gap further and help prevent you from feeling isolated. Unless you are talking to a customer, don’t worry too much about what is behind you. Weird pieces of art, stacks of dishes, or bookcases of board games can be great conversation starters. Expect regular meetings to include some level of socializing, usually at the beginning or end. When everyone is in an office building, this time was often wasted by people filtering in and out of meeting rooms, but when virtual you can make better use of that time. If your meeting is long and includes parents, consider starting a few minutes past the hour, giving them time to check on their children.
We’ve had a good experience using Zoom, which also allows screen sharing, though starting a meeting has been a little slower now that so many other companies are working remotely. It can even be used with a green screen, or even without one with some success, to virtually declutter a background. This is particularly useful when you need to talk to customers.
When you’re sharing your screen, it’s easy to navigate as if you’re the only one in the room. Slow down to give your audience a chance to follow along, remembering that there may be delays, and consider increasing your mouse pointer size or inverting your pointer color to make it easier for your audience to track your actions.
Fancy slide transitions that can add polish when you are in the same room as an audience often don’t translate well when presented virtually. Sometimes screen sharing can push attendees with low bandwidth over the edge and cause their audio and video to pause. When that happens it’s best for them to turn off their video before resuming.
Sharing your screen is not without its own set of embarrassing moments, such as accidentally showing everyone a Slack message from your spouse. Learn how to tame your alerts and pop up messages in advance so they won’t appear at inopportune moments, you’ll thank us later.