How to strengthen distributed team connection in the virtual workplace
Teams around the world continue to experiment with how to make remote work effective for their organizations. The most effective and innovative virtual work tools, processes, and strategies are not enough on their own to make remote teams effective. Team connection must be a top priority; it is the most essential piece of the puzzle. A lack of genuine connection amongst team members affects individual well-being and translates into the work they do together.
Employee engagement is becoming a focus for many organizations. Healthy and engaged employees increase productivity, innovation, and overall profits. When we feel connected, we are more likely to give our best.
The need for connection is shockingly evident. A Cigna study of 20,000 surveyed Americans found that most American adults are considered lonely–nearly half reported that they feel alone sometimes or always (46%) or left out (47%). The same study found that two in five Americans said they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated. The cost of social isolation and loneliness is high, as it affects individual well-being and performance in the workplace.
“There is an inherent link between loneliness and the workplace, with employers in a unique position to be a critical part of the solution. Fortunately, these results clearly point to the benefits meaningful in-person connections can have on loneliness, including those in the workplace…” – Douglas Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna.
In the absence of in-person interactions, there is increased importance upon creating human connection amongst remote teams–both in required meetings and outside of them. Moments of connection are crucial for building team rapport, trust, and a solid foundation for truly effective collaboration.
At Voltage Control, we prioritize team health. Because our team is entirely remote, we don’t have the usual hallway interactions, coffee break conversations, interactive team gatherings, or opportunities to connect and get to know one another as in-person teams do. We pay special attention to create meaningful connections while we work and when out of the office.
Here are some of the ways we encourage connection.
Regular check-ins are critical for team-wide communication and connection. When you work away from your co-workers, it’s easy to lose track of what they’re working on and their roles within the organization. This can leave team members feeling disconnected. To combat this, we have a Weekly Sync meeting every Monday via Zoom that’s guided by our Weekly Glance MURAL template.
The template has space to document overall team objectives and goals like revenue targets and quarterly leadership goals so all team members can transparently see what the group is working towards. The main interactive section is a grid that lists all team members’ names and pictures and 5 columns for each person to fill in: 1) Individual accomplishments from the previous week 2) Top priority for the current week 3) What they’re looking forward to during the current week 4) What they need help with from others on the team 5) A weekly fun fact to react to.
Each person fills in their row before the start of the meeting, then we round-robin share with the rest of the team what we’re up to. This practice allows us to connect with one another at the start of the week and get clear about what to expect from each person. The weekly fun fact allows us to add an element of entertainment and gives us a better look at each others’ personalities with prompts like: drop in a picture of your favorite animal, share a book you recently read and recommend, and if you had a superpower what would it be?
The bottom section of the template is for announcing the MVP of the week–a team member who exemplified one or one of our company team values. The nominator shares with the team how and why that person shines bright and we all pay our respects. The winner then chooses the person for the following week, and so on. This acknowledgment exercise allows us to celebrate one another on a weekly basis and foster connection.
We created a workable Weekly Glance Template for you to use with your team and make your own. Just plug in your company information and get started! We experimented with numerous iterations before landing on this particular one. Don’t be afraid to keep innovating your meeting culture until it works for you.
Meeting Mantras for Magical Meetings
Another critical component of maintaining healthy company culture is having magical meetings. To us, magical meetings are ones where people actually want to attend. They are playful, purposeful, highly collaborative, and leave all attendees feeling proud of their work. When we come together and create magic in meetings, we also create meaningful connections with one another.
To ensure we run magical meetings every time we come together, we created a holy grail for successful meetings that we follow religiously at Voltage Control. They exist as 10 Meeting Mantras that we use as a checklist to ensure every meeting is as productive, inclusive, and effective as possible:
- No Purpose, No Meeting
- Disagree & Commit
- Bring Your Best Self
- Do the Work in the Meeting
- Foster Emotional Intelligence
- Capture Room Intelligence
- Embrace the Child’s Mind
- Respect Everyone’s Time
- Decide What Not to Do
- Debrief for Durability
Learn more about how to create your own meeting mantras and run your own magical meetings at our Magical Meetings Workshop.
We have several modes of communication on an average workday–from email to Trello, to Google Docs. We also use Slack channels to communicate about specific topics as well as off-hand banter. For example, we have a #marketing channel where we discuss anything marketing-related, and a #leads channel to share potential leads to pursue. We also have a #general channel where we share funny memes, interesting reads, pictures of what we’re up to, and off-topic commentary.
The #general channel is a small way for our team to have the watercooler conversations we would have in person. It’s a simple gesture with a big impact. Holding space to create a sense of community and connection during the workday is essential when we’re all working from laptops in different locations.
Pro-tip: To learn about more what the Voltage Control team uses to run productive remote meetings, collaborate, and connect, check out our Virtual Work Guide. It’s based on our personal experiences as a remote team. We gathered the best tools, methods, and strategies to overcome remote work obstacles so that you can keep and promote human connection in a virtual landscape.
Virtual Office Parties
Just because we can’t physically meet at an after-work happy hour or throw office parties as in-person teams do, doesn’t mean we can’t do them virtually. We make a point to schedule virtual team events so we don’t miss out on fun team bonding experiences and build healthy company culture.
Our last virtual office party was an instructor-led paint party via Zoom. We sent each team member a paint package with canvases, paint, a pallet, brushes, and easels, as well as wine to enjoy while we painted together. We hired a master acrylics painter to lead the team through a follow-along experience and we all created an image together.
At the beginning of quarantine, we also held virtually happy hours every Friday after work. Don’t underestimate Zoom drinks–you learn a lot about people by the drinks they bring to the call and it’s refreshing to have conversations that aren’t work-related.
Creating genuine connection in a remote team can be challenging. But when you put in a consistent effort and add your own spin on it, you can create a fun and engaging group environment that will translate to the work you all do together. Happy people are more productive; more productivity leads to more overall team success.