Remote work: How to network informally?

With far less face to face, real-life interaction, maintaining informal relationships at work is challenging //

Today, many of us are working from home. While this can still mean good productivity, it does mean that our connections with other people such as our colleagues can be somewhat limited. In fact, without the usual coffee break meetups, chats in hallways, or gossips over the copier, it can be very difficult to maintain these informal ties away from the office. So, how can we stay connected to our colleagues and business partner while remote working and why is it so important?

Importance of keeping in touch. Remote working can ensure that a good flow of work is maintained, but without human connection, employees often struggle getting things done. With everything being online, remote workers can lose that sense of connection with their colleagues, something that can actually be very beneficial when it comes to workflow and mental state. Though companies will have open communication channels such as email or meetings scheduled, this is usually serving work purposes only. Gone are those meetups that help receiving important information and reconfirm trust and collaboration with colleagues. Further, without these informal encounters, it can be difficult to maintain focus and enthusiasm for a job. Instead, employees can end up feeling isolated and stressed. The FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) feeling can become a dominant feeling. However, companies can help promote this aspect of work-life even with everyone spread apart.

Chats over coffee – online. Similar to when in the physical workspace, home employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks throughout the day as this can improve productivity. When meeting in person won’t work, employers can set up virtual coffee room meetings at the same time of day. In this way, a routine is built, and everyone can get their chats in without having to think about work. Team members can join a larger group chat, or set up smaller ones among themselves. This works well with, for instance, GatherTown where employees can chat and network informally much as done in person.

Keeping up engagement. The key to keeping up positivity is encouraging regular engagement among all employees. It can be a great idea to start up a regular game. This could be a ‘question of the week’ game where workers take it in turns to post a general question that everyone answers. In this way, employees can get to know each other better as well as thinking about things outside of work. It can also spark further conversations that can then translate over to the coffee breaks. Alternatively, more complex games could be set up, such as a game of group hangman or other trivia games.

Another option is to set up team contests or challenges. Not being in the office doesn’t mean some of these popular events should go ignored. If your company has an annual contest, keep that going. And if it doesn’t, well, why not start one as something new and exciting. Sparking a little friendly competition and encouraging teaming up is the perfect way to get everyone involved and engaged. This may also create a perfect team dynamic with links to actual work tasks.

A further option to think about is virtual workouts. With employees siting at home they usually exercise less than usual. There’s no better way to push engagement, team spirit, and camaraderie than by engaging in a round of yoga, chair stretches or some other fitness exercise to keep everyone stimulated. This will also go a long way in building a strong core team, one that will translate well back in the face-to-face world too.

While not every employee is into fun, entertainment or sports events, companies may set up informal interest groups and use technology that enables online break out rooms so that private talks can take place. Many firms already utilize technologies that enables closer-to-reality experiences such as augmented reality. Informal interest groups that form within firms may include book clubs and reading circles, travel clubs including business travel clubs, amongst other.

Firms have also made very positive experiences with creating and experimenting with informal groups interested in developing new products and services. Overall, interest groups can be leisure-oriented and/or designed based on the respective industry culture, i.e. taking into account the lifestyle and professional culture of the industry the company is active in.

While these ideas help to create an informal sphere where informal ties and networks can be developed and maintained, privacy concerns when chatting online and video-meeting online remain and require a solution to fully take advantage of the output informal ties and networks can produce for the firm.

Published by Sven Horak