How can team leaders keep morale high for teams new to remote work? Salesforce lead Traci Whetzel has worked from home for years while leading virtual teams. She shares how her team has fun together while working miles apart.
In the midst of COVID-19, we are all in a new environment. We are already missing the old normal, and we desperately want it to return.
For many of you, the new environment includes a home office rather than a commute and a loss of the built-in sense of community that comes from working in person. Feelings of isolation are common.
After working from home for several years, I have found fun ways to stay connected and build relationships with coworkers.
Find a Common Platform
The first and most important component is to find a platform that enables your team to work remotely. I use Microsoft Teams, a cloud-based collaboration tool. Currently, Microsoft and another top vendor, Salesforce, are offering free solutions to help smaller companies work virtually, maintain productivity and build a great culture despite the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Whichever platform you choose, the next step is to designate a remote-culture advocate or team. Make it a priority for the advocate to maintain the human element of remote work. Agree on a process for submitting ideas and receiving required leadership approval before you present them to the group. Then, empower your team to become champions for change, and let their creativity shine.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Use video to create “water cooler” moments. Schedule a 30-minute call and make it a rule to NOT talk about work. Kids are home. Pets are home. Allow your employees to share their new environments with the team. Personal connections are so meaningful when you work from home. Yesterday, I met a teammate’s two-year-old daughter, another’s dog, and got an office tour from a new team member in Miami.
- Encourage employees to take breaks. Use channels or groups within your collaboration platform to allow team members to read something uplifting, play a favorite song, or share funny news stories, memes, or videos. These microbreaks aren’t a waste of time. Research shows the benefits of productivity and decision-making gained from frequent small breaks. And contrary to what most believe, the new lack of boundaries between work and home likely means you will work much more than you did in a traditional office.
- Explore the fun parts of collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams. For example, Teams offers an amazing selection of gifs and makes it super easy to drop them into any conversation. Click the gif icon when chatting, and type what you are trying to say into the Search field. Multiple options will pop up. See who can find the perfect gif to describe whatever you are working on, or challenge yourselves to carry on a conversation using only gifs. See how long you can keep it going.
- Consider hosting virtual “Secret Santa” style gift-opening parties around the holidays. Our team’s participants sent each other small, inexpensive, anonymous gifts using online services to hide the giver’s location. You can repurpose this idea for any season by sending family activities like puzzles and coloring books, or by hosting a team book exchange. Getting together virtually for drinks after work can be a fun way to share the successes, achievements, and challenges of the day.
- Here are some ideas our team’s culture and positivity advocate has come up with:
- Food and Recipes: We post our favorite recipes and our attempts to make them! Comfort food seems to be a popular post these days. Hello, mac-and-cheese with bacon!
- Friday Song: Our theme this Friday was songs that make you dance in your seat. We each posted songs and dared each other not to wiggle.
- Pets: Who doesn’t love a cute furry face?
- General Culture: All positive, random comments and pictures— house projects, office pictures, funny memes.
- Reverse Smack Talk: This is undoubtedly more work-related, but encourage your team to post about their work, support positive natural competitiveness, and praise each other.
Trust the Process
Lastly, as a team leader, you may naturally worry about what your team is doing while off-site and be tempted to over-manage as a result. Stay strong. Trust that you hired good people (or take note of what you may want to evaluate in future hires). Have confidence in your team, even if you cannot see them all day. You will likely be pleasantly surprised.
Once word gets out about the results you create with fun and productive collaboration, recruiting and retention get easier. Building an exceptional company culture can start one vibrant team at a time. As my friend and one of Centric Consulting’s founders, Larry English puts it in his forthcoming book, “Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture With Virtual Teams,”
“We began dreaming up a company where we could do great work but still have a life, a company with a fun culture that treats everyone like family and operates with honest and deep relationships.”
With over 1,000 team members, with operations in 12 US cities and India, and 20 years of service, he must be on to something.