It’s hard to meaningfully connect with colleagues when you only see their profile picture—the result of an old photoshoot.
A 2021 study on the pandemic’s impact on the workforce exposes this difficulty. It found that 36% of employees feel disconnected from colleagues. These employees tried to communicate with colleagues, but 34% found it hard to get a response through channels like email. This impact is felt even more heavily by remote organizations. In-office and hybrid workers can walk over to their coworkers’ desks when there’s a communication breakdown—an option not available to someone 500 miles away from their closest colleague.
Without a culture that emphasizes clear communication, employees face problems alone. This lack of collaboration leads to losses in productivity, increased stress, and a more frequent turnover of employees feeling like outsiders.
Remote organizations can apply seven ideas to overcome these challenges. Each helps you build a company culture where employees cooperate to achieve the same goal in less time.
1. Create clear communication guidelines
Headphones during your workday? Deep work. Reading during lunchtime? No time for gossip. These are two unwritten rules of office work etiquette.
But rules are more ambiguous while working remotely, which can cause unintentional offenses or stress for employees.
A survey of almost 2,000 workers found that 70% experience unclear communication with colleagues at least once a month. When messages aren’t precise, employees waste time trying to crack what their colleague wants or executing the wrong directions. As a result, employees waste four hours per week on average trying to solve these communication problems.
The same survey found that 75% of employees sense a lack of communication within their companies. If team members often take a while to respond only to send ambiguous answers, employees are less motivated to seek support and more likely to try to solve the problem on their own. Instead of staring at the computer for an answer, they’ll make up their own solution, even if someone else knows a more efficient path.
You can attach norms of each channel you use to communicate internally to provide efficient and pleasant communications. Your list of norms should explain when using a channel is appropriate, the best messaging frequency, and tips to clearly convey a message.
For example; motivate employees to use live video to discuss sensitive information like performance reviews or promotions. This format lets you clarify the listener’s doubts in real-time, avoiding unintentional offenses from ambiguous messages. In your list of norms, tell participants to turn on their cameras. Seeing your speaker allows viewers to see their body language and trust their words.
2. Turn leaders into remote work advocates
Employees look up to leaders for guidance on how to behave. A leader’s values, work habits, and tools affect employees’ views of remote work.
Suppose the head of a team constantly says they miss working from an office because of in-person relationships. Employees may develop a similar sentiment after hearing about the downsides of remote work day in and day out. They can spot flaws in remote methods of building relationships and networking events, thinking they can’t replicate face-to-face events. With this mindset, building relationships becomes almost impossible.
Fortunately, the opposite attitude from your leader positively influences employees. A leader capable of articulating the benefits of a remote work tool, a new asynchronous workflow, or an upcoming virtual event reminds employees how effective remote work is.
To build a team that enjoys working remotely and is eager to collaborate with others, have your leaders exhibit the beliefs you want in your culture. If you value internal friendships, have leaders schedule a weekly call to meet someone from the company. Calls can be as short as 15 minutes, or they can spend an hour getting to know each other. The primary goal is to show leaders promoting an active approach to meeting colleagues.
3. Encourage cross-team collaboration
It’s common for remote employees to collaborate less with other company divisions than non-remote ones. There are no lunches, hallways, or elevators to meet people outside their departments. Infrequent cross-team collaboration and support can lead to unhappy and unproductive employees.
A survey of over 1,000 US employees in different industries found that workers that don’t share knowledge spend over five hours redoing work that another employee once did. At times, they don’t redo work but follow an inefficient process that another team optimized long ago.
These unnecessary time investments delay projects as workers figure out how to tackle a challenge by themselves. You wouldn’t face these issues with a cross-team collaboration culture. For example; if a content writer had a question about the best hiring practices, they would schedule a 30-minute interview with HR rather than reading about this topic for hours. Frequent cooperation accelerates workflows, giving employees more time to focus on high-impact projects.
Create a document sharing guidelines on how employees should support each other. Pledges share actionable steps people can take to overcome a challenge or commit to a mission. Thanks to it, employees know exactly how to improve a situation and its benefits.
At the beginning of COVID-19, the CEO of IBM wrote a pledge based on colleagues’ conversations and challenges. It contained the commitments he would make to ease the lives of employees who were forced to work from home. Like IBM’s CEO, write a pledge with actions to make working remotely easier.
Uncover your company’s collaboration challenges using surveys and 1-to-1 conversations with employees. Hurdles inform your pledge’s steps. If one team works later hours than most others at the company, you could pledge to spend one day each week working those hours so you could interact with them more. Adding this item encourages teams to get to know each other rather than avoid contact.
4. Build a team based on their time zones
Remote companies can hire talent from anywhere. But hiring people in dispersed time zones can slow down projects and spark division among employees.
Asynchronous communication channels like email and Slack are the go-to collaboration option for teams spread across the world. While convenient to quickly message someone, these channels aren’t efficient at facilitating camaraderie. To get to know each other, employees would have to chit-chat over 10-hour + time frames, making both parties lose interest.
Another issue with building a team in vastly different time zones is finding a meeting time that works for everyone. If half your team is in the US and the other half in Western Europe, you can find a time that’s not too early or late. But what if half your team is in Mexico and the other half in Hong Kong? In this scenario, one group would have to stay up late or wake up early, which can tire employees.
You could host two sessions at the same meeting. But suppose members of two time zones never see each other. In that case, it’s unlikely they’ll build friendships and a sense of camaraderie between each other.
One solution to a disbanded global team is hiring talent within a seven-hour time difference. So if your team is mainly in America, and you can’t find talent on this continent, look for candidates in Europe. This overlap gives workers at least one hour to partake in casual events and video meetings, where they can build rapport with colleagues.
5. Use videos to introduce new team members
It’s normal for new employees to feel awkward at work during the first days. Reaching out to a stranger can feel daunting, making even casual interactions stressful. Since there are no areas for casual encounters, remote workers can feel more stressed and lonely in their new job than office workers.
At best, these workers will join a Slack channel or companywide meeting filled with faces and names they don’t know. Unless you host an event to get to know new team members, they won’t have an opportunity to meet people on a personal level. Employees that don’t have anyone to interact with have a more challenging time sharing innovative ideas or collaborating with others.
You can ask new hires to record or animate a video sharing their hobbies, expectations, background, and quirky facts. Their colleagues can watch this video before a new employee’s first day to think about talking points to make new hires’ onboarding more pleasant.
At Vyond, every new hire animates a video introducing themselves during their first days. For example; look at Asia’s, which summarizes her life. It also shows she’s funny and a talented professional. Colleagues can watch the video to get to know her and find common interests to chat about on Asia’s first day. These videos have improved team relationships and our product development initiatives.
6. Recreate team-bonding activities online
Happy hour drinks, birthdays, and milestone celebrations are events where employees can build relationships with each other. These moments allow employees to see each other’s personalities rather than thinking solely of work, building a cohesive team and a fun work environment. However, these events aren’t always available to remote employees. It’s hard for the team to play mini-golf together when they’re spread across the world. You can create virtual spaces where people can interact to spark internal friendships.
Any company can host casual events to facilitate internal friendships. For example; Alibaba hosted a virtual quilt-making event after not hosting their yearly in-person event, AliDay. The event promoted teamwork and the company’s values, developing a unified team culture.
With so many communication tools available, it’s easy to recreate almost any in-person event. You can host crafting, music, or reading sessions on video conference software. These events let people connect with those with similar interests.
For a 1-to-1 friendship-building experience, use a water cooler software that randomly pairs employees each week. Share some ice breakers to make knowing others a laid-back experience rather than a competition for who talks about the weather first.
Use Vyond to strengthen your remote work culture
Vyond is an animation tool remote teams can use in their team-building activities and efforts. Thanks to our dozens of free templates, leaders can create impactful training on remote tools, remote communication etiquette, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lessons without previous animation experience. You can also use props, environments, and characters to show everyday situations where biases or beliefs affect employees’ chances of working together and becoming friends.
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