Maintaining Team Unity While Working in Isolation

The current crisis has forced most of corporate America out of the office and into unfamiliar territory. While remote work has been growing in popularity over the years, most Americans still spent their days in formal office environments. This abrupt and unexpected sea change has presented a number of problems to managers across the country. Facing breakdowns in communication, cohesion, and cooperation, the biggest question they are facing is this: How do you keep your team working at maximum efficiency when everyone’s stuck in their homes?

Remote Routines
Routines are the first casualty when facing sudden changes to everyday life, and there are few things more sudden than being shut out of the place you spend most of your time Monday through Friday. Working from home changes every aspect of your workday and can be quite disorienting for many employees. Even simple rituals like morning showers and getting dressed for work can fall by the wayside, and it’s not hard to imagine that such disruptions in normal life can cause dips in productivity.

The first thing you should do to support your homebound workforce is to institute a rigid schedule that mirrors their old routine. Replace daily standup and weekly status meetings with digital versions of everything. Keep start times, end times, and lunch times the same as they’ve always been. And, perhaps most important: encourage your employees to communicate as much or more than they did when they were working in-office.

Communication is Key
Communication is the next aspect of team unity that suffers when working remotely. It’s always going to be harder to check in on people and ask questions when you can’t just pop by their desks. You’d think that access to instant messaging, email, phones, and video chats would make communicating remotely just as effective as in-person, but there’s simply no substitute for in-person interactions. The less your team sees each other the less they’ll communicate, and less communication means less collaboration and team cohesion.

Solving this problem isn’t easy, but there are ways to maintain open communication while working remotely. First: use every available channel to foster dialogue and interpersonal connections between teammates. Everyone has their own preference, so sticking with only one channel risks turning communication into a chore for some of your employees. Second: set aside time for small talk, joking around, and other informal talk. These interactions may seem insignificant, but they’re crucial to building trust between your company’s entire staff. Get creative with this as well. Perhaps start a daily trivia game where at certain times during the day questions are sent out and employees receive points for who provides the answer fastest, second fastest, etc. Then at the end of the week, the winner gets a prize, such as a gift card to a local restaurant that provides delivery or a special banner to commemorate the victory. Finally: consider creating an unmonitored, manager-free space for employees to talk. Everyone knows that emails and instant messages are monitored by HR, and that prevents people from opening up to one another – further reducing the chance of forming strong interpersonal bonds.

Virtual Events
Thanks to working remotely and social distancing rules, lunches, happy hours, and other team building activities are currently off the table. While disliked by many, these activities help foster connections by getting teammates to see and interact with each other as regular human beings. Every manager knows that employees who like one another work better together, but how do you prevent those bonds from eroding when everyone’s stuck at home?

While there’s nothing like bonding with your colleagues over a long lunch, game of softball, or cold beverages after a long day, there are many virtual substitutes that come close. Consider hosting virtual happy hours, virtual lunches, and even movie nights where you and your team can be together in an informal setting without having to leave the house. Maybe even send out invitation cards via snail mail to make it feel like even more of an event. Multiplayer video games are also a great way for teams to bond over friendly competition and smack talk. They’ll also give you the chance to see how your employees cooperate and communicate under stress. Every team is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. You’ll need to get creative to make sure all your employees feel included and enthusiastic about participating.

Far Apart, Close Together
Working from home isn’t for everyone, and it’s only natural that productivity and team cohesion would suffer thanks to the stress of drastic changes caused by the current crisis. Managers across the world are now faced with the unenviable task of keeping their teams working efficiently and collaboratively in a world where even a simple hallway conversation is out of the question. But this, too, shall pass, and hopefully the above information will give you an idea of how to maintain your team’s cohesion until offices reopen their doors and normalcy reigns again.

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