Staying Connected While Working Remotely

staying connected while working remotely from a beach
Staying connected with work and colleagues even with this view from Bahia Salinas in the Sea of Cortez.

Navigating the Future of Work

The paradigm shift towards remote work has transformed the way we connect, collaborate, and cultivate success–both in the workplace and in our personal lives. Despite recent pushback from companies and employers, remote work has become a norm. However, while the freedom to work from anywhere opens up exciting possibilities, connectivity and communication among employees remain crucial for productivity and workplace satisfaction. 

This article guides you through the strategies and practices that maximize connectivity between remote workers. From video calls and virtual coffee breaks to fostering a vibrant company culture, I delve into the intricate web of staying connected in the digital age.

Challenges of Remote Work

A. Feelings of Loneliness: The Silent Struggle

Research consistently highlights the pervasive issue of loneliness among remote workers. In a Forbes’ article titled “4 Ways to Combat The Social Isolation of Remote Work,” Dr. Samantha Madhosingh says, “Working remotely decreases employees’ incidental contact with their leaders and each other. They don’t have lunch together, pop into the boss’s office for a quick chat on an issue or problem, and lose a great deal of face-to-face contact.”

For many years now I have taught online courses and participated in college committee meetings from afar. Gone are the days of face-to-face interactions and impromptu discussions in a physical office building. In addition to learning about important conferences or articles that can inspire my own pedagogy, I used to chat with colleagues between classes about new novels or essays or poems they found that breathed new life into their curriculum. I miss these discussions and sharing my concerns about challenging students–and the solution to reaching those students before they conclude my course.

Now, however, I work and live in a virtual silo. My only interaction with my colleagues happens a few minutes before or a few minutes after an online meeting. Through Zoom, I now interact with both my peers and my students. I miss the monthly pre-meeting happy hours and the lingering conversations about campus politics. 

Unfortunately, despite how progressive my academic worklife might be, academic institutions are woefully behind the times. The majority of meetings, speaker presentations, wellness activities–you name it–cater to those who regularly show up to campus. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, except that our students miss out, too, on the very thing likely to help them continue their education: a sense of belonging.

Inspiring Connection and Collaboration

Therefore, academic institutions and businesses ought to do a better job of inspiring connection and collaboration. For instance, to combat loneliness, some companies provide virtual team-building activities, regular check-ins, and social time dedicated to non-work conversations. These initiatives not only address the social aspect of work but also contribute to higher engagement levels and a stronger sense of team spirit. 

One good example of workplace virtual spaces for collaboration or general chats with colleagues is Slack, a website dedicated to helping remote workers stay connected and organized. One “channel” they mention creating with colleagues is called “water cooler,” which mimics a coffee break room. How “cool “ (pun intended) would it be to have a dedicated virtual coffee break room that allows employees to connect with their peers–rather than take a break from work by closing their laptops and scrolling through their cell phones.

Perhaps institutions and workplaces like mine need to build these types of activities into wellness programs, as well. After all, older employees like me who work remotely full time reflect the reality of young people’s future working lives. And younger people need and want different types of social environments to help them stay on task and stay invested in their own careers.

virtual coffee break to stay connected with colleagues

Creating a Virtual Office Environment

Establishing a virtual office environment is not just about technology; it’s about recreating the social fabric of a physical workspace. It’s about institutional and corporate leaders demonstrating through the creation of virtual spaces the commitment to maintaining a workplace culture of trust and productivity.

Wayne Cascio’s article “Managing a Virtual Workplace” describes the mindset adjustment needed to embrace this type of environment when he claims businesses must “Shift from a focus on time to a focus on results. . .” It’s the perception that all employees–hybrid workers, remote workers, and in-person employees–have contributions to offer to help enact the “bottom line.”

staying connected with a virtual office environment

Nurturing Personal Connections in Remote Settings

The absence of face-to-face interactions poses a challenge in building personal connections. This is especially true for new employees who do not have the benefit of ‘reading’ their new workplace atmosphere and culture. However, for seasoned employees, this is less likely to be the case. 

Regardless, leveraging video conferencing tools for both formal meetings and informal catch-ups can bridge the gap and foster a deeper sense of connection on a personal level. By understanding the unique hurdles remote workers face, organizations can tailor strategies to enhance connectivity and create a virtual space that mirrors the support and camaraderie found in traditional office environments.

Enhancing Employee Engagement

By incorporating team-building activities that go beyond the virtual screen, organizations can transcend physical boundaries and build a cohesive remote team that not only meets but exceeds expectations.

A. Team-Building Activities: Beyond the Virtual Screen

Virtual Team Games

1) Incorporating virtual team games is an effective way to inject fun and collaboration into remote work. Studies highlight the positive impact of team games on team cohesion and problem-solving skills. Platforms like Slack channels (mentioned above) dedicated to games or specialized team-building apps can provide an avenue for virtual bonding.

Additionally, more online companies like Luna Park, which offers the first live-hosted game show for teams, represent meaningful shifts toward employee wellness and satisfaction. 

2) Book clubs or virtual coffee breaks can also build connections based on shared interests between employees, which can go a long way in fostering engagement. 

B. Seeking Opportunities for In-person Meetings

This past week, prior to the start of a new teaching semester, I paid a visit to my campus. I had not been there in over a year, but the college was offering a faculty retreat about becoming a more trauma-informed institution. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn more about this topic as I have had an increasing number of students dealing with mental health issues and toxic stress.

Since I teach fully online, I attended the retreat in hopes of learning how to reach more of my students and help them succeed. The bonus, however, was being able to see my colleagues and interact with them throughout the day. 

Many businesses, even completely remote work companies, also offer these yearly or half-yearly retreats for employees to meet face-to-face and foster human connections. Surely we can embrace the idea and the reality of remote work and continue to offer the kinds of activities that nurture employee well-being with an improved work-life balance, flexibility, and a culture of continuous improvement.

work life balance while working remotely
Work-life balance. Hiking and collecting Obsidian rocks in San Juanico, Baja, BCS after grading on the boat for 6 hours.

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