Work from home was a novelty for many when the pandemic started, but few who made that shift expected to still be at home a year later—even starting new jobs as remote workers. There are no casual conversations around the coffee machine or friendly hallway interactions. That can undermine an organization’s sense of solidarity. Remote workers also are significantly more likely to perceive mistrust, incompetence and poor decision-making, according to research by leadership training company VitalSmarts.
To avoid this problem, it’s critical to make the effort for personal connections. Here are ways to stay close to coworkers and forge bonds with new colleagues…
Share digital photos from your home office. These allow colleagues into your home and encourage them to do the same. Examples: E-mail a photo of the mess stashed in a corner of your office where it can’t be seen during Zoom calls…or of the bird perched right outside your window.
Transform interruptions into connections. Kids, pets and other residential noises can interrupt virtual meetings. When this happens to a colleague, share a quick story of a time it happened to you…and/or say hello to the child or pet who caused the disturbance. What might have been an awkward situation instead turns into a bonding moment for the two of you. Also find times to invite your children and spouse to say hello—to give colleagues a glimpse into your personal life and also give your family a view into your work life.
Start calls by making connections, and end them by offering appreciation. A quick “How are you doing?” isn’t sufficient to build a bond. Ask follow-up questions that express real concern or interest. Examples: How is your family doing? What are you watching/reading that you’ve enjoyed? What’s your favorite memory of (the current season or an upcoming holiday)? What are you doing to take care of yourself these days?
Remote workers often are starved for pats on the back. So before hanging up, provide true appreciation, not just a curt “thanks.” Examples: Say, “Before you go, I wanted to say I really appreciate all the great work you’ve been doing.” Or immediately after the call, send a follow-up e-mail of gratitude for the good work…and perhaps even include a fun related image you find in a Google image search.
Send modest but relevant gifts. Examples: Send the type of candy that’s always on the receptionist’s desk with a note saying how much you’ve missed the treat. If you chatted about books with a colleague, send a copy of a new favorite. If you know the colleague is working late one evening, arrange for a meal to be delivered.
New employees: Ask for informal guidance. Mention to colleagues that it’s difficult to figure out corporate culture remotely, and ask for a few minutes for them to fill you in. New hires often fear that asking for assistance will make them seem annoying or incompetent. In fact, research shows that asking someone for help likely will improve their opinion of, and feelings for, you—they’re flattered that you value their input.
Current team members: Bring newbies into the fold. Assign “remote welcome lunches” to introduce the new person to others…hold a department Zoom in which everyone introduces themselves…assign buddies to regularly check in on the new person.