How to build community for employees while working from home
Tips for making meetings efficient, engaging and silly, even when you aren’t face-to-face
In today’s technological world, everything is connected. So why does it feel like we are so disconnected? COVID-19 has fast-tracked businesses to launch and enable remote workforces, yet they are discovering the challenges that come from the lack of physical presence in an office. In the absence of face to face interactions, we tend to lose out on nonverbal communication that manifests naturally in regular meetings.
And when it comes to leading teams remotely, meetings are everything these days. Yet they pose their own sets of challenges that prompt us as leaders to ask: how can meetings be more efficient, engaging and build comradery in the age of remote working?
Find a meeting pace that’s right for the team
It’s always healthy to evaluate re-occurring meetings on the calendar; you may not even need them anymore. Look for looming pain points in meetings and ask for feedback from your team. If you’re not sure how valuable a meeting is, don’t hesitate to ask the group. Try looking for any of the following red flags:
- Redundancies in meeting topic or format,
- Meetings that report on similar activities and
- Team member participation.
Finally, find a closing statement to use as your outro on virtual meetings. Nothing is more awkward than a remote call that doesn’t end with an action item or on a positive note. Look for those opportunities to ‘end on a high note’ (even during difficult calls) and know when to end meetings so they don’t drag on.
Try asking questions like: Does anyone have any blockers? Are there any questions on what we discussed today? To end the meeting say something like, “That’s a wrap,” or find a silly codeword the group responds to. “Pinecone” is our codeword for “I’m done, the next person can go” and it works well during roundtable status calls.
Inject meeting spontaneity
If you have the option to bring a spontaneity to meetings, do it. There will always be rewards. When leading meetings where multiple people talk, it can be a challenge to determine the order in which people gave their updates. To bring spontaneity to meetings, try using a random spinning wheel to choose the next person who will speak. This will add excitement to the meetings and make it feel like a gameshow. This works well for meetings that require everyone to participate. Using a system like this helps remove tension, adds fun to the meeting and encourages participation.
Share the silly things
Make sure each of your teams has a chat group dedicated to non-work-related topics. There needs to be a safe space to share funny memes, random news articles, or just to vent. It’s all about building comradery and community. Be sure that, as a leader, you’re an active member in the chat. Failing to engage won’t help others feel comfortable sharing silly things. In the office, have you ever taken a break with co-workers to go outside, vent or grab a coffee? The silly chat room is akin to that.
Another option is to set up a meeting during the week where teams can ‘gather’ remotely for a virtual lunch break. Make it optional to attend, but you may be surprised at how many teammates dial in for non-work-related bonding time. This gesture is important for employees who are extra lonely while being stuck indoors.
The value of one-on-one meetings
One-on-one meetings are nothing new to the workforce, yet we’re not always leveraging these meetings to their full potential. Set aside a specific time to meet with individuals and do your best not to cancel these meetings in lieu of more pressing matters, as it sends a signal to the employee that their issues are not as important.
Create a safe space for employees to share openly. It’s also opportune to receive feedback on how you are as a leader. The employee shouldn’t feel as if the time is dedicated to performance evaluations, but rather, it is a space to talk about concerns, growth opportunities or simply catch up. These discussions need to be left to the discretion of the employee. It is theirs to own and run. Plus, you should welcome non work-related chat.
There’s not a set meeting strategy that will work with every team, but you must be flexible and discover what works and what doesn’t. It takes effort to build strong bonds remotely, but you just must commit to it. Try one of these recommendations and see how it is received by your team. While many of us are working remotely, it doesn’t mean that meetings need to be secluded from the sense of community we all crave right now.