Home working: 6 tips for fostering team connectivity in times of distance and disruption

In this time of enforced ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’, it is easy to forget that there can be significant workplace benefits to stopping and slowing down.

There are also easy ways to foster deeper and more efficient working practices to build team cohesion and inclusion.

In this update, we will share six recommendations for connecting your remote and home working market access teams in times of distance and disruption.

At PRMA Consulting, at least 20% of our team are home-based, and a substantial number more divide their time regularly between office and home working. For years we have successfully worked across multiple time zones and countries, but not without learning a few lessons along the way that are proving particularly useful in this current health and economic climate.

Here are six recommendations, from our experience, that we hope might prove useful for you too.

1. Maintain an inclusive culture

It’s important to normalize different working patterns, hours, and locations so that all employees – office- or home-based – are seen as (and see themselves as) equally important and integral to the company as a whole.
This may take a while to embed as a culture, particularly for more traditional companies that are unused to home and remote working and may be (unsurprisingly) anxious to ensure staff are not slacking off but doing their full workload.

Starting from a position of trust may be countercultural to the concept that trust must be earned first, but it can pay dividends.

At PRMA Consulting, wherever we work, we work together. Across our network of international offices and remote workers, our values remain the same: we are collaborative, inclusive, fair, and responsible.

2. Encourage connectivity through intuitive IT

Basic systems need to be able to support and encourage connectivity when teams are far apart. Every company goes about this differently but most use:

  • instant messaging and video calling
  • shared storage for secure, real-time collaboration on working documents
  • community calendars for colleagues to share their locations and working patterns, which can help with scheduling calls and booking arranging meeting times, particularly when working across different time zones.

We frequently use virtual forums and interactive webinars to encourage connectivity. These offer cost-effective and flexible alternatives to traditional ways of working.

And if this investment in IT isn’t feasible for you right now, an alternative is to include colleagues’ photos next to their names on internal documents or calling software. This can help teams get to know each other even when they may rarely or never actually meet.

3. Make time for productive face-to-face interaction

Remote and home workers can feel quite isolated in usual times, let alone in social distancing times, and it is here that face-to-face time interaction becomes even more important.

It’s tempting to send a quick email or instant message, but a virtual face-to-face conversation may be more thought-provoking, productive, and efficient than a chain of emails.

If you are collaborating remotely as a team, you can manage these conversations by agreeing time and agenda boundaries to maximize productivity. For example, each colleague has 3 minutes to share:

  • what I worked on yesterday
  • what am I working on today
  • what issues are blocking me.

Managed in this way, the conversation quickly aligns the team and reinforces how everyone, wherever they are working, is contributing. The buzz it creates is also quite fun and energizing!

4. Allow yourself some watercooler moments

Creating communication channels for appropriate social chitchat and ‘watercooler’ conversations can help home and remote workers to maintain a sense of team inclusion and cohesion.

An internal news feed on the company intranet is the perfect way for colleagues to share their personal updates. Photographs of happy parents and their newborns, updates on home-renovations, recommendations for a good book – it can all start a conversation.

A recent post on our own internal news feed asked for suggestions for parents who are now working from home alongside their children, and it has provoked dozens of innovative ideas.

If colleagues are intentional about making it happen, and if a company is cognizant of the benefits of social capital on work productivity, a shared channel is an easy way to foster social cohesion.

5. Strengthen mental resilience and capacity

With robust physical and mental health, colleagues can enhance resilience, and improve the interpersonal relations and communication that underlie successful remote and home working.

An example of how we are developing this is our recent series of wellbeing workshops. Online sessions such as these can enable colleagues to learn about the simple things they can do every day to support themselves and each other.

We shared practical tips and practiced techniques for confidence, inner calm, and driving personal development goals through positive visualization.

We also have a Mental Health Lead, who remote workers can turn to for instant support. Their role is to encourage us all to recognize that the same approach to remote working may not suit everyone; being flexible and open to trying different ways of working can help.

6. Welcome the opportunities that more space offers you

Beyond those five key points, times of disruption have a bigger value that many of us may not yet fully realize: they create space.

Unable to travel for work to attend conferences or to fill our calendars with face to face workshops or meetings, we open up space to slow down.

Space to get things done better or more quickly or more efficiently.

Space to dream of different ways of thinking, different ways of doing.

Space to generate more sparks of creativity – individual creativity borne out of isolation can supplement and may even be superior in some cases to teamwork (Susan Cain gives a wealth of ideas in her book, “Quiet”).

These benefits of space remind us that all companies able to adapt to these changing times are in a position of strength to look ahead and do their best work yet.

We’d love to hear your ideas for effective home working – particularly if your own environment is not as conducive to remote working and you’ve had to be more creative in your approach.

Please get in touch on LinkedIn: PRMA Consulting LinkedIn

Useful reading: Susan Cain, “Quiet”

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, “Scrum collaboration”

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