Working from home has many fantastic benefits – no commute, no noisy and distracting co-workers, and no dress code. Many employees love it, and their companies enjoy the lower overhead costs that come from having fewer if any, staff in an office. Organizations save on electricity and furniture and enjoy increased productivity. It’s a win-win, almost.
One thing that can suffer in a remote-work environment is the sense of teamwork and camaraderie. When there’s no watercooler, the friendly banter is gone. Without someone occasionally selling cookies or gift wrap, you learn a little less about your co-workers’ families and interests outside the office. It’s easy to settle into your work-at-home-bubble and feel isolated from the people you work with.
Is there any way to develop cohesion and connect with co-workers when you’re not working in the same place? Yes. Here’s how.
Collaborate Through Technology
“Use various technology platforms to collaborate with co-workers formally and informally,” says Daria Shualy, vice president of marketing for daPulse.com, a company collaboration tool. Have all official work done online and available from the cloud. Google Docs, Dropbox and project-management tools such as Trello or Basecamp are great for this, and “creates a virtual working space that feels like an office and eases the workflow,” says Shualy.
Similarly, you can have “less formal communication channels” to foster teamwork and share non-work-related things such as family pictures, funny cartoons or recipes. Shualy suggests a private Facebook group or a WhatsApp group to “turn you from a group of people who happen to be working together, to a team.”
Make Time to Talk
Email and instant messaging don’t have the immediacy or intimacy of speaking to someone in person, via Skype or even on the phone. Having real conversations will humanize your fellow team members who may otherwise just seem like impersonal email addresses.
Team members should meet in person or connect via phone or Skype once a week to “share their progress, learning moments, successes and SMART goals,” recommends Felena Hanson. The founder of Hera Hub, a franchise of shared, flexible co-working and meeting spaces for entrepreneurial women, recommends connecting with a different team member each month and sharing personal and professional information.
“This enables your team to connect, work with people outside of their traditional routine, and learn about their co-workers’ personal life and passions,” Hanson says. She also suggests a monthly meet-up, if possible, to do some type of fun activity with co-workers.
Show Up Sometimes
“Get out of the house from time to time. Actually travel to the office at least twice a month and have lunch with co-workers. Just because you ‘can’ work from home doesn’t mean that you should stay at home,” says Laura Rose, business and management coach.
If Rose’s suggestion of traveling to the office so frequently isn’t feasible, you can make your presence felt in other ways. She recommends dressing up for webcam meetings so everyone else knows you’re taking the business as seriously as they are. She also suggests arranging a delivery of doughnuts or snacks for your co-workers to let them know you’re thinking of them.
You could go a step farther and put in face time at the office without really being in the office. Tim Johnson works from home four days a week, but the mechanical design engineer with Goddard Technologies is able to see into his office at any time thanks to Skype and an unused desk.
Johnson keeps a Skype window open to the unused workstation at all times and colleagues know they can walk over for a chat at any time. His office has an open design, which allows him to also hear what’s going on around his empty desk and feel like he’s present with his colleagues. When his office needs the extra desk space, he sets up the same arrangement with a smaller tablet device in another spot.