7 tips for engaging remote, isolated teams

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion, Persist by Felicia Jadczak

Hi everybody! This is Felicia, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of She+ Geeks Out, reporting for duty from my home office here in Medford, Massachusetts. 

A lot of us are working remotely or working from home these days, and one of the things I’d love to chat about with all of you are ways that we can think about keeping our teams engaged and motivated in these- let’s just say, interesting, times. 

Some of you may be leading teams not used to working from home at all, where this is a really new experience for them. Some of you may be more used to leading blended teams, but still have people on your team who are trying to transition into working from home and figuring out what all of this looks like. Finally, some of you may be old hat at this, and those of you probably don’t need to listen to this. 

For everybody else, I thought I would pull together just a couple quick thoughts that I had in terms of how to support your team and keep them productive, keep them engaged, and make sure that we’re continuing checking in even in these tumultuous times, where a lot is going on and a lot is on everyone’s mind. 

Our team at SGO has always been blended. We have a couple people who have been working remotely from day 1, and then there’s a couple of us- myself included- who are more used to working from an office. We all have our daily routines. We go into work, we take public transportation or drive in, and now that routine is out the window. Here are some thoughts in terms of keeping everyone engaged and motivated when also dealing with a lot of upheaval, and a lot of transition, and a lot of uncertainty.

Tip 1: Don’t be afraid to over-communicate

The first thing is communication. This is a time where you have to really over-communicate and try to be as transparent as possible without going over the deep end. Normally I wouldn’t say over communicate, because I think that can be a very tricky territory to navigate. I’m also not saying micromanage. But what I do think is really important is to make sure that your team knows that you get it. This is a weird time- that things are happening- and that you’re here to support them. Now, the work still needs to get done, we still have to get things out the door, we still have to be productive, but just it helps to be transparent and share things that you’re thinking about- what’s happening behind the scenes, asking people to pitch in, and keeping lines of communication open. 

Tip 2: Set up an internal communication tool

If you’re used to working in an office, you might be used to going down a hallway and checking in- knocking on someone’s door or seeing someone in the kitchen. That’s no longer an avenue now. If you don’t already have one, set up an internal communication tool for your team. The SGO team uses Slack, but you may be used to Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, or Skype.  Anything that you are more comfortable with or are already using is great to have in order to keep those lines of communication flowing. 

Tip 3: Implement daily check-ins to feel more connected

Our team does a daily check-in every morning. Whenever people are ready to go to work, online, and digging into it, they do a quick check-in and say what they’re thinking about for the day and focused on; if we’ve got any meetings or calls going on. I love that it makes me feel connected to everybody even though I’m not seeing them on a daily basis- or at all anymore.  Slack is also great because it makes me feel like I’m sitting next to my coworkers even though I’m not. 

Tip 4: Embrace informal chatter

We’ve implemented a couple new channels that aren’t necessarily as formal and work-focused as before, just ways to keep us all engaged. One is a new channel partially inspired by HelpScout, which is fully remote. They have a channel called “Office Chat.” We took that idea and put it into our Slack team. Now we use Office Chat to talk about what is going on in our “offices.” I have a furry “roommate,” a cat named Jean Luc Piccat, who comes to work every morning with me. I’ve been posting pictures of him in our office and how he likes to go to work, as a way to keep people engaged. Hopefully it’s just a lighthearted thing to smile about. 

Tip 5: Ask for input and help

Another thing to keep your employees engaged is asking for their input. Asking them to pitch in for things that they may not have been doing already. We’ve been writing a lot of content, blog posts, and social media. This is all work that we would have been doing normally, but a little more than before just to a) respond to sort of what’s happening around us and b) talk to how we’re addressing it. Whereas before it might have been just one or two of us writing this content, now we’re asking everyone to pitch in. 

Tip 6: Face-to-face discussions where possible

We’re also doing a lot of video hangouts as well. I love video hangouts for people who are remote because it gives you that sense of being face to face for a change. It also gives you the option to have tone and facial expressions when you’re talking to people. When you’re talking only over some kind of written communication, it can be hard to understand the full meaning or the full tone behind the written words. Any Gen Z or Millennials probably already know that a sentence ending with a period has a much different meaning than a sentence ending with an exclamation point or no period. There are a lot of ways where communication can start to get misinterpreted when it’s only written. Video hangouts and video chats are great to maintain that sense of camaraderie, to make sure that there are no misunderstandings, and to get some face to face time with your team, especially if you’ve been used to talking with them and you now no longer see them on a daily basis. If you’re stuck at home and you’re not seeing people, it’s another great way to keep communication going and make you feel like you’re still part of it. 

Tip 7: Keep it fun!

Other things to think about when keeping people engaged is keep it fun- maybe come up with some ideas- this is where you can ask your team to pitch in and come up with some brainstorming ideas for how they would feel and what would keep them engaged. 

My team has been talking about doing costume days where we’ll all dress up in something similar, like we’ll all wear our pajamas or all have some kind of outfit. Maybe a day where we’ll all wear our SGO hoodies. This idea came about because we noticed one day recently that a lot of us were wearing our company hoodies. It wasn’t planned, but it was spontaneous and fun. So we’ve been talking about doing that more on a regular basis. 

There are always other things that you can do to prompt conversation. Recently, we’ve been talking about what we’re eating for lunch or sharing activities that we’ve been working on. 

These are some small ways that we can keep people engaged. The bottom line is stay creative, ask for input, and think about how you can be transparent without going off that deep end. Thanks so much, and let us know if you have any thoughts on this, or if you have been doing things with your team that have been beneficial to keep people engaged.