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Setting your own schedule, working in pajama pants, billions of hours of commute time saved, lower environmental impact. We've all heard about the perks of remote work. Remote job listings more than doubled during the pandemic, and more than 20% of Americans are still teleworking, with tech workers particularly set on long-term remote work.
But the 'blitz spirit' that got us through the pandemic's early days has waned, and – for many – working from home is starting to feel like living at work. Physical distance is turning into emotional distance. And, with more of us feeling isolated, burned out, and disconnected from our teams than ever, employers are worried about the long-term impact.
At Modis, we believe work friendships are among the most rewarding relationships people make, and we know from first-hand experience that they can flourish even in a remote setting. But getting it right takes effort, commitment, and a fair bit of ingenuity. Below, read our top ten tips on building thriving coworker relationships at a distance.
We're all in the same storm but not in the same boat. Younger workers are disillusioned, struggling to establish a career growth trajectory without an in-person network. Mothers have been bearing the pandemic's brunt, with many looking after kids and elders while juggling their regular work. Treat your coworkers with empathy, and as individuals, whether that means helping a Gen Z colleague climb the ladder or giving a working dad space as he deals with a homeschool crisis. Loneliness is a big downside to remote work, so if you notice a team member has gone quiet, don't be afraid to reach out to offer support. Making time to build trust combats loneliness and helps you work better with your colleagues tactically, too.
When it comes to adapting to the new digital tools needed for remote working, tech-smart workers like you sail through. Your colleagues, and even your boss, might be struggling, though. Most organizations these days have invested in the technology needed to facilitate effective remote working relationships, but – for whatever reason – people are hesitant to adopt them. As many as 25% of US workers will be using collaboration tools for the first time, so use your natural advantage to help them upskill. Visibility is everything with remote working, and techies' experience working in Agile and DevOps teams means they tend to be used to 'working out loud,' which can be a tremendous productivity and relationship booster. Pay special attention to those forced to leave the workforce during the pandemic to care for kids or elders, as they might be feeling particularly out of the game. Start from a position of kindness, and you can't go wrong.
There's nothing heroic about running yourself into the ground. Many of us are working from home in sub-optimal circumstances. If you don't take care of your mental health, you soon won't be doing a good job of looking after your work, your loved ones, or your coworker relationships. You'll get snappy with colleagues, your performance will suffer, and you might even start to feel like there's nothing else for it but to resign. From meditation to staying active to simply learning to shout when you need a break, looking after yourself is the first step to building great relationships.
The best engineers want to work on open source projects, and the open source movement can teach us a lot about effective remote teamwork. Open source projects happen in distributed online environments, with contributors located in homes, schools, and offices worldwide. These communities often establish teamwork rules and norms that encourage creativity. As tech and engineering workers, you’ve got this. It's in your DNA to work well with colleagues remotely.
Even if your city or neighborhood is feeling 'normal' again, understand that these days, it takes just one sick person to send schools or daycares into lockdown somewhere else. If your coworker has young kids, they might suddenly find themselves homeschooling again. So, even though sticking to a rigid schedule may be your preferred way of working, it might not be doable for them, no matter how committed they are. Our advice? Focus on people first, especially when people can't always put work first. In these erratic times, it's the only way to build meaningful coworker relationships.
Suppose you are a mature or senior worker. The chances are that you enjoyed a lot of in-person networking earlier in your career that helped you build your social capital and ultimately climb the ladder. Remote new hires will be missing out on all those off-the-cuff interactions and lunches with coworkers. Offering to mentor them could help you and your mentee feel more connected – and broaden your perspective. See what technology you can leverage to simulate in-person experiences and allow younger workers to feel informed, cared for, and connected. Equally, if you're new to the workforce, you bring a lot of knowledge that's invaluable to more senior team members. By pairing up with a more senior colleague, you can help them connect with groups outside their regular circles. If your company doesn't have a formal mentoring and reverse mentoring program, why not suggest it? And if that's not an option, reach out to a colleague directly. You'll both reap the benefits.
Metadata from collaborative technology vendors suggests that remote working tends to increase silos among colleagues. The digital interactions among close team members have increased by as much as 40 percent, at the expense of more casual acquaintances on the outer reaches of our networks. One way to get around this is by joining virtual communities at work. Perhaps there's a women's chapter or an ally network for LGBTQ+ employees? Or perhaps there are shared interest groups based around hobbies like the theatre, sports, or a good old book club? If they don't exist, then why not start them? It’s a wonderful, colorful, and purposeful way to broaden your network and collaborate with interesting colleagues in other domains.
Days spent staring at a screen at home can be exhausting and isolating. Now and then, kick off your online meetings with coworkers by introducing potential interrupters, like children, pets, and partners. Why not organize a team yoga stretch during the daily stand-up or a Friday unplugging ritual to switch off from work together? Virtual walk sharing with a group of colleagues – where everyone takes pics of their views – is a great way to connect with your colleagues and promote inclusion.
Use any visits to the office as an opportunity to strengthen connections with your colleagues. Assuming you can do it safely, even the most hired-wired home worker will benefit from getting together in person. Think of the office as the new offsite, and don't simply try and do all the 'thinking work' there that you know you do better and more efficiently at home.
Remote working – and the always-on culture that often accompanies it – can be intrusive. Make it clear to colleagues that although you might be working and sending messages at odd hours, you expect a reply only when it works for them. With Outlook's 'delay delivery' function, you can make sure your message lands during your recipient's working hours, whatever those may be. Recently, we've found many colleagues are adding the following paragraph to their work email signature (and we love it): "TRULY HUMAN NOTICE: Getting this email out of normal working hours? We work at a digitally-enabled relentless pace, which can disrupt our ability to sleep enough, eat right, exercise, and spend time with the people that matter most. I am sending you this email at a time that works for me. I only expect you to respond to it when convenient to you." Why not add it to yours today?
As we adapt to living and working in a COVID-19 world, it’s time to shift from a short-term pandemic survival mode to a more sustainable, family-friendly, and wellbeing-positive remote working model.