As of March 2020, I had never worked from home—not for a single day. COVID-19 abruptly changed that. Employers, including Candid, pivoted by shipping equipment to staff, adjusting remote work policies, and reconsidering how teams get work done.
Three years later, we are finding better ways to work in remote environments. Here are five tips to build more engaged remote teams.
1. Encourage awareness of working styles.Getting to know colleagues in a remote environment is tough. Early in the pandemic, Zoom coffee chats and happy hours felt novel. Now that virtual meetings dominate calendars, the last thing most employees want to do is spend unstructured time staring at Zoom boxes.
To encourage awareness of working styles on remote teams, consider using a personality assessment tool, like DiSC, Myers-Briggs, or Clifton Strengths. These offer insight into strengths, preferences, and approaches to work. A big pro of using the same tool is having shared language.
People can also create user guides on their personal working styles. This offers another structured way to build awareness of preferences and how teammates can best work together. A guide could include personality assessment results, but it can be just as useful to skip the assessment and share things like:
- Individual goals
- Professional strengths
- Communication style and pet peeves
- Preferences for receiving feedback and praise
2. Align on team norms.Building awareness of individual styles and preferences sets the stage for team alignment on shared norms and behaviors. Even if norms were established pre-pandemic, it’s likely things have shifted in the last few years.
To get on the same page, consider using virtual-friendly activities like The Center for Creative Leadership’s 10 Steps for Establishing Team Norms, which outlines a straightforward activity that can be facilitated remotely. In this exercise, team norms are agreed upon and serve as operating principles that guide remote team members’ interactions. For example, Candid’s communications and brand awareness team includes people working in three time zones. This exercise helped them clarify how they communicate and work together effectively, while respecting time zones.
3. Promote inclusive team meetings.Every team member plays an important role in ensuring work happens inclusively. A key element is psychological safety, which requires more intentionality in a remote environment. Psychological safety is a shared belief that it’s safe to discuss ideas, take risks, and learn from mistakes. In practice, it includes sensitivity to conversational turn taking. This can be as simple as asking to hear from colleagues who don’t speak up as frequently in team meetings. One leader at Candid wisely uses the progressive stack method, a technique to prioritize voices less-heard in team meetings.
Meeting people where they are is another act of inclusion. No one is at their best every day, and remote work complicates things by layering on the personal nature of working in a space that may include children, partners, and pets. Starting meetings with a check-in is a great way to gauge how people are doing and establish togetherness. A check-in generator is an easy way to change up questions from meeting to meeting.
4. Prioritize professional development.Professional development is a key driver of engagement. Unfortunately, COVID-related challenges often put learning on the back burner. Budgets tightened, conferences were cancelled, and networking events moved to less engaging virtual formats. Remote teams can refocus on development by sharing resources, finding budget-friendly ways to grow together, and taking advantage of internal opportunities.
When colleagues attend external conferences and workshops, encourage them to share what they learned with the team. For example, after attending the Association for Talent Development’s annual conference, I shared a presentation that included session overviews, recommended books, and ideas for improving ongoing projects.
A book club is another budget- and remote-friendly option. Candid’s planning division reads a book every quarter focused on professional development or learning about the social sector. They rotate responsibilities, so everyone gets a chance to recommend a book and lead discussions. (If you’d like to try this, you can borrow free eBooks and audiobooks from Candid’s extensive online library.)
Lastly, consider serving on an internal committee or leading a learning session. At Candid, we have an employee engagement committee, an all-staff planning committee, diversity resource groups, and recurring staff-led educational sessions. Even though the activities aren’t directly related to one team’s work, they foster engagement, connection, and continuous learning.
5. Encourage ongoing feedbackMany organizations chose to bypass formal performance evaluations during the pandemic. Writing reviews didn’t seem fair when so many things were in flux. Delivering feedback remotely presents unique challenges. It’s harder to read reactions and feel connected.
That said, it’s time to bring back the habit of sharing feedback regularly. Keep in mind that feedback includes affirmation. Make sure to express gratitude and appreciation and find ways to celebrate wins as a team. Remind colleagues that feedback goes up, down, and sideways. It can happen in one-on-one meetings, retrospectives, team summits, 360° reviews, and any other format that works well to promote continuous learning and improve how work gets done.
We all have a part to play in this work. New challenges are inevitable, but building more engaged remote teams will help develop resilience for navigating whatever comes next.
For more strategies and guidelines on how to develop strong OD programs, please Join me in Las Vegas October 11-13, 2023 for the ATD OrgDev Conference.