9 strategies for engaging remote teams

When I received the opportunity to work remotely, I jumped at the chance to move down the coast to warmer waters and more affordable housing. 

I assumed I would maintain the sense of belonging in the company and connection I had enjoyed with my colleagues, especially with monthly visits to the office. Initially, I felt engaged and more productive overall. And many of my connections with individuals deepened as we chatted over Slack or Zoom. 

But as the entire organisation soon shifted to remote work during the pandemic, some of the challenges of remote work emerged. Here’s what I learned in the process, what my company did well, and what I believe other organisations can learn from the experience. 

Keep the weekly standup

Weekly standups might not involve standing up anymore, but they still keep your employees engaged and ensure alignment with your company’s OKRs. 

But, just because you’re sitting down, doesn’t mean meetings should drag on. The ideal length is 18 minutes, according to a recent survey by video presentation app Prezi

Use standups at the beginning of the week to introduce new employees or contractors, review pulse survey data, and highlight any new initiatives or projects the company will undertake during the week. 

A Friday standup might include department updates and wins from the week. Give it a celebratory, happy hour vibe and include shout outs to individual employees. 

Attendance optional 

Globally distributed workers might not want to join a standup in the middle of the night, so consider alternating the time of the meeting so that most employees can attend. Or allow meetings to take place asynchronously and send a recording to those who missed it. 

Don’t skip the small talk 

For individual meetings or those with small groups, don’t skip the small talk. In the same way you chat with your colleagues as you fill your coffee, walk into a conference room, and find a seat, make your virtual meetings personal. 

Carving out time at the start of meetings to catch up a little creates and enhance business friendships and team performance, says Debra Fine, author of bestselling book The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills—and Leave a Positive Impression.

She encourages leaders to model this behavior at both the beginning and end of business meetings.

Utilize breakout rooms 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a meeting where it felt as if you may as well have just submitted a recording of yourself sitting at your computer. (Hand raised) Part of the challenge lies in meetings with more than a handful of people. For larger meetings, especially those with 12 or more people, breakout rooms ensure everyone in a meeting has a chance to speak. 

Rethink happy hour and game nights

While some employees might enjoy happy hours and game nights, it’s a sad substitute for the human connection we enjoyed in person. And for working parents, they can feel like yet another drain on their time. 

“At the start of the pandemic, employers flocked to Zoom to keep up the face-to-face interaction,” says Heidi Lynn Kurter, a leadership coach and workplace culture consultant in an article for Forbes. “However, employees started getting burnt out from the constant Zoom happy hours and meetings that they began losing the desire to show up.” 

Host virtual classes and shows

Unlike a happy hour, we’re already accustomed to taking classes or watching music online.  During the first month of lockdown, I hosted a cooking class for my colleagues and another employee hosted a live yoga class. Both were after hours and totally optional. Later, another teammate hosted a virtual concert. 

Double down on internal communication 

Employees who are accustomed to working in an open office are used to catching up on the latest news effortlessly. Remote workers don’t have that luxury. That’s why internal communication matters more than ever. Some of this can happen during standup and on Slack. Also make a point of sending a quick note to your team with updates that some might have missed in other modes of communication.

Send gifts

It doesn’t have to be big. Even chocolates, a card, or company schwag is enough to express your gratitude. A small gesture, especially one your employee or freelancer will see again and again, maintains a sense of connection to your organisation. 

Deliver lunch 

While catered lunches don’t work anymore, treat your team to lunch before a big meeting or at a break (no one wants to see chewing!) by sending a virtual gift card. UberEats, DoorDash, and the dozens of other food delivery apps make employee lunches a possibility. Bonus — everyone gets exactly what they like.