A healthy work relationship often comes down to the little things. This is especially true when working from home (WFH). In-person nuances are lost, face-to-face opportunities are less frequent, and things can fall through the cracks when remote interactions aren’t managed correctly. All this can take a toll on your remote relationships with work peers. As a team of long-time remote workers, we’ve used our years of management experience to compile a list of small behaviours that will have a big impact on your professional relationships, as you and your team adapt to a new remote setting.
1. Set up a video call with colleagues to discuss communication preferences & set boundaries
While it might feel a bit awkward initially, it’s important to see each other face-to-face and talk through communication styles. Explain what kind of support you need, and what helps you work most effectively.
Prioritizing a call like this will ensure that everyone is on the same page and truly working as a team. It helps all involved to be aware of what each person needs during this time. These kinds of conversations are best in small groups or, even better, 1:1.
2. Don’t let work and personal life blur — clearly communicate WFH vs. offline hours
It’s important to keep your work and personal life from blurring together. It’s a pretty surefire way to avoid feeling drained by the end of the day, week or month. During quarantine, an essential skill to master isn’t necessarily time management, but rather energy management. Figure out when your energy levels are at their peak and schedule activities around that period that re-energize you.
Remember that your energy peak might happen at a different time to that of your coworkers (especially when your team is WFH across different timezones). Make sure that you set boundaries accordingly and communicate what hours you’re able to work vs. time you’ll use to recharge — a process which means different things to different people. Some re-energize by spending time with family/friends or taking a dance break, while others might need to shut their laptop and read a book.
3. Start WFH meetings with a quick informal check-in before diving into work talk
It’s always a good idea to do a quick check-in at the start of team meetings. Rather than just asking how someone is, develop a deeper work relationship by asking what they’re excited about or if there’s something they wish they did more of this week. Taking a moment to pause and connect gives your colleagues a moment to be seen and start meetings off on a positive note.
4. Put 30mins aside each week to discuss non-work stuff with a team member
Just because you can “talk shop” all day doesn’t mean you should. Take the time to get to know your team a bit more and set aside 30 minutes to talk about anything but work. Your work relationships will benefit from learning more about the people you work with and you’ll get to hear some incredible stories.
Maybe you’re both music addicts and can swap album recommendations. Or perhaps you’ve both been listening to the same podcast and can theorize on the ideas or outcome. Make an effort to learn about the little things your teammates celebrate or the traditions they hold dear with their friends and families.
5. Present actionable items in a bulleted list format and assign corresponding deadlines
Communicating about deliverables or project timelines may take some adjustment when WFH. It’s crucial that these are relayed clearly and in a way that can be referred back to throughout the course of the project. First, makes sure that everyone understands the goal you’re all working towards. Next, share a list of short and punchy bullets laying out each milestone of the project. This format is a lot easier to digest than a huge block of text. Try to include corresponding deadlines where you can to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and expectations are set.
Encourage people to review the timeline before they get to work on it and give them an opportunity to ask questions about steps they may not understand. Everyone has different expertise and visibility into the projects they work on and should be able to negotiate a deadline if they’re finding it difficult to commit to it.
6. Build timezone differences into the equation when setting deadlines for projects
You may be on a team where not everyone is based in the same timezone, with some sheltering in place in other parts of the country. When communicating the hours you’ll be working, keep in mind the time differences between you and your colleague and when they will be on the clock as well. Build out timelines backwards and cross-check what’s feasible with the rest of your team.
7. Always explain “the why” when assigning new projects and presenting insights
Big picture stuff can come through in different (and sometimes unintended) ways when a team is at the office. There may have been memos floating around, a whiteboard diagram seen in passing, or a comment overheard — information that when tied together tell us more about how things/projects fit together. Since those elements are missing now that you’re remote, take some extra time to give a bit of background on a new project, or a project that someone is joining mid-way through. Be intentional during kick-off and explain how that project ties in with work others are doing. Explain why your team has been chosen to tackle the project and set priorities and expectations. This is especially necessary when people are working across multiple areas.
When presenting a project or coming back to your team with any research, make sure to include analysis and insights into key learnings and action items. Be clear on what your findings are and why they are relevant and important.
8. Give credit to your team for the hard work they put in
It’s always important to make sure people feel seen and recognized for the work they put in. Even more so when a thumbs up, applause or uplifting comment over a desk partition is ruled out. While these things may seem small, it’s really important to adapt these behaviours, making them more WFH-friendly. Give your colleague a shout out over Slack, or send an email commending them when credit is due. This bolsters team camaraderie and promotes a healthy company culture. It’s always a great thing when people acknowledge great ideas and boost each other up.
9. Be polite — tone can get lost over Slack/email, so give people the benefit of the doubt
As we adapt to a WFH setting we can’t rely on body language to help us read the room. We’re only able to see people’s faces or the top half of their body to read cues. And sometimes people are reluctant to turn on their videos at all. A quick call, video or audio, can help ensure that your tone comes across as you intend it to and prevents an endless back and forth over email/Slack that can eat up more time in your day.
Give people on your team the benefit of the doubt and be kind to each other. We’re all experiencing extra stressors at this time, both personally and professionally. Handling our colleagues with sensitivity and care has never been more relevant. Take a moment to evaluate how something you write may come across to avoid misunderstandings between you and your team.
10. Be patient — we’re redefining productivity together
Things are changing every day, every week and we’re all doing our best to adapt synchronously. Learning about ourselves and our team during an unprecedented and stressful time can be exhausting. We need to redefine what productivity means for our teams that are WFH, stay connected, communicate clearly, and support each other so we can all stay motivated and energized.
If you’re feeling unsettled, you have good reason to feel that way. Be patient with yourself and those you’re working with. Redefining life as a remote worker can be tough, but we’re in this together.