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Remote Work: Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Mean Social Isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic has millions suddenly working remotely, and as distressing as the situation is, feeling disconnected and worried about work makes it worse. Smart managers can ease the pain by choosing a good collaboration and communication platform, and taking pains to make remote work fun – and build closer interpersonal relationships amongst workers at the same time.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365 (Office 365 is becoming Microsoft 365 later this month) Jared Spataro blogged about using Teams for remote work, and how best to embrace the personal side of remote work.

Balancing Work, Life and Family

Those of us used to working remotely do not always know when to stop. While this can be great for getting things done, be careful of burnout, which quickly erases all those productivity gains. That means knowing when to work – and when not. “Without the usual workday signals—a walk to grab lunch, for instance, or a commute—unplugging can be a challenge. Remote workers sometimes find themselves working for long stretches without breaks for exercise, socializing, or a proper meal,” Microsoft’s Spataro blogged. “This will quickly lead to stress and burnout. Remember: your health comes first. Make time for meals, drink plenty of water, and remind yourself to mentally ‘clock out’ from remote work at the end of the day. These behaviors won’t just keep you healthy; they will also help you be more productive in the long run.”

Maintaining the Social Aspect of Work

The best workplaces combine great productive relationships and terrific and positive personal relationships. With Teams and the right approach, remote work has the same advantages. “A lot of remote workers find the thing they miss the most about the office is casual conversations. Chats at the watercooler or snack shelf not only keep us connected, they often surface important information or insights we wouldn’t have guessed,” Spataro advised. “Be deliberate about reaching out and connecting with your co-workers. Think of chat messages as your virtual watercooler and set yourself a reminder to check in with people regularly. Emojis, GIFs, and stickers are a fun way to keep the chatter fun and light.”

Organizing Social Get Togethers

Those not used to working remotely can feel out of place, and lose that connection to teammates. Our CoreView marketing team has a weekly Friday afternoon Aperitivo (Italian for happy hour) where everyone has a beverage of their choice. Our CEO even joins when he has the chance. This is a great morale booster, a chance to just relax and share stories.

The same attitude can drive scheduled business meetings amongst teammates. “Working remotely can feel isolating. As a leader, it is important to create opportunities for the whole team to get together virtually. Maintain your regular team meeting cadence or team lunches, just make them online,” Spatafaro argued. “Use the ‘General’ channel in Teams for discussions that might be of interest to everyone. For large brainstorms you can use the Microsoft Whiteboard app, which provides an infinite digital canvas for meeting participants to ideate and collaborate directly in Teams. We also suggest team leaders download the Crisis Communication Power App. You can use this customizable app to inform yourself and your team on everything they need to know throughout this outbreak.”

The Harvard Business Review in a piece A Guide to Managing Your Newly Remote Workers, offered Ivy League quality guidance to managers now charged with keeping remote workers productive – and happy. Like Microsoft, HBR also advises not neglecting social aspects of work. “One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely. This is true for all remote workers, but particularly so for workers who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office,” HBR argued. “The easiest way to establish some basic social interaction is to leave some time at the beginning of team calls just for non-work items (e.g., ‘We’re going to spend the first few minutes just catching up with each other. How was your weekend?’). Other options include virtual pizza parties (in which pizza is delivered to all team members at the time of a videoconference), or virtual office parties (in which party ‘care packages’ can be sent in advance to be opened and enjoyed simultaneously). While these types of events may sound artificial or forced, experienced managers of remote workers (and the workers themselves) report that virtual events help reduce feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging.”

Listen to Newly Remote Workers

Remote workers are not just dealing with being displaced from the office – this coronavirus pandemic is deeply troubling emotionally. Good managers are also caring, supportive bosses. “Especially in the context of an abrupt shift to remote work, it is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles. If a newly remote employee is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them how they are doing,” HBR offers. “Even a general question such as ‘How is this remote work situation working out for you so far?’ can elicit important information that you might not otherwise hear. Once you ask the question, be sure to listen carefully to the response, and briefly restate it back to the employee, to ensure that you understood correctly. Let the employee’s stress or concerns (rather than your own) be the focus of this conversation.”

The Importance of Staying Upbeat

Happy workers are loyal, productive workers. It takes extra effort to keep them that way in these troubling times. “Whether you’re a few weeks or months into your new remote team, it’s essential to keep up the same positive momentum you began with during onboarding. Friendly ‘Good morning!’ messages in Slack can set a positive tone each day,” WWR advised. “Staying in touch often (which can borderline micromanaging or complaining — so there is a balance!) also connects your in-house and remote teams so they feel less distant and isolated.”

Learn More About Making Remote Workers Productive

Learn more about making remote workers happy and productive with a CoreView demo.

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Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.

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