A 2017 Gallup study reported that 43% of Americans spend at least some time working remotely, a 4% increase since 2012. The culture around remote and work-from-home positions has changed dramatically in the past few years, with several benefits surfacing for companies and employees. But when your only coworker is a cat, remote work can start to feel isolating. Here are seven ways to stay in the loop professionally when you are geographically distant.
1. Change the scenery.
Studies show that novelty and change, even minor, can boost our brains’ ability to think creatively, problem solve and concentrate. Setting up shop at a coworking space (even if only a few times a month) can also bolster your professional connections in a more natural and inviting way. Check out companies like We Work and Regus that foster a collaborative community with social events with a trendier vibe, like lunch-time talks and cocktail hours.
2. Get Your Professional Development On…
The pros are working in your pajamas and no fear of your lunch being stolen from the community fridge. The cons: Long, lonely days. Learning and socializing with others, both in your company or in the industry, can offer perspective, new creative intel and most importantly, the link to knowing what’s happening in the professional circuit. CompTIA AITP local chapters and other national organizations like Creative Mornings and Freelancers Union offer plenty of lunch-and-learns, open forums and specialty events that highlight the latest issues and trends in the IT industry.
3. …Then Talk About It
Did you catch a great Ted Talk with ideas worth exploring for your project or team? Happen to read an article that helps clarify some project issues? Stumble upon a meme that only your team would understand? Share it! Forging bonds around work—and not strictly about work—creates the personal connection to coworkers and team members that would organically happen if you shared an office space. Without the cubicle walls and weak office coffee to bond over, a little more effort has to go into creating channels of communication with colleagues.
4. Schedule a Group Info-dump or Brainstorming Session
After an info-packed meeting or conference, schedule a virtual think tank where everyone can digest the contents freely and openly. Being able to bounce ideas, hash out questions, voice frustrations or share experiences not only puts the event in context for everyone (“Oh, your take-away is different than mine. Here’s what I thought.”) but also creates the camaraderie and problem-solving dynamic that groups foster. After all, no person is an island.
5. Diversify and Streamline Your Channels
In the digital age, information is flowing nonstop, which means your inbox is constantly open for business. While email is well and good for some things, other platforms are better for the quick question, when a meeting is moved and even a funny meme. Slack might be the most widely used telecommuting channel for businesses, but it can also double as a repository for human interaction. Because of the informal format, many people set up separate channels for both personal and professional insight. However you use it, communication platforms provide a valuable space to learn, share and stay connected more immediately than email and less daunting than juggling numerous inboxes.
6. Use Your Voice.
We’ve all had to write a difficult or delicate email. While getting the facts recorded is important, treating others as people with feelings and different perspectives is just as integral to a supportive working atmosphere. A quick phone (or video!) call can cut through the email rhetoric, soften any harsh edges and allow for more nuanced conversations, something often lost in email-speak. In 2017, the Harvard Business Review reported a study that showed that a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email request. Hearing a confident, compassionate voice on the other end of a sticky issue goes a long way to having positive work relationships.
7. Show Your Face.
Until there is a sarcasm font, having a real-life conversation benefits professional and personal relationships ten-fold. So show yourself! Plan a visit into the office, stop by a happy hour or suggest a video meeting instead of dialing in. Becca Russo, a client success manager working remotely, says her company’s bi-weekly meeting is infinitely better with video-chat.
“This helps us to connect in a way in which we're able to read facial expressions ("Is what I said making sense because you still look confused?"). I feel a stronger sense of community when I see my team in person and it helps to put their personal lives in context. For instance, my boss made a funny comment about her cat being in a box next to her, then moved the webcam to show us the cat nearby. It added personality the meeting.”
Not only does showing your friendly face breed familiarity, but it can also open pathways to deeper colleague connections. So the next time you have to rewrite a PowerPoint, colleagues will remember you’re a fascinating, rich person instead of a faceless bot, and that is always a good thing.