Employees Working Remotely: Your Most Important Community!

Here's how to keep your remote employees engaged

Okay everyone, so we’re all working remotely and practicing “social distancing” — but that doesn’t mean that we have to stop being social! Our entire AnswerHub team went completely remote Friday, March 13. As we went remote, we noticed that we have some teams that are beginning to struggle a bit with the loneliness of working in a different climate from what they are used to. As experts in the developer community space, we know community.  We also understand that employees working remotely are your most important community to keep engaged.

Software Development Teams Have Been Working Remotely for 20 Years — Let’s Learn from Them.

I’ve been working in software development for over 20 years and through all of that 20 years I’ve had parts of my team remote. At one point we had team members in four states in the US as well as four other countries. I can say that working remotely certainly has it’s challenges but it can be fun and productive to boot! The most important thing to remember is that employees are the lifeblood of the company and keeping them engaged and productive is key to keeping people feeling connected when we are remote. I’m going to outline some things that are super fun as well as some things that you can do to keep productivity up!

We All Need Community — Especially When Practicing Social Distancing.

First off, we all “feel” that need for community — it’s baked into us as humans. We all have a desire to connect with one another and most of us want to be helpful to others (that’s why we like teams so much). That feeling of belonging can start to wane as we practice social distancing but that doesn’t mean that we have to be anti-social. Social distancing only means that our physical bodies need to be separated — we can absolutely still be engaged with one another.  I firmly believe that it is more important to stay connected during times like these. I’ve listed some of my favorite things to do when working with remote teams that promote a sense of community below and I encourage you to try a couple.

Virtual Coffee Breaks & Meetings

While Starbucks may be a social no-no for the next couple of weeks you can always brew your own cup of Veranda (or Breakfast Blend) and turn on the video feed with a buddy and catch up! If you have good lighting (make sure it’s in front of you, not behind) and a good camera you can make this a fun experience and it’s relaxing as well. Just make sure to make the video full-screen so you’re not interrupted by incoming emails while your friend is talking.

Capture and Re-use All the Knowledge You’re Sharing

Make sure you have a way to capture all the communication and information being shared! Collaborating remotely means that we are much more likely to be solving problems as a team over virtual meetings. It’s really important to use communication methods that allow you to capture the information you’re sharing so everyone can benefit. Having a good intranet with a Q&A site setup is particularly useful. You get the benefits of getting questions shared and answered and can search for information you need — all without clogging everyone’s inbox. Plus, it prevents you from having to answer the same question twice!

Make sure you have a good file sharing repository that everyone in your group can access (that also syncs to your local drive) so everyone can share files without having 30 versions floating around in email. Collaboration in these tools has gotten so good lately that if you’re not making comments inline on a shared drive you’re in the dark ages. Put down those stone tools and work more efficiently together to get things documented and shared!

Make Time for Fun and Healthy Habits

Play video games together – let’s face it, gone are the days when I’m snuggled around a 13″ CRT television plugged into my Nintendo and fighting with my five friends over a couple of wired controllers! Video gaming today is extremely connected and offers in-game chat, sharing of resources, and many puzzles, quests, and adventures that you can share together. So, whether you’re a PC gamer or love to use XBox Live — get a few team members together for a rousing Minecraft Build, some First Person Shooter action, or even a virtual board game. You’ll be surprised at how it makes that sense of community come through. Luckily, BlueBeetle and I will be online later — ping me in the comments and we’ll send you a Discord invite!

Be well. Take a few minutes and make sure you get your steps in! When that 15-minute meeting reminder pops up from Outlook, I try to stand up, stretch, or go for a quick walk outside. This will help prevent you from ending your day, looking outside, and wondering why it’s 8 p.m. and you didn’t take single breath of fresh air. Simple, but effective way to keep the blood flowing!

There are thousands of tips out there for remote work, but the collaboration and community aspects here will help you promote a sense of belonging among your employees. They’re your most important asset and the way you get all the work done, so please share and give some of these a try.