According to one recent report, 50% of Americans want to work from home or work remotely in 2023. If you’re at the helm of a remote or hybrid workforce, then you know that this setup has surged in popularity over the last three years. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, companies all over the world have looked for ways to keep employees as safe, comfortable, and happy as possible. Increasingly, this means allowing them to work from home at least part-time. 

While there are many perks to remote work, it can make employee collaboration a bit of a challenge. Without the opportunity to pop in for an office chat or bond over the coffee maker, how can you encourage everyone to work with and get to know one another?

Teamwork doesn’t have to fall by the wayside as your office strategy changes. Today, we’re sharing four strategies to try. 

1. Allow Space for Informal Bonding

It’s easy to assume that when you’re online with your remote work team, everyone has to be talking about work, all of the time. While there should certainly be an adequate amount of time devoted to work-based tasks, try to leave a little time at the beginning or end of each session for a short period of informal conversation. 

Ask how everyone’s weekend went, or what their pets are up to. Designate one day each week where employees can send in pictures of their workspaces, or talk about a favorite hobby. 

These conversations don’t have to drag on forever, and it’s important to set time-based parameters so they don’t lead to tangents. However, you might be surprised at how effective they are in building team morale and promoting teamwork. 

If you find that these chats are becoming distracting, you can always create a separate channel in your web-based collaboration platform, like Slack. Title it “Random” and encourage your employees to spend some time each day building those casual connections. Then, when it’s time for them to work with one another, they’ll already have that bond and connection.

2. Provide the Right Tools

You can’t expect your remote employees to engage in WFH teamwork if they don’t have the right resources at their fingertips.

The exact tools you need will depend on a few different factors, including the size of your workforce, the industry you’re in, and the type of projects you work on. However, these are the basics that most companies invest in to get started, along with the most popular picks”

  • Mobile team communication apps: Slack, HipChat, Flock
  • Video conferencing apps: Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, GoToMeeting
  • Design collaboration app/digital whiteboard: InVision, Visme
  • File management apps: Google Drive, Dropbox
  • Project management software: Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Airtable
  • Software design and development tools: GitHub, Atlassian
  • Password manager: LastPass, Dashlane

These are only a few of the different options out there! Take the time to think about what your teams need to collaborate, and research the best-reviewed products in that market. 

3. Set Clear Goals and Objectives

When everyone is working in the virtual space, expectations tend to get a little murky. There isn’t a supervisor popping their head into the office every few hours to make sure everyone is staying on task. There may not even be a time-tracking app to monitor time spent at the computer. 

This workplace arrangement requires a degree of trust on your end and self-motivation on your employees’ end. You must be able to trust that your team members are communicating with one another and collaborating on their projects, even if you can’t physically see them. Likewise, your team members have to take it upon themselves to initiate and form those connections on their own. 

To make the process easier, it helps to set clear goals from the beginning. At the start of each project, define the following objective: 

  • Names of employees assigned to work together
  • How often they should collaborate
  • Estimated timeframes for collaboration (e.g. Mondays between 1:00 and 3:00)
  • The tasks they should work on

It can help to use a project management app to make sure everyone is keeping up with their assignments. While these apps are often used to track client projects, you can also leverage them for in-house tasks. Tools like these make it easy to assign jobs, monitor performance, and share progress updates. 

4. Prioritize Employee Morale

When an employee is feeling isolated, stressed, or disengaged from work, collaboration is one of the first things to fall by the wayside. As a remote supervisor, you may not notice when morale starts to dip. 

Instead of expecting your team members to come to you when they’re feeling upset, take a more proactive approach. Set virtual “office hours” where employees can contact you via email, phone, or chat to share their feelings. Encourage everyone to take regular mental health breaks, and arrange space in their schedules so they can easily do so without guilt. 

In general, remote workers tend to have higher job satisfaction and morale rates. In fact, in one recent study, 78% of remote and hybrid workers said their work arrangement improved their overall well-being. However, those that did feel burned out cited a lack of work/life balance as the reason. 

By prioritizing that balance within your own workforce, you can quell feelings of discontentment and frustration. In turn, this helps employees work with one another more willingly and often. 

Optimize Your Approach to Employee Collaboration

As more companies make the shift to a remote workforce, employee collaboration is changing. Employees are now meeting in the virtual space, not sitting around conference room tables or pulling up a chair at a co-worker’s desk.

Looking ahead, successful business leaders will be those who readily embrace this new form of teamwork. Give your remote workers the chance to bond, set clear goals, and provide the tools they need to meet them. 

Are you thinking about expanding your company with a virtual workforce? If so, our consultants can help you strategize this move. Contact us today to learn more.