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UMGC Career Connection
Virtual Teams: How to Stay Connected While Working Apart

Jennifer Tomasovic
By Jennifer Tomasovic

Telecommuting? You’re not alone—although you may feel like it these days. Across the country and around the world, employees and managers alike have had to adjust to working remotely.

It’s easy for the physical distance to make your team feel disjointed and far away, but there are things you can do to bridge the gap. Here are some tips to help you stay connected while working apart.

Get on the same page

Your work-from-home situation may be different from your colleague’s. That’s why it’s important to have an honest conversation about it at the onset.

Some of your co-workers may be trying to help their kids navigate their virtual school day during work hours. Others may be without childcare due to COVID-19 and may have to follow a revised schedule. In addition, some of your colleagues may be caring for elderly parents or sick members of the household.

Whether you’re a manager or a member of the team, it’s essential that you have a direct discussion about any challenges that will impact the way you work together.

“It’s important to have these conversations,” says Francine Blume, UMGC assistant vice president of Career Development. “Be honest with one another, and be flexible. We’re all trying to do the best we can with the situation, and supporting your colleagues and direct reports can help keep your team work efficiently and effectively even though you’re far apart.”

Ultimately, this will help you avoid preventable misunderstandings and focus on getting the job done well.

Establish the way you’ll work

For many, the first time they’ve telecommuted is during the pandemic. If you’re a leader, you’ll need to ensure your team members have the tools and technology they need to successfully do their jobs at home.

Part of this is establishing work processes and systems if you don’t already have them in place. Use technology to your advantage by leverage virtual work sites, such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. If you don’t, be sure your team members have access to shared calendars and shared drives for storing project-related documents.

Leaders should also ensure their team members know how and when they can contact them to ask questions, voice concerns or discuss projects and goals.

“Also, make sure your employees know how to reach each other in case something urgent comes up,” says Blume. This may include sharing a master list of everyone’s work hours, cell phone numbers and preferred method of communication outside the work week.

Check in regularly

Daily check-in meetings may not have been necessary when your core team was together in the office, but right now you can’t rely on bumping into someone in the hallway or poking your head into a cubicle to ask a question.

“Status update meetings are important wherever you work, but they become even more essential when the entire team is working remotely,” notes Blume. “First, it helps you stay abreast of what’s happening in your area, but it also provides structure and a sense of normalcy. As a leader, it’s one of the best things you can do for your team.”

Use this time to share project updates, look for opportunities to collaborate, ask questions, delegate tasks and generally stay in sync as a team. Doing so can help you avoid becoming siloed in your individual work and leverage your collective strength. If you’re a leader, you can also take this time to see how your employees are handling the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic and offer any resources that are available to support them.

Have some fun

Miss the watercooler banter from the office? There’s an easy remote fix: the instant message. Set up a group chat with your team so you can stay connected, both about pressing work issues and about the back-and-forth fun you have making jokes with one another.

“It’s easy for remote work to be transactional as you exchange emails, attend meeting and simply focus on getting the job done,” explains Blume. “However, it’s important to find time to maintain those interpersonal connections so you can remain a strong team.”

Some groups enjoy scheduling virtual coffee breaks or virtual happy hours via video chat to catch up in a more relaxed setting. These could include a theme or a competition, such as a funniest meme contest or a talent show. If you’re the manager, you could give a virtual tour of your at-home workspace and encourage your employees to do the same. If you’re the leader, you may consider asking a different team member to plan the engagement event each time.

When you make an effort to keep your team connected, it will pay off in productivity and job satisfaction.

“When you do head back to the office, you’ll be all the better for it,” sums up Blume.