As someone who has loved working remotely for close to three years, I’ve recently found myself at the shallow end of the pool that our workforce has been pushed into as a result of COVID-19. However, as the virus moves more and more workers online, I’m learning from speaking with friends and neighbors (while adhering to social distancing guidelines, of course) that many folks are finding themselves in the deep end of the pool just trying to keep their head above the water. These are unusual times with extraordinary circumstances. Even when you put aside all of the various complexities that unexpectedly working from home introduces – managing your own schedule and time, finding a dedicated workspace, avoiding distractions and interruptions from family and pets, etc. – and focus solely on how to keep engaged with your employer and colleagues, the question becomes: how do we still work together even when we are working apart? 

Get lots of face time

Face-to-face communication is important, even if you can’t meet in-person physically. Remember: a large portion of how we communicate is nonverbal. Body language can be vital in understanding how people are feeling and how they might be receiving what you’re trying to speak with them about. After all, it’s impossible to read a room that you’re not in. 

The greatest enemy to working from home is the loneliness that creeps up on you suddenly after realizing you’ve spent an entire eight hour workday without seeing another human being. Unless you have self-subscribed yourself to a heads down workday, you should always look to connect with at least one of your peers face-to-face. For this, you need to ensure that you and your company have access to a video-enabled conference tool. ParsonsTKO uses Zoom, but there are a lot of great software options out there to choose from.

Utilize team messaging tools, a lot

We’ve used Slack for years and find it to be one of the best communication platforms for remote teams. It makes communicating fun (sometimes too fun?) and makes it easy to share updates with your team, gather for impromptu meetings, etc. The trick is making sure you are available and able to respond to messages in a reasonable amount of time to keep projects moving.  

Slack doesn’t have to be all business and no play! At ParsonsTKO, we have a number of creative Slack channels to help us feel more connected. Our #playlist channel, for example, helps us get to know each other through the music we listen to. It’s also a great way to discover new artists and tracks you might have otherwise not been exposed to. 

Embrace the fun side of remote work

Building connections and a sense of team spirit is key in working well together. And, while this might not come as easily if you’re part of a virtual team, it’s far from difficult. What it takes is a commitment to incorporating team building activities into your company culture. 

ParsonsTKO holds weekly water coolers on Friday afternoons so everyone can share updates about non-work related items, like weekend plans or what TV shows they’re currently binge watching. Getting the entire team on video chat allows us to generally connect, almost as if we were speaking to one another in person. 

Remote teams can work effectively

We are all working to adjust to this new normal. Perhaps you’ll return to office life, and remote work will become just a thing you did during a global health crisis. Maybe your organization will move more workers online on a permanent basis. Or maybe, like me, you already worked remotely. Whatever your circumstance, hopefully when you think about what it means to work remotely with a team, you’ll think of all the great possibilities, and see that it is possible for teams to work together effectively regardless of their physical locations.