One of the many consequences of COVID-19 for businesses was a sudden and dramatic increase in remote working, as workplaces were closed and people who were able to do their jobs from home were urged to do so.
This accelerated a trend that was already picking up pace, presenting employers with a number of new considerations related to keeping staff engaged, happy and productive.
The remote working phenomenon
Even before the pandemic, remote working was becoming increasingly common. For example, in the US, the number of people regularly working from home increased by 173% between 2005 and 2018.
The trend accelerated in 2020 and current indications suggest this is a sign of things to come, with one forecast projecting that up to 30% of employees will work from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.
Many people have welcomed these developments, with nearly nine out of ten workers wanting the freedom to choose whether to work remotely or in the office after COVID restrictions are lifted.
However, research also shows there are aspects of traditional on-site working that people miss, specifically:
- Socializing with colleagues (53%)
- Office banter (46%)
- Meeting with co-workers face-to-face (45%)
- Collaborating with colleagues (37%)
- A structured routine (37%)
Managers have a responsibility to ensure staff feel comfortable working remotely and are still getting the social interaction that’s such an important part of individual wellbeing and overall company performance.
In a study by Boston Consulting Group, people who were satisfied with their social connectivity with colleagues were two to three times more likely to have maintained or improved their productivity on collaborative tasks than those who weren't happy with the social aspect of their jobs.
Therefore, it's important to think about the steps you're taking to support connections between team members and to maintain positivity among people who are working remotely.
One way to approach this challenge is to introduce some unusual activities that help people relax, destress and have some fun together.
1. Virtual tours
Remote workers have become accustomed to video meetings and seeing their colleagues usually sitting in the same spot, so why not invite people who are interested in doing so to take their team on a virtual tour of the rest of their abode?
Hosts can bring attention to some of the more unusual features of their homes, or introduce their co-workers to particular items that provide an insight into their personality and their life outside work.
2. Sharing non-work-related good news
Businesses and workers alike have had a lot of negative news, stress and worry to deal with in 2020. Employers can help to ease some of the pressure on people's minds by encouraging employees to share some good news with each other.
You can add an extra element to the activity by making a rule that the news can't be related to work. This gives people the freedom to talk about anything, from getting a new pet to rekindling a relationship with a friend they haven't seen for years.
3. Challenges and activities
People who enjoy a bit of friendly competition can gain a lot of motivation and fulfillment from simple challenges that give them a clear goal to work towards.
One possibility is a fitness challenge that team members can track on their phones, such as seeing who can walk the most steps in a month. As well as providing a fun activity for those interested in taking part, this will encourage people to get out of the house and exercise, which is extremely important for remote workers.
4. Daily snapshots
This is a simple activity that involves people taking a picture of something every day and sharing it with their co-workers. The picture can be of anything, from what someone had for breakfast that day, to a view they enjoyed on a morning walk or a selfie with their pet.
As well as providing interesting conversation starters to ensure people are talking and keeping each other in good spirits, these daily snapshots can help colleagues get to know each other better, which strengthens team morale.
5. 'Getting to know you' games
Another good way to increase familiarity and strengthen bonds between team members is by playing games that are specifically designed to help co-workers get to know one another.
Before a meeting, ask everyone to answer some light-hearted 'about me' questions, such as their favorite film, food or vacation spot. You can then share all of the responses in the meeting and get the whole team to match the answers to the right person.
This can be a good way to help people unwind while creating stronger connections between co-workers, which is good for individuals and the business.