Some companies have already taken precautions to contain the spread of COVID-19 like limiting travel to affected countries or conferences. Others have asked employees to stay home if they visited a country with a more serious outbreak. With the continued uncertainty, a growing number of American workers could soon be asked to alter their routines, or just stay home.

Keeping teams and groups aligned is top of mind for organizations and program managers during this difficult period of COVID-19 growth. For the many teams at organizations that are shifting to working remotely (including our own), it’s important to acknowledge all the ways to stay safe and connected in moving forward with our work. 

It’s also important to acknowledge that not all teams have the luxury of staying home, as being on-site is an essential part of the role. The CDC has a list of guidelines for practicing workplace safety, including ensuring strict hygiene, curbing food and supply sharing, and limiting work-related travel as much as possible. 

For those of us that are working on a remote basis for the time being, we’ve put together a list of ways of going beyond staying safe and maintaining a sense of belonging while in relative isolation. 

Make sure employees communicate with each other – beyond work talk.

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It’s easy to take the value of in-person communication for granted when we’re so used to having it in-office. The luxury of being able to turn to your co-worker and ask a quick question, or convey a complex idea is limited in times of remote work.  Beyond that, in-person communication does so much for building community – that sense of belonging can often feel lost while working remotely. If you and your teams use Slack or some other means of team-wide communication, dedicate a channel to non-work-related thoughts, random musings, jokes or comments. Use this as a way to share experiences, this virtual water-cooler will really help keep the feeling of being accompanied at work for your teams, beyond just getting work done. Wait….perhaps “Virtual Water-Cooler” sounds like a great name for a channel? As a team or Employee Resource Group leader, it’s important to engage in continued virtual support. Spark topics of conversation, in a time like we’re currently in – disparities are even more apparent and members of your groups or their relatives may be at higher risk. It’s important to encourage talking about outside-of-work stuff, so initiate conversation, try to get the talkers talking – employees will engage in continuing to feel accompanied by the workplace community. 

Leverage the power of video conferencing

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While nothing comes close to face-to-face communication, video conferencing makes the cut for an effective method of connecting on a visual level. Seeing each other’s facial expressions and reactions can elevate the quality of conversations, from a heightened understanding through visual cues to better perceiving tone and intent. Beyond that, video-conferencing has a powerful effect on our feelings of connectedness. 9 in 10 remote workers say video-conferencing makes them feel more connected to their colleagues. While the day-to-day IM’s can facilitate moving projects forward and touching base, video calls are an essential component of connecting remote team members. 

Establish your team’s communication preferences

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Some teams and ERGs prefer email for important updates, while others are strictly Slack. Ensure that your team’s communication preferences – from which tools are used to how team members interact with work content – are established from the get-go. Doing a team/group check-in around what communication styles work best for not only your team’s preferences, but also for your team’s workstreams and tools. Establish a routine around how your Slack updates align how projects move along in Trello, for example. Try to establish this cadence early on with the team, and iterate based on feedback and testing. 

Support each other

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This is a time of uncertainty, and it’s understandable to feel uncomfortable and uneasy throughout this period. Let’s offer support and encouragement, as well as flexibility for our colleagues during this time. Not only does discussing the issues that are top of mind and offering help allow for emotional relief, but it also serves as a method of building trust and empathy. It’s during these moments of vulnerability that some of the deepest connections are made. In addition, it’s important to support each other on the positives too! Celebrate big accomplishments, develop small rituals to commemorate success. It’s important to take inventory of the good, too. 

While it’s disheartening that events are canceled or postponed in the workplace, as they are a huge source of building workplace communities, there is still an opportunity to maintain and revitalize belonging in the workplace during times of remote work. Alongside establishing the right communication structures for remote teams and groups, perhaps the most critical thing we can do is realize we are in this together and take steps to support each other. These actions will help us not only maintain workplace community and heighten productivity but also strengthen unity in our respective organizations.  

Five to Nine helps build community virtually – especially for remote teams looking to connect. Schedule a demo of Five to Nine.