Landing a job with full or part-time telecommuting benefits is the holy grail for many workers, but once they get there, remote workers often don't think about one critical thing: How to replace the day-to-day interaction and camaraderie that come naturally when you run into coworkers at the copy machine or microwave.
Here are some recommendations from technology company executives—many of whom work with a far-flung group of employees—for ways to stay connected to your virtual colleagues.
Go for a walk together. "I have started 'walking meetings,' which not only helps stepping away from the computer, but creates a more social experience as it seems we are walking next to each other," says Silke Fleischer, cofounder of event app developer ATIV Software. Fleischer and her colleague both access Skype from their smartphones, then head out the door for a half-hour stroll in their respective neighborhoods. Research has suggested that standing, walking, and moving around during the day benefits both your mood and your creative process, as Fleischer will attest: "These meetings are extremely energizing, very free flowing, and more personal."
Make video chats a habit. "We hold almost all of our meetings via video conference. We've found it really helps build relationships and minimizes miscommunications," says Adam Schwartz, CEO and founder of Articulate, a company that makes online learning tools. While he says his team runs through a staggering 12,000 messages a day on messaging platform Slack, video bridges the distance for more in-depth discussions.
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Replicate a social experience. Ryan Rogowski, CEO and cofounder of translation app Waygo, started a tradition of the "virtual happy hour" at his company. Team members log on to a video chat after the workday is over to unwind, no discussions of work topics allowed. "It’s a time where we don’t chat at all about work," Rogowski says. "We take some time to chat about life, hobbies, and fun trips we are planning. Everyone will typically have a beer in hand," he adds. Coworkers will share pictures of interesting vacation destinations they've visited or tell the group what they did with their family over the holidays. "The key part is really focusing on getting to know each other outside of day-to-day work tasks and keeping up with each other on life outside of work," Rogowski said.
Keep Skype on all day. During the day, "keep a Skype call running in the background," Fleischer says. It creates an effect similar to sitting in an office with cubicles, she said. "You can’t see your coworker but you know that he or she is there, and you can ask a question or make a comment any time. It creates a very close working experience while we are thousands of miles apart."
Throw a party. It might take a little more legwork, but it's possible to plan celebrations for things like birthdays or other milestones, even if you work remotely. "Teams often meet via video chat for fun," Schwartz says. One of his work groups even throws a virtual holiday party every year, complete with a Secret Santa gift exchange. A team member volunteers to pick names and assign teammates a Secret Santa recipient, then each person snail-mails their gift by a certain date. When party time rolls around, Schwartz says, the group hooks up to a video call and opens their gifts, then tries to guess who sent each one.