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The art of staying connected with a remote workforce—without constant meetings

With the right mix of technology, collaboration, and fun, you can foster a sense of connection without filling up your employees’ calendars.

The art of staying connected with a remote workforce—without constant meetings
[Nattakorn / Adobe Stock]

Remember when you could walk the halls of your office and see employees chatting in the break room or laughing as they made their way to their next meeting? That was pretty awesome, but it was something many businesses had to give up with remote work. While remote work has incredible benefits for employees—such as flexibility, no commute, and the access to work outside of the city or region in which they live—it also has a downside. It’s easy for remote teams to become disconnected and feel isolated from one another.

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To compensate for the lack of in-person interaction, many leaders initiated video meetings, perhaps thinking employees would like the engagement and the ability to discuss things in real time. However, with so many virtual meetings taking place every day, meeting fatigue quickly began to hurt productivity and undermine the goal of staying connected in the first place. But why?

A Stanford University professor found that constant virtual meetings exhaust both the mind and body. The lack of nonverbal cues and the inability to move around, along with seeing only attendees’ faces (including our own), are unnatural and cause fatigue. Fatigued employees may check out during meetings, missing crucial opportunities to engage with colleagues.

So how do you stay connected without wearing out your team with constant meetings? With the right mix of technology, collaboration, and fun, you can foster a sense of connection without filling up your employees’ calendars.

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WHAT DOES “STAYING CONNECTED” REALLY MEAN?

It’s common to schedule status updates just to stay in touch with your teams. These meetings sound good in theory, but in practice, they often fail to incorporate many elements that help build rapport among team members. Staying connected is more than checking on project statuses and asking how things are going. It’s about building relationships, so no one feels isolated. That requires adding small talk and free-flowing non-work-related topics to these conversations (and a bit of fun).

These interactions set the foundation for employees to feel more comfortable, both when discussing issues (no matter how unpleasant) and in being their authentic selves. When employees are comfortable, you can get a better sense of what they need to succeed and stay engaged.

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TIPS FOR STAYING IN TOUCH WITHOUT CONSTANT MEETINGS

To ensure that all employees are engaged, comfortable, and able to be themselves, interactions should be tailored to suit various personality types and communication styles. Try some of the following tactics:

1. USE TECHNOLOGY TO ELIMINATE OR SHORTEN MEETINGS

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Instead of time-wasting status meetings, use apps or bots to check in with team members. These bots can ask employees whether they’ve completed specific tasks and log the updated status in your project management tool.

Use your project management or issue-tracking systems to create more structure for everyday tasks and projects. Employees can complete a ticket, make a request, or hand off tasks to one another. This can cut down the time employees spend asking questions and gathering relevant information in meetings.

While you can’t eliminate every meeting, you can limit the invitations to only those employees who really need to attend. Record the session and then share it with those who need to be in the loop. They can catch up on their own time.

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2. OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION

Make it easier for everyone—including introverts and newbies—to speak up. Create an anonymous suggestion box to facilitate new ideas consistently. Hold open “office hours” when anyone can reach leadership to discuss concerns, share new ideas, or have a casual chat.

Be present on public channels like Slack and Microsoft Teams. Participate in conversations (both work-related and personal) so employees know you’re reachable on those channels. The visibility can make them more comfortable sharing their opinions and concerns.

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Messages using only text are great, but many communication tools offer video and voice messages. Mix it up so employees can hear and/or see your tone of voice, facial expressions, and other little things that text can’t capture.

3. FOSTER COLLABORATION AND CROSS-FUNCTIONAL CONNECTIONS

Sometimes, employees need a little nudge to get to know others outside their departments. You can create task forces that intentionally collaborate cross-functionally. For example, the marketing department can work with the finance team to improve the look and feel of external-facing reports. Or IT can work with customer success to respond to customer tickets. This type of collaboration can help employees get to know colleagues with whom they wouldn’t normally interact and exposes them to what it’s like to do one another’s jobs.

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4. BUILD TEAMS THROUGH GAMES

Playing games or trivia on your public channels so employees can have a little fun with people they don’t typically work with is another way to support cross-connections. Make things more exciting by putting employees on cross-functional teams that compete with one another for prizes.

STAYING CONNECTED ISN’T ALWAYS EASY, BUT IT’S WORTH IT

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You may not be walking the halls and passing break rooms where your employees are engaged any longer, but implementing these suggestions can make it feel a lot more like it again. Using technology wisely, opening up multiple lines of communication, and having a little fun can prevent meeting fatigue that often undermines the goal of staying connected. Also, when employees see you’re genuinely trying to bond with them, they can feel more comfortable speaking up—no matter where they are.


CTO and co-founder of Polly, a popular app on major workspace messaging platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Chat. 

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