How to Stay Engaged with Your Team While Working from Home

TestRail, two workers at computers

This is a guest post by Nishi Grover Garg.

Many software teams were forced to work remotely because of the onset of the global pandemic of COVID-19. Months in, most teams have now found their pace and made their peace with it. Hopefully, you’ve gotten comfortable and set a routine for yourself in your new work-from-home setup.

But are you engaging enough with your colleagues? Or are your conversations limited to virtual meetings and video calls? It’s important to have other ways of staying connected with your team.

The challenge

As the pandemic spread, millions of workers were forced to work from home. It was hard at first for many (or perhaps most) of us. Chat groups and Slack channels are good tools to have conversations, but when they are the only sources of communication, it may get frustrating.

With our minds preoccupied with family, home chores, and the fear surrounding the pandemic, not getting to have normal work conversations can be incredibly hard. It also increases the turnaround time for a task when you are waiting on an email or a response from another person or team, and text-only communication can result in missing out on information or losing track over emails or chats.

As an organization, it is important to realize that however close-knit or small your team may be, not having a proper open channel of communication may make people feel out of the loop. Here are a few tips on how to keep yourself and your team engaged when working from home.

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Bump up communication

Before, it may have been enough for the manager to have one-on-one conversations with team members once a month, but our new remote situation calls for a little more. Managers should increase the frequency as well as the quality of the conversations they have with their teams. Strive to understand what teams are struggling with, remove their impediments, and ensure a smooth workday for each person.

As a team member, you too now have the responsibility to stay in touch with your peers more often. It is important for you to participate more in conversations with others rather than just being a spectator in your group chats or calls. A simple greeting and an update about what you are working on today is a good start that helps others peek into your day, and it increases the chances of their doing the same.

Provide clear directions

As if the global pandemic was not enough to fill our minds, we all have innumerable distractions at home. Whether it’s children who are out of school and need our attention, a partner struggling to work from home in the same confined space, our household chores, or the lure of Netflix on our couches, there are many interruptions that can make our days less productive.

Managers and leaders need to focus now more than ever on setting up open lines of communication within teams. Give clear directions about what is expected of everyone, share what you feel about their work in the form of constructive feedback, and ask them their opinions. It is important to be empathetic and understanding and to have a listening ear.

In the middle of this chaos, it is important for people to have specific instructions, tasks, and goals so that they can focus on achieving objectives and have some structure to their days. Achieving these small tasks will make their time more productive and motivate them to get more done!

Don’t just talk about work

When we were in the office, we didn’t just talk about work all the time! So why should that be the case now? In whatever messaging system you use, you can create a separate group where people can chat informally about anything — their latest recipes, workouts, family news, or daily struggles. Let your team have a safe space to have conversations and check up on each other.

You can take the initiative and reach out to your colleagues to ask how they are doing and just talk. These small gestures can mean a lot in the long run. You can even propose and host a half-hour meeting every Friday afternoon where everyone can grab a snack or drink and chat over a group video call. It may seem cheesy or mundane at first, but it makes a lot of difference to break up the monotony of the day and keep your team connected.

You could even organize special online game nights with a remote game of bingo or Pictionary, or a talent show where people can showcase their hidden skills over a video call. I know of a company that organized a comedy night where they invited famous standup comedians to entertain their team with an online comedy show!

Engage with the community

Engagement with your team can be taken a step further by encouraging them to engage with the rest of the software community, too. Spread the word about a good upcoming webinar or online meetup, help your coworkers find learning opportunities, and support their attendance at online events.

If your organization has a budget allocated for training, use it on virtual conferences and encourage your teammates to interact with the other participants and speakers, or get sponsorship for a training course you have been meaning to do.

In our disconnected work environments, it is important that people do not feel isolated or unfulfilled in their professional lives. These small actions help keep everyone feeling engaged, fulfilled, and connected.

There is no limit to the ways you can leverage the power of online communication and transform this hard situation into an opportunity to strengthen your team and their connections. Professional relationships can actually flourish in this time of adversity if we prioritize showing compassion and making an effort to stay connected.

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Nishi is a corporate trainer, an agile enthusiast, and a tester at heart! With 11+ years of industry experience, she currently works with Sahi Pro as an Evangelist and Trainings Head. She is passionate about training, organizing testing community events and meetups, and has been a speaker at numerous testing events and conferences. Check out her blog where she writes about the latest topics in Agile and Testing domains.

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