The easiest way to feel connected as a remote team

Posted by Luke Thomas
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As many are forced to work remotely due to Coronavirus, people will start to feel disconnected and isolated from their coworkers. When in the office, it was easy to shoot the breeze, grab lunch with a coworker, and stay connected on a personal level.

After working remotely for several years, I'm going to share the most potent way I've found to feel connected to coworkers. If you are new to remote workthe good news is that this is something you can easily implement with your team.

It doesn't require special tools (besides video calling) or a major time investment.

A mediocre approach (what you may be doing now)

Right now, you may still hold many regular meetings at work (daily standups, Monday morning kickoffs, sprint retros, etc). These meetings are primarily about the work, with some personal conversations mixed in at the beginning and end ("hey, how was your weekend?").

People use these meetings as a way to feel connected to their coworkers and maintain trust. The problem is that this is a lukewarm approach because you aren't optimizing staying connected.

Instead, you need to flip this format on its head.

Instead of optimizing for work FIRST, with personal chatter mixed in, you need to optimize for personal chatter, with work conversations mixed in.

Let me explain how this works. It's really super simple.

Coffee shop "co-working": how it started

At a recent team onsite in Nashville, the Friday team posted up at a local coffee shop to get some work done. A couple days in a row (for a few hours a day), we'd huddle around a table, shoot the breeze, and get work done.

coffee shop

Yes, we were technically still working, but it was totally okay to have personal chatter too. The point of the session was to hang out and then get work done. This "meeting" wasn't optimized for deep work, it was optimized for hanging out...with some work mixed in.

After I returned home, I thought about how much I enjoyed that unstructured format. While I couldn't do this every single day of the week (as it would be super unproductive and I wouldn't have time to do deep work), it was awesome in smaller doses. I felt way more connected to the team.

So we decided to try to replicate this....virtually.

How coffee shop coworking sessions work

Every two weeks, we all jump on a Zoom video call for an hour. The unstructured format aims to replicate the feeling of being huddled around a table at a coffee shop.

This "meeting" is about shooting the breeze first and then doing work is second.

Typically discussion looks something like the following:

  • I say a few words about how things are going from a high-level (5 minutes or so) to break the ice
  • We talk about random topics - like family, house renovation projects, kids staying home from school because of coronavirus, etc
  • There's an opportunity for people to share what they've been working on (similar to how Hubspot has a science fair)

I certainly don't get a lot of work done during this time, but I always leave feeling a bit more energized and connected with my coworkers. That's the point of this event! It's not about being highly productive, it's about making sure the people you work with feel like more than words on a screen.

Why this should happen in small doses

While I love this event format, I think this is best done in smaller doses (1x/week is probably the best cadence). First, you still need to get work done - chatting all day with your coworkers doesn't move the ball forward.

Secondly, remote work at its best is about creating a flexible work environment. If you require that people be on a synchronous call (or at least "present" to chat) for several hours every day, you are destroying the primary benefit of distributed work. Flexibility.

As people juggle personal responsibilities and children at home during the coronavirus outbreak, requiring constant real-time meetings is going to lead to frustration.

Turn meetings on their head. Share key information asynchronously using a tool like Friday. Then use meetings to bond on a personal level.

There have been numerous startups founded around the concept of the virtual office. Quite frankly, we think this is the wrong approach. It takes a good thing and goes too far. Instead, spend an hour a week replicating the feeling of being huddled around a table at a coffee shop. You will be amazed at how effective this is - especially if you feel isolated from home.

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