During the Q&A portion of my presentations in the last few weeks, I’ve had multiple leaders ask questions with a common theme. Essentially, they wanted to know how to improve the connections with their now-permanently-virtual team members when those relationships (and some of their employees) seem to be languishing. What was once a temporary, pandemic work-around has often become business as usual, and these leaders are searching for ways to reconnect and reinvigorate their remote teams.  

I’d like to share my response in case you are facing the same challenge.

While the ability to work from home does offer a number of advantages, there’s really no way to fully replicate the benefits of in-person meetings and the opportunities for informal chit-chat. Those in-person interactions provide employees with a different experience than meetings on Zoom or Teams. So, without the option to have those face-to-face conversations that strengthen relationships and fortify teams, leaders are feeling stuck.

Here are five strategies you can use to begin rebuilding those your connections, spark more collaborative conversations, and provide greater support for your team members.

1.    Become the Chief Question Officer

As a leader, you may have a background as a subject matter expert or a master problem-solver. If your virtual team isn’t feeling as cohesive as you’d like, it’s probably tempting to become the driver of every project. Instead, I’m recommending you shift your mindset here, especially when it comes to running meetings.

Be deliberate about asking more questions rather than just providing answers. Send out relevant information in advance and reserve your meeting time for getting your employees’ thoughts and reactions. Let them debrief you. Asking the right questions will help your team feel more connected with the purpose of your initiatives and allow them to play a bigger role in the evolution of your company.

Consider some of these:

  • What are our shared goals here?
  • How does our work on this project connect to the overall mission of the department/organization?
  • What obstacles are we facing? And how can we overcome them?
  • What could we do differently to get better results?
  • Is there anything we should discontinue doing? Why?
  • What have I left unsaid or not taken into account here?

2.    Hold Virtual Office Hours

It’s hard to have an open-door policy if your physical door is in a different city, state, or even country. But you can create that same environment of accessibility by establishing virtual office hours.

Let your employees know that you’ll have the Zoom app up and running during certain times each week if they want to “drop by” and ask a question or get some guidance. This is a great way to make yourself available to team members on an informal basis and create stronger connections. Occasionally several people may pop in at once, simulating the impromptu water-cooler conversations that don’t typically happen with remote workers.

3.    Practice Developmental Coaching

One of the best ways to get virtual team members more engaged is to spend time with them through developmental coaching. When you demonstrate that you genuinely care about their career aspirations and want to support them, you can bet those employees will be “all in.”

If you read my last newsletter, you know how passionate I am about this topic. (I also just published a book on it!) Developmental coaching can produce enormous benefits for your team members, for your company, and for you. Best of all, it’s something you can do on a Zoom call! But to do it properly, you need to really get to know your employees—their strengths, challenges, and professional goals. Some targeted questions can begin leading you in the right direction:

  • What kind of work seems most aligned with your skills and makes you feel like you’re operating at your best?
  • Based on what you have learned about yourself in the past few years, what does it take to make your work feel more meaningful?  
  • Do you see yourself evolving in your current role moving forward or making a change?

4. Position Yourself as a Connector

report from McKinsey & Company confirmed that employees are feeling disconnected since the pandemic. According to their study, less than 15% of the people surveyed claimed their internal network had grown since 2020—and less than 20% said the same about their external network. That means you have an opportunity as a leader to help change that trend.

Make the commitment to be intentional in your role as a connection-maker. If your employees are struggling with a problem or want to know more about a certain topic, think about which of your contacts might be a great resource for them. Make the introductions personally. This type of network-expansion plan will help your team members increase their level of knowledge and feel more connected within the company.

5.     Form Peer Support Groups

Do what you can as a leader to set up a buddy system or help form a peer network to provide your team members with emotional support. Yes, your employees appreciate it when you check in on them, but they may feel more comfortable speaking freely with a colleague at the end of the day. Every bit of support counts and helps to strengthen their connections.

By the way, this advice applies to you, too. Consider forming your own peer support group with fellow leaders who can regularly share their perspectives and offer you encouragement.

If you sense that your virtual team members are languishing, these strategies may help you jump-start a fresh sense of connection and engagement that ultimately fuels greater performance. Do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear about them!