How to Have Watercooler Moments When Your Team Is Remote
There are ways to bond with your team even when you only see each other over Zoom
When I took a new job a year and a half ago that was 100% remote, I told myself I was going to gain a lot of productivity. However, I didn’t expect that I’d be losing something as well: namely, the ability to connect with my coworkers on a personal level. As many more of us have begun working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, many managers may be coming to the same realization that I did.
My oversimplified view of remote work ignored a couple of key details. In the past, I would work remotely only one day per week at most. When I was only working from home for one day at a time, I could turn off Slack and email guilt-free and work heads-down. That’s not the case when you’re 100% remote. And more importantly, even if I thought I was going to be more productive, I wasn’t going to be around people. It wasn’t until I had been working remotely for three months that I started to realize how big of a problem this was becoming.
I spent the next year reading everything I could find on remote work and talking to the smartest minds in building remote teams. If you have questions about the nuts and bolts of remote management — running meetings, setting communication expectations, reporting best practices — read Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp. It’s by far the best resource I’ve found on the fundamentals of running a remote team.
But honestly, the “work” part of remote work is pretty easy, and the early adopters of this work style have covered those best practices ad nauseam. Few experts talked about my problem — the people problem. As I thought about the differences between remote and co-located work, one thing kept standing out to me: Remote work is hard not because of a lack of productivity, communication, or coordination but because of the fundamental lack of trust it can breed when handled inappropriately.
When you work remotely, your coworkers can easily become two-dimensional (both literally and figuratively), and your relationship becomes more transactional. This degrades trust, and your brain starts to put coworkers in other, less generous buckets. Instead of…