Networking at Home: Team Leader Edition
By Ally Marecek
One of the greatest benefits of being a part of a team is the opportunity to network and build connections. Incidentally, this has become one of the greatest challenges as jobs, internships, and other organizations moved to the virtual — and isolated — workspace.
There are plenty of ways for individuals to take back control of their networking journey and reap the benefits. Promoting networking, even when remote work makes it complicated, is valuable to organizations as well; people who feel connected to their team and to their larger organization will find it easier to stay motivated, productive, and positive.
Every organization has been challenged to create new ways for team members to stay connected and feel a sense of belonging in this virtual environment. Many leaders are still looking for guidance and fresh ideas to try, especially as they consider how their teams will balance in-person and remote work in the future.
If you are a manager, supervisor, or leader of any kind, and you’re looking to improve the remote networking opportunities for your team, your department, or your organization as a whole, you’re in the right place — read on for some simple tools and practices to try out.
The idea of “space” is clear when working in-person: different rooms for different teams or tasks, communal areas to mingle and take a break, perhaps a personal cubicle or desk. In the virtual workplace, “space” is very different; team members can be together in the same virtual meeting, while also being apart in different cities. But just as you can design physical space to facilitate different activities, you can also use a variety of tools to design your company’s virtual space.
Working remotely reduces communication to the bare essentials and minimizes the number of interactions. To combat this, you should make dedicated space for everyone to:
One of the best ways to form good relationships? Expressing gratitude, celebrating accomplishments, and lifting each other higher.
- Create a collaborative space to collect achievements or gratitude in a central space, similar to a bulletin board where anyone can add their contributions for everyone to see. Figma and Jamboards can both offer a bulletin board-like feel, but even something as simple as a shared Google Doc can serve this purpose.
- Encourage everyone to praise and uplift their teammates. Kudoboards allows people to post messages on each others’ boards (much like a virtual yearbook or greeting card). Alternatively, create a survey where anyone can praise a teammate, and share the responses (which can be anonymous!) with the appropriate person.
Branch out from work topics
Even if you spend all your time working with someone, you might never get to know them person to person. To strengthen relationships, it’s important to connect to others on a human level, have fun together, and discuss more than just the latest work project.
- If your team uses Slack or any other messaging platform with different group chats and channels, consider setting up some conversations about non-work topics, such as a channel for water cooler talk…or a group chat specifically for sharing pet pictures. You can also use a separate online chat forum for this purpose, such as Discord.
The Salesforce Slack group is super active and there’s a channel for everything you can possibly think of!
— Sarah Ahmed, Product Design co-lead at Opal, Technical Writing intern at Salesforce
- There are many online multiplayer games to consider for the next team bonding event. Some ideas: Jigsaw Explorer provides a relaxing activity that can be done while chatting, Skribbl.io and Kahoot serve as competitive challenges, and Gatheround brings people together with quick icebreakers.
- Allow team members to let their personalities shine through in their bio or personal page, much like decorating a desk or cubicle. Encourage them to add fun facts or interests that others can view.
Build new connections
Most of the responsibility tends to fall on the individual to put themselves out there and connect with others — show that networking is a priority for your team with some additional support for building those new connections.
- Pairing new team members with more seasoned teammates can help spark strong guiding mentorships. Alternatively, new members within the same cohort can be paired with each other, giving them easy access to a buddy system as they get settled.
- You can even have people pair up to simply have a coffee chat or virtual lunch and get to talk person to person. Donut is an easy-to-use addition to your Slack workspace that can help make these introductions go smoothly, or you can employ a random team generator.
- Affinity groups also work well in the virtual environment. These groups connect people with similar interests or goals, and naturally promote networking with like-minded individuals. Get these groups started with their own channel or group chat and encourage new team members to join the conversation.
Make It Part of the Workplace Culture
Supporting virtual networking is not just about sharing a few new tools with your team members and turning them loose. Networking and building connections should ideally be woven into the practices of your workplace culture. Even when remote, your team can continue to embrace the same workplace culture that would be present in-person, and make it even more supportive and inclusive.
Easy access to support
Newcomers may find themselves especially isolated and unfamiliar with the digital spaces you’re using for all your work and communication. Whatever strategies you’re using to encourage networking, go ahead and make them easy for the whole team to find. For example, keep your social events on a general calendar that everyone can access, or share a list of affinity groups with new members during their first week. And don’t forget to keep the team updated with any new ideas!
Switch up your meeting practices
One of the perks of remote work is the flexibility of synchronous and asynchronous options. Some tasks are better done on one’s own time with only a quick message to check in. On the other hand, synchronous meetings and work sessions are the closest options to being in the same room together. They allow team members to get some healthy human interaction and might spark some engaging conversations or reinvigorate the team in the last stages of a project. The trick is to find a balance that is ideal for your team, which will truly differ for everyone! Rather than relying on the same practices that were used in-person, consider the types of meetings and communication that need to happen on a regular basis and choose the best format for each.
Virtual events and activities
Many organizations host various team-building and bonding events and activities for their members, ranging from holiday celebrations and spirit days to work sessions and skill workshops. These may seem like the most difficult components to translate into the virtual environment, but in fact, this is the opportunity to get creative. If your team usually volunteers together, consider individually volunteering online and take some time each week to discuss your experiences. If your team likes to exchange holiday treats, ask everyone to share an easy recipe with the group, or even take turns holding virtual cooking classes.
I remotely interned at Raytheon Technologies (RTX) this summer and I networked with the other interns through collaborating with them on an innovation project. I also participated in a virtual game show with other interns and alumni from our program.
— Amiya Subramanian, Product Management Intern at Opal, DLDP Intern at RTX
Culture of caring
With everything going on in the world today, it’s more important than ever to show empathy, respect, and compassion for teammates. Whether it’s taking a few minutes at the start of each meeting to see how everyone’s doing, or encouraging other leaders to check in individually on each team member once a week, you can create a virtual workplace culture that is infused with caring relationships.
Be a Role Model
As you help implement these new networking tools and practices on your team, don’t forget to use them yourself! No matter where you are in your career, networking is valuable. And it’s always great to connect with the people on your own team, especially new members who are sure to appreciate a warm welcome and some guidance! Be both a change-maker and a role model at your organization, and lead the way to a more welcoming and connected virtual workplace.