How to Stay Connected While Working From Home
Are you thinking about how to stay connected when working remotely? You’re not alone!
Connecting with your coworkers when you work remotely doesn’t have to be a pain, or a chore, or a struggle. Staying connected while working from home should come naturally – whether it’s speaking with clients, vendors, coworkers, managers or direct reports.
Whether you have just started working from home or you’ve been working remotely for years, it’s true that there can be psychological effects of working from home.
Now, I’m surely no expert, but I do thrive off of human connection – big time. I like collaboration. I like meeting face to face. I like working in coworking spaces, at laptop-friendly cafes in Brooklyn and at coffee shops around the world.
I like all these things, but I also appreciate my flexible work-from-home schedule. To combat feeling lonely while working from home, we’re fortunately blessed with the type of technology in 2020 that makes interacting with another real person easy, at the click of a button.
This is not the way it always was, which is apparent if you Google “ways to stay connected while working from home” and stumble across the article from 2007. You’ll see quickly how much has changed (for example, the word “teleconference”… What’s that?).
In this article, we’ll cover the baselines of remote work communication, the apps and tools that get you ready for keeping in touch while working from home and a list of great ways to stay connected with coworkers, clients and friends.
Let’s start now!
10 Helpful rules for remote work communication
These are my 10 best things to keep in mind for communicating as a remote worker. If you’ve ever heard of “being seen and not heard,” it’s the opposite for someone working from home.
You want to be heard, and also hopefully “seen” (on video)! Through your communication, whether it’s via email, text, phone, chat or social media, here’s when and how to communicate:
- Communicate often.
- Communicate when you have doubts.
- Communicate when you have questions.
- Communicate when you have concerns.
- Communicate when you have feedback.
- Communicate when you have results or successes.
- Communicate your schedule.
- Communicate updates.
- Communicate eloquently.
- Communicate clearly.
Communication apps and software for working from home
Slack is popular with tech companies, startups and online communities. I personally really like Slack. It makes communicating fun (too fun?) and has a lot of options for an organization or network of people.
I belong to six or seven ‘workspaces.’ This means that within my Slack application, both on desktop and on my phone, I can toggle between a client’s “workspace” (a “workspace” being a virtual place where I can access the contacts within a certain organization, along with its channels) and a professional network, like Ladies Get Paid.
Within each workspace, you can join channels that are either public (open to any member of said workspace) or private, meaning that a channel is only for those who are invited, to keep information private from the rest of the organization in that workspace.
In addition, you can direct message anyone, in order to have a one-on-one conversation, and from there, you can create smaller dialogues among more than two people if you’re talking about a topic or have something to discuss.
Slack also makes communication streamlined, because you can react to a message or announcement with an emoji, rather than ‘blowing up’ the amount of text that would be entailed by replying with, “Great!” or “I agree!”
Slack’s pretty cool, and some organizations choose to have the unpaid version, which, if you’re using it, take note that it only stores 10,000 of the most recent messages, organization-wide. If the community has 30,000 people, this typically may mean (according to user activity) that you won’t be able to see or search any messages more than 7 days in the past.
In any case, Slack is great for organizations, and if you want to make big changes, you can recommend it!
Skype for Business
Skype for Business is popular with more traditional corporations. Within Skype for Business, you have an internal communication system with a ‘buddy list,’ inspired by AIM of the 90s (it seems), where you can access all corporate contacts within a network or organization.
You can see users’ photos, titles and names, and you can create direct instant messages or create groups.
Skype for Business integrates with other platforms like Microsoft Office, so it can link to Microsoft platform programs like Outlook, Calendar, SharePoint and OneDrive.
Lastly, you can join a Skype for Business meeting by simply clicking the “Join Meeting” button, whether on desktop or mobile.
“Teams,” as it’s now called, seems to be Microsoft’s answer to Slack. It’s a Slack-y program with a list of members of your organization on the left side and chat space on the rest of the screen. You can also receive phone calls to Teams, if your organization permits, and therefore, you can receive voicemails there as well.
WhatsApp is a chat app that I was introduced to back when I lived in China as an expat, around 2011. It was first released in 2009, which makes it a bit like a veteran among other apps!
WhatsApp first started as being the ideal way to send someone a text message ‘over the Internet’ if you were both in other countries. I still consider it more effective and reliable than iMessage when I’m traveling and far from home.
Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, I even use WhatsApp while I’m home on my couch or in my home office to talk to friends that have Androids, as it feels faster than sending them an SMS and not knowing if my iPhone is agreeing with the whole SMS bit.
Back to discussing if you can use WhatsApp for work, the answer is sure. If you have contacts (clients, vendors, colleagues) who are in other countries, WhatsApp (from your work number) is an ideal way to have each other at your fingertips if you have to speak outside of work platforms.
WhatsApp is also useful for anyone who wants to set up a big group chat. Did you know that WhatsApp will allow you to have 256 members of a single group chat? This is useful for people who have something in common, like having attended an event all together, or planning a project on the go. Most people we know also use it for large friend groups to keep in touch.
Formerly known as Gchat, yes – it’s Google Hangouts! Hangouts, as it now goes by, allows you to chat with your Google/Gmail contacts, and give them a voice call or a video call. I’ve had interviews, meetings and chats all over Google Hangouts.
For organizations that use Gmail as a default mail platform, Hangouts is ultimately how you wind up speaking with coworkers within an organization.
Google Calendar is life, as expressed in our guide to most useful apps we use. Google Calendar is where I store all my information across organizations, events, clients, companies and personal, regarding where I need to be (online) and when.
I like that Google Calendar allows you to send events with the ‘event location’ as the URL for a Zoom call, for example, and when it’s the start time for that event, all you have to do is click the URL and you’re entering a meeting. It’s so seamless.
Zoom is a video platform that allows professionals to meet, and even hold conference-style sessions, over video.
With Zoom, there are options like a Q & A box for the attendees, break-out sessions (I was in my first auto-break-out-session in a Zoom event this week), panelist and admin abilities and screen sharing.
Tip: If you’re working from home with your partner, be sure to give your significant other, or roommate, some space when taking a video call, so that the background of the call remains professional.
Fun ways to keep in touch with coworkers while working remotely
Hopefully your coworkers are fun and want to stay connected with you, and with each other.
It’s been proven that spending time on non-work activities with coworkers strengthens working relationships. When you’re in the office, you grab lunch with a coworker, dip out to the coffeeshop below the office or take your team out for a happy hour.
When you’re working from home, how do the social activities and human interactions translate into online methods of communicating? Here are a few perfect ideas.
Don’t be afraid to make a phone call.
E-mails are easy to ignore. So are instant messages and Slack DMs. With a phone call, you can get your point across, make sure your tone is not misunderstood and you can put a voice to your name.
Especially when you become remote, keeping in touch with coworkers in a phone call helps avoid misunderstandings.
Use video as a way of connecting, and remember to stay professional.
If you plan to have a video call, or if you’re expected to dial into the team meeting with video, make sure your home office setup is in tip-top shape!
There are lots of things to keep in mind when video-ing coworkers, like looking presentable and ready, and having background noise eliminated. One thing is for sure, though: you don’t actually have to wear pants.
Look forward to the weekly team meeting.
Instead of cancelling a virtual team meeting if everyone claims they’re too busy or things came up, reschedule it for a better time. Seeing other humans on the other end of the screen confirms to everyone that you exist behind the words in the emails.
Collaborate on files, projects and presentations together in real time.
Have you ever worked on a shared Google spreadsheet and been delighted with seeing your colleague’s edits in real time? To me, that’s one of the coolest gifts that technology has given us.
Be vocal and add meaning in Slack channels.
If there were ever Slack rules, they would be, “Refrain from ‘blowing up’ channels by adding one-word answers or meaningless contributions.”
In order to make Slack fun, yet effective, start channels about being productive or about ways to optimize work, and invite others. Create custom emojis that have to do with your organization’s vernacular or trusted vocabulary words. Bring up issues before others can, and provide solutions and positivity.
Be all over Google Calendar, or your organization’s calendar system.
Schedule even the smallest catch-up session, and it will likely go appreciated by the recipient. People (including you, and me!) can be very protective of the time in their days, so keeping meetings scheduled, succinct and on-time can be a small thing that goes far.
Manage projects, deadlines and ideas among Trello in remote teams.
Use Trello for staying on task. Trello is a cool tool that makes to-do lists and progress kind of fun again (in my opinion). Be collaborative by starting custom tags, color-coding and setting accurate deadlines.
Start a “water cooler” channel in Slack or Teams.
Remember the water cooler and coffee station in the office? Well, it might be far away, depending on how far you are from said office, but it doesn’t mean the chit-chat is dead.
Start a “water cooler” Slack channel that employees can ‘drop by’ when they need a little pick-me-up or 2-minute break. Ask how your colleagues’ days are going, offer some relevant news or fun facts, or ask a question everyone can answer.
Schedule virtual lunch dates.
Put time in the calendar for having lunch over video with a coworker who used to be your lunch buddy, or, grab some time with a colleague across the country, or across the ocean. “Lunch” is just a placeholder!
Keep company culture human through personal milestone updates.
Start a Slack or Teams channel (or recurring email) for milestones in employees’ lives, like engagements, weddings, babies and accomplishments. Everyone loves a good ‘congrats!’ GIF here and there.
Start a virtual company-wide book club.
This can be done over Slack, where members join a channel, and a book is voted upon, and then a date set by which to finish it and meet.
The ‘book club’ itself can take place in a virtual meeting over Zoom, attended by every member of the club on a month or semi-monthly basis.
Have a post-work cooking competition among teams or coworkers.
What if cooking was graded by how it looked, and not how it tasted? This is good news for chefs who focus on plating, not taste, because if you hold a company-wide cooking competition, the photos are what count!
Start a joke-of-the-day or video-of-the-week email chain or channel.
If your coworkers are witty, fun-loving and into comedy, share jokes or videos that will make people chuckle as they scroll through their emails.
Start meetings on a positive personal note, and commit it to tradition.
Begin meetings with a, “Today I…” or “I just ate a…” to bring to mind that you’re all human first, and remote workers, second.
Plan an organization-wide virtual talent show.
If you’re in touch with your company’s head of culture or HR lead, propose a company-wide talent show that can be scheduled over Zoom. It can be for fun, or competitive with scoring.
Take breaks to play an online game with colleagues (if company culture allows).
Join colleagues in online and virtual games like Scrabble, or whichever other competitive online games exist these days. Only lighthearted ones, though, as we don’t want to see anyone’s super-dark competitive side quite yet.
Start a company-wide chain project.
A great idea for dispersed companies with virtual teams is starting a company-wide project. It could be ‘writing a movie,’ or ‘rewriting a popular TV show,’ with each department lead, or employee, adding a new sentence each week on a threaded email.
Try out “Know Your Team” for bringing social elements to virtual work.
Best for remote teams or departments, this communication tool proposes questions that build rapport, and icebreaker questions for new hires. It integrates with Slack.
Use “Donut” for going on ‘first dates.’
Donut is a cute Slack integration that randomly “sets up” pairs of employees in the Donut channel to go on virtual first dates (that can also be translated into real life). I’ve used Donut both in person and virtually, and have made some cool connections.
Donut will randomly pair you, ask an icebreaker question like, “If I were a superhero, I’d be…” and then it checks in with you a week later to make sure you “met,” however the meeting took place.
Reiterate that your virtual office door is always open.
Keeping your virtual office door open is more of a mindset and something to say, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Make sure colleagues feel comfortable cold-calling you or asking for help, rather than being worried about ‘bothering you,’ conversely.
Institute a monthly online lunch-and-learn.
Lunch-and-learns are a great way for an employee with a certain specialty to share a skill with the rest of an organization. Anyone can virtually “drop in” (while also eating lunch) and learn about this specialty or skill, with a Q+A session at the end.
Start a remote work mentorship program within your organization.
If anyone at the organization is new to remote work, be the first to offer to answer questions – for example, provide this work from home guide for first-timers.
Best ways to network and keep in touch with professional contacts
Not all work relationships are with coworkers, especially if you are a small business owner or freelancer. Your closest contacts may be clients, vendors, editors, artists, service providers or many types of other relationships.
Which types of ways are appropriate for managing remote relationships with professional contacts and colleagues?
Use WhatsApp for work (ideal if you have a “work phone”).
WhatsApp is a fine tool to use for reaching clients or work contacts, especially if you have a separate work phone, work phone number or even a Google Fi number. WhatsApp makes it so that international calls don’t cost a heap of money, and you can video as well.
For freelancers, follow up with clients, and utilize ‘snooze.’
The snooze button can be magical for freelancers, especially if you’re waiting on updates or developments from someone outside your organization. I snooze my emails, and if I don’t hear back by a specified date, I politely follow up for information I need in order to move forward.
Create a drop-in happy hour via Zoom for coworkers or clients.
Looking for a way to provide an online meetup or virtual meet-and-greet? Create a Zoom meeting link and send it out to clients or vendors, who can ‘swing by’ your online happy hour and drop by for a chat.
Use social media to connect with clients, vendors and networking contacts.
Social media is power, especially in the creative world! Be honest, proactive and clear when demonstrating your offerings or business updates over platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Interact during webinars using Q&A with Zoom or GoToWebinar.
Webinars are mostly one-directional in that a speaker provides information to attendees, but engaging with speakers or hosts through Q&A sessions can create meaningful relationships. Never hesitate to ask a question, receive an answer and follow up with a personal email later.
Make yourself available, and be first to respond when contacted.
While being glued to your work phone, work email or work Slack can be tiring, exhausting and less-than-optimal for mental health, it is part of the remote work hustle.
Even if you don’t have time to fully answer an email, I like to reply with a “Hi, I’m reading this and will reply soon – don’t worry!” as to not look like I’m ignoring anyone. The challenge is always going to be that you simply don’t know what’s going on at the other side of the screen, so think of solutions that work for you.
Join a professional network and meet other like-minded professionals.
I’m part of several online networks of professionals outside my specific work, organization and industry, and this is what has changed my professional life so much since the start of my membership into all of these.
I regularly communicate with contacts via Remote Year, some of which have become professional relationships, to my pleasant surprise. I can say the same for the Ladies Get Paid network, which has afforded me opportunities like hosting a webinar about remote work starter tips for women.
Ways to stay connected with friends and family when working from home
End every day with a FaceTime.
I’ve been ending my day (or therefore starting my evening) with a FaceTime call more and more. I have a group chat with my high school friends and we finally figured out that you can hit “FaceTime” in your iMessages and it sends an invitation for a video call to everyone in the chat. You can then video with anyone who answers!
Surprise someone with a ‘real phone call.’
A real phone call – what’s that? We talk to our parents on the phone, and it helps catch up on our days and what’s going on in our lives so much more clearly than text messages. Pick up the phone to make a call, and hear someone’s voice! It’ll make you smile.
Try video over Instagram.
Video chatting over Instagram is one of the newcomer video methods, in addition to video via WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Facebook messenger and more. Although I don’t do it often, if I’m talking in-depth with a friend over Instagram (usually started by chit-chat about a photo!), I’ll click on “video” to surprise him or her.
Make time for group calls like sharing virtual dinners.
We shared dinner the other night with another couple of friends who live in Washington, DC, and it nearly felt like being on a double date. I recommend!
Party on Netflix with your best buds.
Our friend Cyd from @goaltraveler introduced us to Netflix Party. What’s Netflix Party? I had to know!
With Netflix Party mode, you can simultaneously stream with friends: there’s a chat window and play/pause option, so that everyone’s synced. Sounds like virtual movie night to me!
Practice a new language with a friend in another country.
The last cool way I like to feel productive and engaged while also seeing friends’ faces is practicing Spanish with friends in Argentina. FaceTime makes people all over the world feel connected, and the boundaries don’t stop with the borders of your home country!
I FaceTime with my friend Ayelen and she talks to me completely in Spanish, so I have to keep up. She corrects my grammar, answers my questions and teaches me slang.
My tip is to make a weekly time to FaceTime with a friend who’ll teach you another language, because some of the best learning can be done right in your home.