Creating this kind of spontaneous engagement is a challenge for those who don’t work face to face.

We hear all the time that the hardest part of being a connected, engaged member of a remote team is the lack of spontaneous communication. We say it an awful lot ourselves. And it’s true. When you work from home, every communication requires at least a little planning and effort. You don’t just bump into someone at the coffee machine, or see Alice walking down the hall and make a point of saying hello.  Odds are you do a better job of maximizing the opportunities you do have.

While you can’t really plan spontaneity any more than you can fake sincerity, there are ways to take advantage of informal communication to maintain connections and build relationships. Here are some ideas I recommend.

When someone “walks by,” say hello. 

You know how when someone walks by your desk and you kind of look up and greet them? People pass by our eyes every day in the form of group chats and emails.  When Bob posts to the Slack channel, take 20 seconds to thank him for his contributions or acknowledge his online presence. Just say, “Hi.” This is especially true if you haven’t had a “good” reason to reach out lately.

Congratulations, work anniversaries and birthday wishes are always a valid excuse to communicate.

As a team member, when you hear it’s someone’s work anniversary or birthday, it wouldn’t kill you to acknowledge it. You don’t need to write long messages, but a simple “Happy Birthday,” or a
“Glad you’re on the team,” can go a long way. If you are the team leader, it might be a good idea to have a calendar of these occasions so you can consistently provide excuses for the team to interact. Plus, you don’t want to inadvertently forget someone’s work anniversary when everyone else is being acknowledged. Yikes!

Add a personal greeting or ask a question when reaching out for something simple.

Too often, work communication is purely transactional: “Can you send me that report, please?” or “Did you hear from the Jackson account?” It takes very little time to personalize a message. Ask how the kids are. Just let someone know it’s been a while since you’ve spoken and you hope everything is good in their world.

When someone appears on your radar screen, ask how long it’s been since you interacted with them?

Even on close-knit teams, we have people we communicate with more than others. This is particularly true of hybrid teams, where the people in the office talk to each other all the time, or those who work remotely are treated as a sub-team and often communicate with each other. Don’t let that happen. If someone you haven’t spoken to for a while contributes to a discussion, or you need information they might possess, make a point of reaching out. They might not expect to hear from you, but you’ll be on their mind for a while, which can have long-term benefits.

While none of these suggestions is truly “spontaneous,” they are unexpected for the recipient and usually take mere seconds to do. The long-term benefits are worth that much time, certainly.

And if you are a leader, you can “unclog” the communication lines by suggesting how they can help each other. “Hey, don’t forget so-and-so is a good resource” is a great way to get things rolling, even if they don’t think of that person that way. 

For more ideas on working together and creating more cohesive remote teams, check out our 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate learning program. It’s available on-demand and in individual modules as well as in its original format.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.

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