So, I just started a new remote job (the company is based in Atlanta and I’m based in the Washington, D.C., area) and I’m finding it difficult to connect with my team members and the overall company. Part of the reason is, I’m shy. Everyone has been nice and approachable, but I have no idea what to approach them about. What are things that I can do to help facilitate conversations with my coworkers so I can build relationships without it feeling forced? Should it feel forced? What does this strategy look like at Doist (since you guys seem to have it on lock)?
Thanks again and looking forward to hearing from you.
Congratulations on the new job!
It’s certainly challenging to connect with remote team members compared to working side-by-side in an office. Our friends at Buffer have an annual State of Remote Work Survey, and in 2019, over 19% of survey participants cited “loneliness” as their biggest struggle with working remotely. I imagine many more people had it in their top 3 or 5 struggles.
Our Founder and CEO, Amir, has also written about the isolation, anxiety, and depression that can arise from working remotely. Needless to say, you’re not alone in finding it challenging to connect with your remote colleagues, and I’m glad you’re being so proactive at the start of your new role.
Although I started working at Doist in September 2017, it took over a full year, in October 2018, before I met our core marketing team in person. It wasn’t until March 2019 before I met our entire team. Prior to that, I still managed to connect with many people at the company remotely. I had great conversations at our in-person retreats that felt like natural extensions of the friendly work relationships I had built online. Admittedly, I found it a bit easier because of my role in Marketing — I had an excuse to reach out to team members to contribute to our blog posts or feature them in our Doist Remote Work social series.
However, here are some tips that will help you connect with colleagues regardless of the nature of your role!
For connecting asynchronously…
Compliment their work. One of the simplest and most natural ways to connect with a colleague is to go out of your way to compliment their work and give them some extra kudos. I often privately reach out to colleagues when I love something they’ve done, like when my colleague David built a Birthday Bot, or when my colleague Ana did a great interview on a podcast. I also reach out when someone does something cultural at work that I appreciate, like when my colleague Dani speaks candidly about mental health. On the flipside, it always makes my day when a team member compliments me on a recently published article or a social post they liked.
Find shared interests. While most conversations at work are naturally about work, people tend to drop small hints about their life and passions. Seek out opportunities to DM colleagues when they demonstrate a common interest. When my colleague Ashika joined our team, she expressed her love for the musical artist Banks, one of my favorite singers. Since then, we’ve DM’d back and forth on our favorite music and share musical recommendations with one another.
Discover cultural connections. I’m not sure how international your team is, but with everything happening in the world, I’ve found global events are a good conversation starter. I enjoy chatting with my colleague Lucia about events in China and my colleague Chizoba about recent happenings in Nigeria. I might start a conversation with, “Hey X, I hope you’re doing well! How are things? I recently heard…” and dive right in. Of course, these topics can be tough to discuss, so approach with sensitivity.
Start a series. My colleague Pierre is a cultural connector and started an internal “[AskDoist]” Twist thread series where he asks team members questions about our work and lives. Though he kicked off this question series, many people now use it to ask their own questions! Here are a few of my favorite topics that have been started:
- [AskDoist] What did Doisters look like as babies? 👶
- [AskDoist] Best things you’ve read/viewed on the internet this year
- [AskDoist] What’s on your desktop?
- [AskDoist] What are your favorite pieces of classical music?
For connecting synchronously…
Schedule casual coffee chats. If I’ve connected with someone asynchronously, I’ll often ask casually if they would be interested in chatting on a call. Here’s a line I sent to my colleague Michelle as we were chatting over Twist recently: “Would love to catch-up for a Zoom coffee if you’re free sometime btw!” From there, if they agree, make it easy for them. Suggest a few times in their time zone, and send over the calendar invite. Even if you haven’t connected with someone asynchronously, most people will appreciate you reaching out to them and asking for a coffee chat to get to know them and inject more connection into work. Sometimes it feels like you need a good reason to connect with your remote colleagues. In reality, wanting to chat is enough reason to chat! While asynchronous conversations are great, face-to-face conversations are nice to add-in.
Schedule an after-work “Happy Hour”. Drinking optional, of course. My colleague Stephen recently organized a few “Happy Hour” events for members of our Marketing Team across nearby time zones. He takes the time to collect everyone’s availability, send out invites, and arrange an activity for us during the call (last time, we played a fun game called Codenames). Take a page from Stephen’s handbook and give this a try with your immediate team members or folks in the same time zone. Not everyone will come, but there are others who will be happy and willing to connect. If this feels too intimidating to you, float the idea to your manager in your next 1:1!
Host monthly casual hangouts. Our People Ops Person, Andrew, diligently organizes casual hangouts every month! Anyone interested is paired into random groups of 3-4 people to have a conversation over Google Meet. From there we have a fun 30-60 minute chat to share what we discussed with the wider team — including a screen capture for good measure. I really appreciate that our People Ops team facilitates this — it’s worth asking if your HR/People Ops team might consider arranging the same thing.
These things really can feel a bit forced at first. That’s okay. It will feel more natural with time. Organic connections often don’t arise on remote teams, so don’t be afraid to be bold and pro-active. There are likely others on your team craving connection who will appreciate any efforts you make to spark more conversations one-on-one and amongst your wider team.