Whether you were already prepared with a home office or cobbled one together on your kitchen table (or in your bed – no judgment!), we don’t think anyone expected to be working from home on a full-time basis for quite so long. And, with the multitude of advantages that came with it — greater flexibility, that blessed extra hour of sleep, a band-aid on your dog’s separation anxiety — the improvised pattern of remote work we fell into was bound to have its flaws. According to Achievers Workforce Institute, 1/3 of employed people feel disconnected from their coworkers during COVID-19.

Here are just a few tips for staying connected in a virtual world:

Practice active or mindful listening

In meetings where collaboration is important, turn your camera (and your ears) on and turn everything else off. Eliminate distractions and focus. Seeing your facial expressions and body language builds a connection between audience and speaker and promotes healthy collaboration in fostering a sense of trust between team members. And, when it comes to eliminating distractions, some researchers suggest that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40%.

Provide brain breaks to decompress and connect

We’ve all learned about Zoom fatigue, so let’s take a page out of our event planner playbook. We condense information into bite-sized pieces for virtual audiences and then give ample opportunity for brain breaks and networking. Why can’t we apply this same strategy to the workplace? Slice your meeting into a digestible bite to increase productivity and schedule in virtual morning coffee with your team, a midday yoga session, or plan a virtual lunch to recreate the social connection of the in-office lunch break. Studies show that communal eating increases social bonding and feelings of wellbeing, and enhances one’s sense of contentedness and embedding within the community.

Get personal

Understand that your coworkers are humans who have lives outside of work. Encourage each other to share and don’t stress when pets or kids turn up on screen – it’s bound to happen. Instead, embrace it! Use it as a conversation starter; an opportunity to get to know the whole person behind the screen. Ask “non-business” questions (but don’t be nosy) – learning about each other is essential to building connections and establishing a familiarity that fosters a comfortable working environment.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Harvard Business School Professor, Teresa Amabile said, “…one of the things that contributes to positive inner work life is a sense of camaraderie with teammates and close co-workers – a sense of bonding and mutual trust.” Teambuilding bridges the first, all-important gap of bringing people together. It allows us to create and strengthen social bonds or remind ourselves of the support network we have but may not feel in our virtual environment. Encourage a little friendly competition and try mixing it up; give employees the opportunity to get to know their coworkers outside of their own departments. For out-of-the-box, virtual teambuilding ideas, click here.

It may be more difficult to identify feelings of isolation or lack of support in a virtual setting, but that doesn’t mean these feelings aren’t happening and they shouldn’t go unaddressed. By taking these small steps, you can work towards connecting in more meaningful ways that build trust, strengthen communication and social bonds, and boost morale.

Need help keeping your employees connected?