Don’t be alarmed: today roughly 70% of Americans are working from home full or part time as a result of Covid-19. It seems like we are online and connected more than ever yet all of these virtual encounters are leading to burn-out and exhaustion. Remote games, meetings, and calls, repeated weekly and monthly, are making people feel disengaged and oftentimes depressed.

A recent interview with Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff found, alarmingly, that nearly two-thirds of Salesforce staff was suffering from some form of anxiety or depression. This comes as no surprise as the face to face meetings are now being taken over by virtual meeting software like Zoom or Meetfox.

Working remotely can be greatly empowering: gone are long commutes and early alarm clocks. But gone too are the fun social catch-ups in the office and water cooler gossip. 

If someone asked you to complete a simple task, like cutting and pasting photos into a document, you would know exactly what to do. But if someone asked you to probe a remote colleague to better understand their engagement, you would struggle.

I want to help end this struggle. I want to empower you to know how to check-in on and connect with your others.

That is why I believe it is more important than ever to check-in on your remote peers, colleagues, and staff. However, I think we should be striving to ask questions that don’t yield cursory responses. Instead of asking: “how are you?” over and over, we should elevate our questions to a level which elicits more meaningful replies. 

Here are a number of ways to ask respectful and probing questions to improve the remote work culture we all find ourselves in:

  1. What is the best and most challenging thing you have encountered this week?
  2. What are you most looking forward to at work and outside of work?
  3. What funny things have happened as a result of working from home in the past month?

These questions might seem simple on the surface. In reality, they can open new forms of collaboration and dialogue between you and your peers. In particular they are intended to spark meaningful conversations and create shared bonds of communication.

Instead of asking questions that warrant short answers (i.e. I am well thanks and how are you?), these questions by definition necessitate broader and more holistic dialogues. Moreover, these questions can alter our states of mind. 

For example, the third question makes us think of things with positive correlations. Instances that are funny are inclined to make us smile, laugh, and think of joy filled moments.

Ultimately the goal of asking questions is to better understand others. By asking the right questions you can go deeper and drive more meaning in your work relationships. I find this to be particularly true during the era of Covid. 

I specialize in helping people work remotely and have never seen more conversations about the pros and cons of this form of work.

Nethunt, the maker of CRM tools for small businesses, reported that “allowing employees to work from home is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways that a company can combat the spread of the virus.” Social isolation, however, is also a virus and a health risk.

Harnessing conversations and questions to make us feel more connected and positive is a worthy goal. It is also good for our health.

We can check-in on each other in more meaningful ways. Engaging in dialogue and learning to ask the right questions is a skill worth practicing. 

The Harvard Business Review notes that pandemics and other crises can disrupt or change the status quo, but history shows they can also accelerate trends already underway. The question of where to locate workers, corporate facilities, and teams has been increasing in strategic importance for a long time.

But learning to ask the right questions of remote workers is an emerging field. 

By asking questions you will be well on your way to learning more about your peers, and yourself, in the process. 

Checking in on remote workers can be time-consuming, difficult, and fraught with risks and setbacks: although some employees may respond quickly to your approach, others might require time to rebuild positive relationships with you and their work. I believe in sharing insights, culture, best practice to empower your staff and your workforce.

By better knowing what to ask you will better know what problems to solve. You will feel more connected. That is an investment that will always pay dividends.