Working remotely while maintaining healthy relationships is at best like stepping onto steaming hot coals without your shoes on. Taking the time to protect your and your colleagues’ mental health is the best way to keep your foot on the productivity pedal.

Here are three ways that you can dramatically improve interactions with your teammates.

Open the channels of communication by setting up a daily or weekly team barometer.

Virtual meetings can make it difficult to pick up on subtle shifts in the demeanor and mood of a colleague. With so many tasks to juggle in our work and personal lives, we can get lost in our own thoughts and mindsets.

One way to open the opportunity to connect is by setting a daily or weekly “PIES” check-in with your teammates. This can be as short or as long as needed for your situation and team dynamic.

During the check-in, each person rates their PIES (i.e., physical, emotional, intellectual, and sleep quality) on a scale of 1-5. Along with their number, the person provides a quick reason why their score is what it is (e.g. my child was crying all night and I didn’t get any sleep).

This is an opportunity for teammates to flag issues or conflicts they wouldn’t have normally. PIES proved their worth a few weeks ago when a member of my team rated their emotional health as a 1 and then explained that his grandfather was hospitalized and his mind was struggling to focus. This immediately shifted the priorities of the team so that he could be with his grandfather.

Define new virtual routines and team norms.

In order to instill an inclusive and empathetic culture, it’s critical that teams establish regular points of communication. With new projects or teams, there should be regular kickoff/introduction meetings.

Distance makes it easier to leave room for miscommunications, misalignments, and silently growing bitterness. This frequently happens during online chats, virtual meetings, and brainstorming sessions.

In one particular instance, a manager was brainstorming on a call and made sudden statements on expanding into a new region for their business. The team mistook this statement as a new direction and began forming teams and strategies around this new initiative. Later the team found out that the manager was merely thinking out loud.

In person, it is easier to read body language and casually ask questions outside the meeting to clarify. Virtually, messages often get lost in translation and it becomes increasingly difficult to interpret and rate priorities and conversations.

This is why setting clear team norms increases productivity in the long run. Taking an hour to set up expectations can save you money and time in the future.

One example could be to set norms around online communication:

  • Set clear “signals” that clarify the priority of tasks that are urgent and need immediate attention. When chatting, flag a message with a different color or place the word “urgent” before the message to highlight it to members of your group.
  • Reply promptly to messages, even if it’s just to say you will get back to your teammate so they aren’t waiting for a reply. They could probably use that time to play with their kids or take out the load of laundry from the dryer.

Prevent team burnout and fatigue by changing up your interactions.

Change up your interactions with your colleagues and dive into deeper relationships. A few ways you can carve out these moments is by:

  • Taking a 10-15 minute break and playing a short game together.
  • Scheduling intentional lunch dates and eating together virtually.
  • Organizing group workouts with friends and colleagues and encouraging one another to do physical challenges, like a step challenge or a sit-up contest.
  • Committing to virtual volunteering, such as making cards for patients in the hospital.

Our new normal is an opportunity to provide and receive deeper levels of support for one another.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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