Remote teams face different challenges to those teams situated together. Even in the digital era and communication revolution, human beings still have a few basic needs to be emotionally healthy and psychologically satisfied. Essential for engagement and high performance.

I like the Human Givens emotional needs model. The basic idea is that all human beings have a set of emotional needs:

Emotional Needs

Meaning and Purpose Competence and Achievement Intimacy and Emotional Connection Community
Attention Exchange Privacy

Our Wellbeing requires each of these needs to be met in balance. Working together and social interactions goes some way to satisfy some of those needs. When we work remotely, we remove the workplace social interactions. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, fear of others, or negative self-esteem.

So, what steps can we take to make remote working feel smoother and more engaging without the face to face experience?

Step 1

Keep people informed. Remember the ​SCARF​ model? Human beings need to feel certain of their future. To be able to predict what could happen next. Without this certainty we can feel anxious and stressed. This can prevent cognitive abilities, decision-making powers, and even interpersonal skills.

Digital communication is changing how we speak — think about text messages and emojis. And it’s affecting how we perceive what we hear, as the jumble of information coming at us can lead to misunderstandings and confusion.

When teams are remote, increase your communication. Focus on the bigger picture and their contribution, not simply on what’s new. Although employees have direct access to many sources of information too, don’t assume they’re fully informed.

Step 2

Check in on a personal level. Human beings are social animals and working together goes a long way to satisfy those social needs. Working remotely could limit an individual’s ability to satisfy their social needs. When connecting with your team, check in and see how they are doing on a personal level.
Building trust is fundamental in any relationship. Even if you have previously worked well with someone, and believe you have a trusting relationship, working remotely can affect the strongest of relationships. Take a look at Canadian psychologist, Eric Berne’s Trust Pyramid. It’s an easy model to help you build and maintain trust in any relationship. Try switching remote communication to regular video calls, which are a much better vehicle for establishing rapport and creating empathy than either e-mails or voice calls.

Step 3

Reflect on your emotional intelligence. You’ll probably know that emotional intelligence is an awareness that emotions drive our behaviour and impact people (positively and negatively). Emotional Intelligence reminds us to consider our potential impact on other people, know how to redirect our potential impact and be aware of other people’s emotional reactions.

Remote communication can distort the normal pace of our conversations. The delay between our messages can often hide emotional reactions to our comments, and we don’t have body language to help our understanding. We simply rely on our perceived tone of a text or email, which can be open to interpretation. Don’t assume that others understand your cues and shorthand. Spend the time to communicate with the intention of being ultra clear, no matter the medium.

Step 4

Establish a communications routine. Remember how human beings need certainty to avoid a threat situation? Agree a routine of team or individual communications. An effective one is a morning “huddle” or informal video call for the whole team to check in and share priorities, focus areas and resolve blockers.
As well as activities, it’s also worth considering norms for clarity in communication. Companies such as Merck have created acronyms for their digital communications like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR)” that bring predictability and certainty to

Virtual conversations. And norms can also exist on an individual level, such as people’s preferred response time, writing style, and tone. For example, some individuals prefer short and quick messages, while others prefer lengthy and detailed responses; people also differ in their preference and tolerance for humour and informality.
Consider communications channels also. Will you use Slack, Google Docs, or Whatsapp groups. Avoid swapping between them all, it’s ineffective and annoying to receive messages in different ways.

Step 5

Create time and space for celebrations. In offices, birthday cakes were important, think how you can replace that for remote teams. Create time and space for virtual celebrations and socialising. It can strengthen relationships and lay the foundation for future collaboration. As a member of a facebook group, I took part in a virtual office Christmas party last year. We all wore Christmas jumpers, had wine and played a party game – all from the comfort of our own home offices!

You can find your own unique way to create team spaces for social connection. How you do it is less important than whether you do.

As more and more of our work happens remotely, there’s the potential for new forms of miscommunication and misunderstanding. The solution is to remember our “humanness” and our emotional needs. Building new routines and rituals to satisfy our emotional needs and achieve our goals and objectives. Building a communication skill set that reflects the demands of our digitally-driven age.