Absence may make the heart grow fonder when it comes to an old flame. But when it comes to workplace dynamics with your colleagues, the opposite could be true. I’m a time management coach, and many of my clients have sensed that their working relationships have weakened since they started working remotely.
Maybe they don’t answer emails as quickly as their coworker would like. Maybe their coworker perceives them as not working hard because they no longer see the hours they put into their work. Or maybe they made an offhand comment that was misconstrued.
Time management strategies can help improve these kinds of situations, such as developing an efficient email routine or consistently starting work on time. But sometimes the most effective strategy isn’t working harder—it’s working closer.
Over the past several years, we have learned that working remotely can offer a wide range of benefits for workers and employers—and makes us more productive. But in order for us to best harness the benefits of remote work, we must also learn how to manage its drawbacks.
Here are three ways you can reconnect with your colleagues. They all involve working closer, rather than working harder.
WORK TOGETHER WHEN IN THE OFFICE
Not all companies have gone back in five days a week, and many are offering hybrid options. One of the best ways to reengage with your coworkers is working together in the good ol’ office.
If you have the option to work together in person and you’re noticing the team dynamics are lacking, I would recommend making it a priority to commute in. Even a small amount of time in the office together can have a big impact on morale—and can help remind workers of their shared mission.
Returning to the office works best when you have a designated day or days when your team will be present and can meet for one-on-ones, staff meetings, or complete other work in the same room. This makes the commute of higher value than if team members’ appearances in the office are scattered throughout the week. And prioritizing collaboration when in the office can help teams efficiently reconnect.
According to Richard Arvey, adjunct professor in the department of management and organization at National University of Singapore Business School, working face-to-face is the best way to read our coworkers’ tone and body language. His research has also found that working together in person helps workers avoid isolation and feel more connected.
These factors could explain why my clients often feel more at ease with their colleagues when they embrace hybrid work. One of my clients found herself more confident in her relationship with her boss when she could see that her boss was often in back-to-back meetings. The in-person visibility kept her from misinterpreting any delay in communication as meaning her boss had an issue with her.
And another one of my clients found that the closeness of being back in the office with his colleagues diffused tension in his working relationships. It’s hard to think negatively of someone when you’re having normal positive interactions and when you can clearly see they are working hard.
DISCUSS QUARTERLY GOALS
If working together on a weekly basis isn’t feasible, perhaps because the staff is scattered around the world, then you may want to consider quarterly in-person meetings to help bridge the gap between the miles.
During these gatherings, emphasize talking about strategy and vision to make sure that everyone is clear on direction. Also, complete important decision-making when you can have all the stakeholders in the same room for more natural conversations about a topic than you can have on Zoom. And if needed, take some time for one-on-ones to make sure you’re aware of how your team members are actually feeling in areas like their upcoming aspirations as well as any struggles they may face at present.
Communicating in person builds trust, and likeability, and can help you get to the reality of the situation—it’s harder to hide the truth in person.
These regular meetings can help accelerate progress on strategic goals and smooth over interpersonal issues that may have arisen during the quarter.
MAKE TIME FOR SOCIAL EVENTS
And regardless of whether you’re back in the office full time, on a hybrid schedule, or still fully remote, it’s a good idea to throw back in some of the social events you used to do pre-2020 to strengthen relationships between colleagues and foster positive regard toward the organization.
That could include larger events, such as holiday parties where colleagues can bring significant others, or summer picnics for the whole family. Or it could include smaller get-togethers like monthly team lunches where everyone has a chance to connect on a less formal level. These company-sponsored times can boost morale and improve relationships by allowing colleagues to interact purely for fun instead of having to accomplish specific agenda items in a back-to-back meeting schedule.
It is an investment of time and financial resources to incorporate these social events into your company culture. But when you consider that research shows employees are 10 times more likely to stay in a job for friendships than a pay raise, the return on investment of increased employee engagement and reduced turnover can often outweigh the cost.
To be clear, gathering in person—whether it’s through working together in the office, quarterly meetings, or social events—may not be always the most efficient time-management strategy. But in terms of fostering good relationships between colleagues and avoiding interpersonal drama, it can often be the most effective way to develop a productive and happy team