How To Stay Connected In A Disconnected Work Place

Everyone wants to work from home. I know I fully appreciate the opportunity to do so. But working from home or working across the country from your co-workers and collaborators raises novel challenges. Humans are social animals with a strong need to connect, both professionally and socially. How can these connections be maintained, nurtured and expanded when the only other being sharing your office is the pet hamster?

Gina Trapani has some suggestions at the Harvard Business blog in her article entitled Master The Art of Working Remotely. The article does not focus on how to set up your office, how to get your work done or how to print and fax documents. Her focus is THE focus: how to maintain the human connections necessary for getting the job done. Trapani provides advice on how to make the most of the lines of communication available to the remote worker: email; messaging and text-based chat; on-line collaboration tools; and, voice and video chat. The idea is not simply to remind others of your existence, but to fully leverage the benefits of the various media and preserve the record in ways that are unavailable in the traditional Office Space set-up.

I would add a few additional tools to her list. Social media can bridge connections between co-workers and collaborators provided its use is targeted to a professional connection. Microblogging offers a means for one-way updates regarding status, results  and whereabouts, while social sites offer fora for communicating in more general, professional terms with other, similarly-situated workers.

It all boils down to keeping the “human” in the “human interaction” with gentle reminders to others of your existence and value to the task at hand.

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2 comments on “How To Stay Connected In A Disconnected Work Place

  1. I supervised a team from across the country for a year (then continued as an independent for a while after that). I completely agree that the human element is critical.

    I used a lot of phone conferences and a lot of email status updates. Surprisingly, IM and similar “instant” communication tools proved less useful, perhaps because I had a very independent team.

    Despite it being successful, I think I would prefer to see people in person at least once per week. The in person time is really important – at the very least, I found we could accomplish more in an in person meeting far faster than through any other means. (Perhaps due to the limited in person meetings?)

    Thanks for the useful write up on this one!

  2. While the methods that most closely approximate the in-person meetings have the greatest chance at being the most successful tools for long-distance collaboration, I am guessing the personality of the team will ultimately determine which tool works best. Ideally, though, there should be in-person meetings as well. We need that connection, at least some of the time, to make it happen!



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