As corporate leaders and managers come to terms with permanently remote or hybrid teams, they are seeking to upskill, adding remote team leadership skills to their repertoires—including learning how to build or maintain connections among people who rarely or never see one another in person.

That’s essential: Feeling disconnected can have far-ranging repercussions, from disengaged employees to lower morale and workers who feel that the workplace is not inclusive, lacks psychological safety, or is just not a good fit for them or their skills. It can impair communication, collaboration, and productivity. HBR reports that “65% of workers say they feel less connected to their coworkers”—and that “employee disconnection is one of the main drivers of voluntary turnover, with lonely employees costing U.S. companies up to $406 billion a year.”

Be proactive in efforts to build connection

Wise managers, team leads, corporate leaders, and yes, learning and development (L&D) leaders are increasingly investing in efforts to enhance connection.

“By taking extra steps to make your remote team feel valued, connected, and respected, you are creating psychological safety while improving morale, motivation, productivity, and retention,” according to a Georgia Tech News article about inclusive leadership. “One easy way to do this is to create a virtual water cooler—such as a group chat on Microsoft Teams—for colleagues to share resources, tips, life hacks, words of encouragement, or non-work-related chatter,” the article continues.

Create time and space for team members to interact

With opportunities for the types of casual encounters that build connection—shared coffee breaks or walks, lunch together, informal hallway or cubicle chats, even in-person meetings—no longer occurring, leaders cannot just assume that relationships, and an accompanying feeling of connection, will happen organically.

This means that leaders have to make an effort to foster connection, HBR said, suggesting “connection rituals” where teams regularly share stories or appreciation for one another. It could also mean creating time in Zoom meetings for people to talk with one another, before getting down to work. And it might mean that managers prioritize one-on-ones and get-togethers where the focus is on building a relationship rather than checking off agenda items.

Another suggestion, which learning leaders can facilitate, is creating peer groups that meet regularly to share ideas and ask for one another’s suggestions or help in resolving challenges. Onboarding or new manager training cohorts present perfect opportunities to nurture relationships among people who are in the same boat—and likely to be struggling with similar questions. Rather than a one-way delivery of training, facilitating peer groups means creating space for synchronous conversation as well as channels on platforms like Teams or Slack, where cohort members can connect.

Model the importance of recharging

Workers and managers need to connect with one another—and also with others in their lives. Pre-pandemic, some workplace cultures frowned on or actively discouraged any personal calls during the workday. But the pandemic highlighted the essential nature of a balanced life and the ability to care for family and friends in addition to working.

“For human connection and friendship to thrive, we need to take employee health seriously,” HBR said. Leaders can set the tone by encouraging breaks, providing quiet spaces for people to recharge or make calls to family during these breaks, and by pursuing flexible policies around work hours and location and family leave—policies that enable workers to balance their work and home lives more easily.

Nurturing existing relationships builds connection too

Creating a sense of connection at work and within a larger network need not focus only on new relationships; maintaining existing relationships can also strengthen workers’ sense of connection. Improving communication skills is an often-cited goal for managers; honing and practicing these skills is a great place for workers and managers at any level to begin working on connection.

Reaching out to people in a broader circle of peers and professional acquaintances to share an article or idea, congratulate them on an accomplishment, or offer a status update can do a lot to help people feel connected and valued.

Putting regular effort into developing and maintaining connections serves both leaders and team members well as their workplaces adjust to what may be a long term—or permanent—transition to remote or hybrid work.

Build your professional network—and skills

Learning leaders and aspiring leaders who are seeking the strategies and skills required to navigate the needs of today’s ever-changing workplace do not need to figure it all out on their own. Connect with a community of your peers to help you explore and resolve today’s biggest learning leadership challenges.

The Learning Leaders Alliance is a vendor-neutral global community for learning leaders who want to stay ahead of the curve and for aspiring leaders wanting to build their skillsets. The Learning Guild’s Alliance Membership package includes access to exclusive digital events and content curated for today’s modern learning leader, as well as opportunities to attend in-person learning leadership events held around the globe. See the details on our website.