This article was produced by AND CO, the app that automates freelancers’ administrative tasks.
You’ve likely heard a stat like this before. With the continuous rise in freelancing and the gig economy, an estimated 40% of the American workforce will classify themselves as independent workers—which encompasses contractors and temporary employees—by the year 2020.
Yes, the workforce is undoubtedly shifting—which means the structure of our teams is changing too. Rather than groups of co-workers sharing the same roof and the same water cooler, many teams are now distributed. Team members work remotely, from wherever they choose.
In fact, approximately 45% of American workers currently telecommute. And, to put that number in perspective, there was an 80% increase in telecommuting employees between the years 2005 and 2012. See? We told you things are changing—and fast.
Of course, there are definitely some perks that come along with working remotely. Being able to answer emails in your pajamas. Not having to fight over the bottom dregs of that coffee pot. Having the flexibility to work when you feel most focused and productive. And now, you can even opt to delegate your admin tasks so you can focus on your work instead.
However, as with anything, there are also a few downsides. One that many remote teams and independent workers often struggle with is building a sense of community and culture with the people they work with. When people are working all over the globe—rarely (if ever) interacting face-to-face—how can you cultivate and encourage that oh-so-necessary “We’re all in this together!” sort of environment?
Yes, having a distributed team makes this tougher. But, the operative word there is tougher—not impossible. So, let’s take a look at a few tactics and strategies remote teams or freelancers with long-term projects can use to build a community and feel a little more connected with their other team members or clients.
1. Implement Instant Messaging
When working remotely, it’s all too easy to lose that friendly chatter that occurs in normal office environments. Those quick conversations in the break room or those discussions over lunch are completely replaced by emails that are all business, business, business.
And, while you could argue that this lack of chit chat ultimately makes a team or a freelancer more productive, it also means that you lose that sense of camaraderie that’s so important to working together as a cohesive and successful unit.
So, if you find yourself relying solely on emails, implement an instant messaging solution—like Slack or HipChat—that your team or your clients can use. It’ll help them to communicate about urgent issues more efficiently, as well as give them a place for the friendly banter that’s otherwise gone by the wayside.
2. Schedule “Face-to-Face” Meetings
There’s a sense of anonymity that comes from hiding behind your computer screen. Those people you work with become just email addresses or names—you lose sight of the actual person.
This is why scheduling regular “face-to-face” video meetings can be so helpful, and they’re something that many of our remote developers here at AND CO do on a weekly basis to help them stay connected and in the loop.
With these calls, team members can interact in a way that seems much more personal than just written text, providing them with an opportunity to better get to know one another and put a face with the name they see so often.
3. Don’t Forget the Fun
What’s another big thing you lose when working remotely—whether as a freelancer or a part of a distributed team? The fun that comes along with working with people you genuinely enjoy.
There’s no birthday cake in the conference room, no after-work happy hours, no team-wide chili cookoffs, and no holiday traditions. It becomes all too easy for remote teams to be strictly work and no play.
If you don’t want to be “all business” at all times, you need to make an effort to inject a little fun into your work weeks. For example, use your instant messaging solution to ask fun icebreaker questions or have team members share photos that fit a certain theme.
Do whatever you can to incorporate a little more personality into your team. That alone can work wonders!
4. Meet Up When Possible
This can present some logistical challenges for some teams; meeting up in-person isn’t always easy. However, if you can swing it, it can be an awesome benefit to the relationship between your team members or you and your clients!
Technology is amazing. But it still doesn’t even come close to replacing a real, human connection. So do some research to figure out what it would take to get everyone in the same zip code, even if it’s just for a couple of days. Getting together even just once can have a major impact on how all of you interact moving forward.
If you’re a remote worker, whether as a freelancer or a full-time member of a distributed team, there are a few other things you can do to foster a sense of community just for yourself to avoid feeling like a blurry-eyed hermit locked alone in your office into the wee hours of the morning.
Find a coworking space and/or join an association to network with other like-minded professionals in your industry. Those individual measures, along with the tips mentioned above, will go a long way in helping you feel like you’re truly part of something. And who doesn’t want that?