6 Ways to Maintain Team Connections in Your Lab While Working Remotely

Although water testing labs are essential businesses that have largely remained open during the pandemic, it hasn't been business as usual. If you recently made changes to keep people physically distant, you need to make an extra effort to keep everyone connected.

Whether shifts are staggered or some work is now being done remotely, here are five ways to maintain the team connection even when you can't all be together.

1. Get Personal

Efficiency is always an important goal in the lab, but during this unusual time, make time for conversations that aren't related to work. People are already feeling more isolated and stressed in their personal lives, so maintaining human connections is more important than ever.

When your lab is facing deadlines and supply chain delays, idle chit chat might seem like a waste of time. However, allowing space for personal conversations can help people stay connected to each other, even if they aren't physically working next to one another as often as they were before. Build time into your meeting agendas for personal check-ins; don't just ask how each person's projects are doing. Ask questions about their hobbies or pets, how they are feeling, and whether they did anything fun over the weekend.

2. Meet in Person When You Can

Meet in person whenever possible, even if that means you have to get a bit creative. Consider kicking off the day with an outdoor lab huddle. That way, people can get face-to-face time while minimizing the risk of virus transmission.

If you're considering an outdoor meet-up, now is the time. In anticipation of colder weather, a second COVID-19 surge, and flu season, try to make sure that you take advantage of meeting with employees in person before stricter social distancing becomes necessary. According to Lab Manager, meeting even one time can greatly improve the relationships and the effectiveness of teams.

3. Maintain Your Lab's Company Culture

Maintaining your company culture is especially important if certain people are working from home while others are in the lab running essential tests. You don't want any resentment to build up between remote colleagues and in-person staff. Think about ways your staff bonded before the pandemic; is there a way to replicate those moments while staying physically distant?

According to Harvard Business Review, remote employees say they experience greater negative impacts of workplace challenges than their on-site colleagues. This tension can affect productivity, costs, deadlines, morale, stress, and retention. You don't want to lose talented employees and have to train someone new during the pandemic.

So, keep team-building as a top priority. Make a channel on your instant messaging platform for "water cooler" chat, start a friendly competition such as predicting the outcome of football games, or have theme days that you can celebrate during virtual meetings, like crazy hat day or pajama day.

4. Incorporate Visuals

When you're running virtual meetings, try to include video conferences as much as possible. This helps with nonverbal communication. Even if your whole team is still working in the lab, you may need to hold virtual meetings to maintain a safe social distance. This can be a nice opportunity for a mask break and a chance to see each other's smiling faces.

Even when you aren't able to use video, incorporate visual cues whenever possible. For example, if a colleague is presenting a slide deck, ask them to include a photo of themselves in the presentation. If you're using Slack or another instant messenger to communicate throughout the day, ask everyone to add a photo in their profile photos so that a face is put with a name and the connection feels more personal. While you're apart, it's important to help people remember that everyone on the team is a real person, not simply a voice or a role.

5. Combat Zoom Fatigue

As helpful as video calls can be, too many can drain your energy, according to behavior analysts at Northeastern University. Although you can see people's faces, lag times and a lack of body language can still make it difficult to interpret visual cues, and that extra mental work is exhausting. The behavioral scientists suggest fighting this so-called Zoom fatigue with the following strategies:

  1. Take time to disconnect as necessary.
  2. Schedule time between virtual meetings so that you can get up and stretch or speak in person (while keeping a safe distance).
  3. Outside of work, practice mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and yoga.
  4. Be compassionate toward yourself and others.
  5. Establish routines that help you keep a healthy work-life balance.

Another aspect of avoiding Zoom fatigue is leading effective meetings. This can include sending an agenda and any related materials ahead of time and finding a time that is most convenient for everyone. Use the mute button to block out unnecessary background noise and to ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak. Be strategic about deciding whether a meeting can be cut short or canceled altogether if the topic could effectively be handled over email.

6. Appreciate the Hidden Benefits of WFH

As frustrating as social distancing can be, there are also some upsides to virtual working environments. You may discover that employees are able to focus on things like administrative tasks when they don't have all the distractions of a lab environment. Shifting more tasks to the WFH realm can make it easier for you to find top talent from a larger geographical area, which could have lasting effects on your lab's production.

Staying connected with colleagues when you don't see each other in person can be challenging. Lab managers need to make an effort to help team members maintain that connection while they are working from home or staggering shifts. This can ensure that employees remain as happy and productive as possible, no matter where or when the work is done.

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Kelly McSweeney
Science and Technology Writer
Armed with a master's degree in writing and a decade of professional work in scientific publishing, Kelly McSweeney writes about science and technology innovations. She translates complicated topics into stories that capture the curiosity of everyone from casual readers to technical experts. Kelly has degrees from Emerson College and the University of Vermont, and has worked on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics publications at Wiley, In Compliance magazine, and Pearson. Her articles about the latest research are published by ZDNet, Northrop Grumman, and Wiley.