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Feeling Connection As A Remote Worker? It's About The Little Things

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Even though I’ve been working remotely as a software engineer at Trello for several years, I've recently picked up a new habit: I schedule two ~30 minute weekly video calls with individuals on my team, just for social interaction and casual conversation. This simple change to my calendar helps me enjoy work more and feel more connected. 

In fact, I’m surprised this works as well for me as it does. Here’s why I would recommend any remote worker to give it a try.

A Real Remote Communication Experience

My day-to-day work involves a lot of communication: countless Trello cards, comments on Trello cards,  emails, code reviews, instant messaging, video calls (a.k.a. Zoom calls), shared documents on Confluence, comments on shared documents, a plethora of Jira tickets. I am firmly enmeshed in my (largely remote) team; my finger is on the pulse. My buzz adds to the loud, rich, hum of the hive. And yet.

I used to do quite a lot of technical screen interviews for engineer candidates. Sometimes they would ask me how it was working remotely. Some of the candidates seemed to have had bad experiences being remote at previous jobs, others hadn't done it and were curious. I would sandwich what I thought was the drawback:

Good news: I've worked at three companies remotely, Trello is doing remote the best of those three.

Bad news: I am still real life friends with people I worked with from previous in-office jobs. I haven't made the same kind of friendships at my remote jobs.

Good news: Trello does have programs in place to counteract that, these things are great! We're committed to making an effort and spending resources to make remote work feel personal and connected.

I thought that was a neat way of addressing the issue. The statement about the friendships I've made is inarguably true. It lets the candidate make their own decisions about how important that kind of thing is to them in a job.

It points towards a thing I find a bit hard to put into words: there's something missing from my remote work compared to my in-office work, something to do with being a friendly, social, human being.

A Quick Calendar Invite

If I remember correctly, here’s how simply I changed up my social habits at work: At an offsite, I was chatting with one of my teammates and telling them about this problem with remote work, and they said: "Well, you and I will have a call once a week then. Here—I'll put it on the calendar".

To which I replied: “Cool, that'll be nice.”

And it was nice! Pleasant chit chats about the things you might discuss while getting a coffee in the office kitchen: What we did over the weekend, the weather, what we're working on lately (I am, as you can see, a fascinating conversationalist). After a while I thought I might spread it about a bit more throughout the team. We had a new team member I had hardly spoken to, so I sent them a DM on Slack.

Cue dramatic reenactment:

'Hey, I've been doing these 30 minute social calls with [other teammate] do you want to try doing them too? It's just for fun.'

'.... ok?'

'Sweet! I've put it on the calendar'

'How about we do it every other week?'

'Well it's on the calendar now, let's try it and see how it goes.'

'kk'

And guess what? Those calls are also very pleasant! We've been doing low pressure, weekly social calls for about a year and now I would naturally say that these two teammates are my friends, rather than nice people I work with.

Connection: It’s About The Little Things

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Feeling connected as a remote worker doesn't have to be complicated. A simple weekly video 'chitchat' can build relationships that last. @trello

These few weekly half hour “chit chats” help me truly enjoy coming to work. I find that it’s easier to be myself at work now. Barriers to communication are lowered and channels smoothened when it’s time to get down to business. Code reviews, coordination, asking for help, understanding where the other person is at—it’s all easier. Slowing down and making social time helps me be a better teammate.

Perhaps this is already a thing you’re doing with your remote team. Perhaps I’m unusual in that without it being scheduled on the calendar I would let reaching out to teammates for “idle” video chats slip in favor of “work.” I might be the only one who gets such a reward from it. But I do occasionally hear people struggling working remotely and I think: “Oh that weekly chat thing I've been doing has really helped with that.”

I have found this to be a surprisingly effective practice, and I hope that telling other remote workers about it might improve their experience at work and in their life overall.

Book a chat on your calendar with someone today, and start thinking of what weekend plans you want to share with them!


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Next: How A Few Simple Reminders Can Easily Inspire Better Meetings