working remotely

Keeping Your People Connected And Productive While Working Remotely

By Dr. Jeff Smith

Whether you’ve worked at home for years or are just making the transition, now is the time to commit to certain behaviors that will ensure the entire team stays productive and connected. And as you’ll see the two are not mutually exclusive…

It all comes down to balance—having time for work and for yourself while maintaining a strong sense of connectedness. Encouraging employees to take care of themselves first and establishing down-time is as important for productivity as setting quarterly goals and tracking progress. And maintaining connections means that people should focus on building trust with one another, collaborating effectively, and maintaining internal, team-wide support during challenging times. 

Below we have recommendations for you and your colleagues to consider, ranging from ergonomics and IT tools to setting work-life boundaries. For more comprehensive guidance, you can enroll in the Best-Self Academy’s free Remote Work Fundamentals Course. 

Maintaining a sense of community 

It’s important to not only create but to regularly commit to certain practices. These can be agile practices for productivity, like scrums, retrospectives, and debriefs. Or they can be for culture building. 

The simplest and arguably the most vital agile practice is the regular 1-on-1 meeting between managers and employees. Protect these at all costs because they are critical for connecting, building trust, clearing bottlenecks, and maintaining progress on key initiatives, especially when you don’t see your co-workers in-person each day. 

An example of a culture-builder at 15Five is Gratitude Mondays, an all-hands virtual meeting that begins with practicing gratitude. Practicing gratitude is not just feeling grateful; it involves active participation. At the start of the meeting, our Chief Culture Officer sets a gratitude theme—communication technology, family, sunshine, etc.—and every one types a few sentences in the #gratitude Slack channel. This activity is proven to have various physical, emotional, and mental health benefits

Team and Department Level meetings are also important and a time to talk about wins, progress, and what can be improved. They normalize the discussion of obstacles, problems, and challenges with a manager. A valuable meeting to consider is the AMA (Ask Me Anything) with execs and other leaders. Opening the floor for questions ensures that all voices are being heard and that the most important things are being discussed and quickly. 

Here are a handful of tips for maintaining connection while working remotely:

• Mind your language with email, chat, and text, since there’s no body language to add context and tone is often ambiguous. 

• Use video and phones often so that you can see and hear people. 

• Use gallery view on video calls so you can see different people on a larger team (Note: This reminds me to check-in with them later in an impromptu chat.) 

• Start meetings with a few moments of connection. 

• Set clear agendas. 

• Only set necessary meetings to avoid Zoom Fatigue. Too many remote meetings can actually cause productivity to plummet

• Intentionally invite everyone to participate. In an in-person meeting, there are visual cues. People turn their heads toward someone to talk, but in video meetings, that’s not clear. 

Finally, consider the context. Any work transition adds extra stress, and they may be less courteous than normal. This is a good time to both stay curious and give people the benefit of the doubt (at 15Five, we call this assuming positive intent). One way to prevent or repair misunderstandings is to always check-in at the beginning of meetings because when we know what’s going on in the worlds of others we can operate with more compassion. Leaders can go first to share where they are struggling to model authenticity.

Balance, self-care, and productivity

Communicating with others, as I’ve explained, is not just about staying connected, it can drive productivity. I say “it can” because sometimes communication aids productivity and sometimes it harms it. A couple of examples are being invited to a meeting you don’t need to be in or not setting boundaries around communication, especially in Slack.

Productivity is also heavily influenced by how your body is feeling throughout the day, especially when working from home. So first, let’s ensure that you are as physically comfortable as possible and intentional about setting boundaries. These two factors can increase stamina and energy throughout your day. 

Here are some tips to stay productive by caring for yourself:

• Optimize for ergonomics at your home office, because you may no longer have access to a supportive chair and/or standing desk. 

• Remember to get on your feet and move around regularly.

• Set your laptop and camera height so that you are not hunched over. 

• Consider lighting and include as much natural light as possible.

• Designate work-only space (i.e. leave work-only items there).

• Set work-only time and boundaries with others in the home (partners, roommates, and children.) 

Be willing to protect your own time. It can be tempting to want to always be available, but interruptions like in-app notifications are the not-so-silent productivity killer. Set boundaries, including device-free time so you can do deep work

Get clear on your goals and focus on the most important outcomes rather than staying busy and being available. We follow the principle of “do less and obsess,” laid out by Morten Hansen in Great At Work. One driver of optimizing for activity and availability over focus on objectives could be employee tracking while working remotely. If you’re a leader reading this, you might want to consider that work is only sustainable if you allow for employee downtime and set clear and realistic policies and standards. 

Finally, be willing to forego productivity all the time in order to stay connected. Plato is credited with the saying, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. While there’s no evidence he actually said that, it makes sense that remote team coffees, meals, happy hours, games, or even pet meet and greets are a good idea for keeping people connected and ultimately more productive.

Ready to learn more about working remotely?

Join us in the 15Five Best-Self Academy to learn about remote work, OKRs, feedback, 1-on-1s, and Best-Self Management.

Learn how to transition to a remote workforce with 15Five CEO David Hassell and 15Five Chief Culture Officer Shane Metcalf on 15Five’s Best-Self Management podcast.

Watch the recorded webinar, Protecting Productivity: The Shift to Remote Work, with over 125+ tips and recommendations for increasing your own productivity and creating a thriving remote culture.

Want even more resources on remote work from 15Five? https://resources.15five.com/rwcv/


Dr. Jeff Smith is the Director of the Best-Self Academy at 15Five, as well as a cognitive psychologist and foster dog enthusiast. Jeff’s mission is to use science to help people, teams, and organizations thrive. Jeff has an eclectic background, including leadership roles in learning and development, performance, strengths-based assessments, product, design, UX, CX, and innovation. Jeff loves to translate qualitative research into what’s next – he has been named a Master Inventor (twice), co-invented the Aspirational Workplace Transformation Process, co-authored over 125 IP publications, and is a co-inventor on 15 issued US patents. Jeff received his PhD in Psychology with a minor in Design from North Carolina State University.

Image credit: Shutterstock


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