When employees work full-time from home, it can seem harder to build the relationships, trust and sense of community that’s normally associated with working together in one location. But while there’s an element of connection lost when you communicate online versus in person, it’s not an insurmountable problem. You can create a remote team that bonds well, stays engaged and keeps up productivity – it just requires a deliberate focus.

It’s all about working out your team’s individual needs, and how they each best operate. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to keep the connection open. Keep having honest conversations about how productive everyone is feeling, and then work together to help overcome the challenges anyone may be facing.

Here’s how it’s worked for me and my teams, and the best ways I’ve found to keep them happy, engaged and motivated when working remotely.

Remote working may be your secret weapon

Flexible working policies have a lot of benefits and these can be harnessed to build up your team’s motivation and output. This can make the days a lot more pleasant for employees who have caring duties or other interests that don’t fall neatly outside of the nine to five. For instance, some of my team have been doing a bike ride in the middle of the day and that’s been fantastic for maintaining energy and motivation throughout the week.

Flexible working has plenty of benefits from a business perspective as well. It helps us attract and retain great talent, including more women as they often shoulder the majority of caring responsibilities. It also just generally creates a deeper and more authentic connection between organisations and their employees, which leads to better results for the business.

Leaders can drive motivation and productivity from afar with the right approach

I have found that the key to motivating my team remotely lies in really understanding them and what is going on in their lives. When some of my team members have begun working remotely, I’ve made sure to ask questions about their home environment and how they like to work.

This helps me to understand how people sustain their energy and I use this information to motivate them from afar. For example, on my current team, I have some real night owls and others are sharpest and most productive in the morning. By allowing everyone to work at the time they’re at their best, I keep energy levels high.

As a leader, it can also help to show your own vulnerability at times. Being upfront when you’re lacking motivation or aren’t feeling productive yourself creates a safe environment for people to share when they feel the same. Sometimes just acknowledging a lack of motivation helps people become more motivated, almost as an inverse reaction.

I also believe it’s important to dedicate time to specific team-bonding activities. In my team, we’ve been doing quizzes, which are about both our products and what’s going on in the world. I’ve heard of other teams here doing activities like dress-up days where everyone dresses up as Harry Potter, which is a great way to lighten the atmosphere.

Finally, it can be beneficial to set up a coffee with someone once a week to just chat. In my team, that’s actually had the most positive response of all. Everyone tells me how much they’re missing those casual conversations in the kitchen or in the lift, and our weekly coffee catchups have really helped bridge that gap.

Company support makes a huge difference

Our organisation has done an extraordinary job of helping people work flexibly. Flexible working is nothing new here: we’ve had it for years and it’s embedded in our culture. We trust our teams to achieve their best, no matter where they’re working from.

Are you interesting in learning more about what it’s like to work at Telstra? Head to the Telstra Careers website.