5 Alternatives to Chit-Chat Check-Ins with your Remote Team

Avatar by Amy Peyser Published Nov 3, 2020 Last updated Nov 3, 2020

In an attempt to replicate the experience of in-office work, many managers new to the remote-work space in 2020 introduced a variety of video calls to replace the casual drop-in conversations of the office itself. While at first these meetings may have been a helpful transition, many people found that they grew tired of staring at a screen of videos with coworkers when there was a lot of work to get done, wishing instead to just send quick emails or messages when they needed something.

However, many involuntary remote workers really missed the office, so these chit-chat check-ins were very helpful and would be sorely missed if they disappeared. How can a manager or team lead help both kinds of remote workers, those who dread video calls and those who look forward to them? The answer lies in creating a differentiated model of checking in with each other for personal and professional goals and making the personal methods a bit more optional while the professional check-ins suit the needs of each worker. Here are some options to consider as you work with your own team remotely.

Make Chit-Chat Meetings Optional or “Happy Hours”

By placing chit-chat calls at the end of the day as an approximation of a workplace happy hour meeting or by making them optional, you gain quite a bit of valuable information. The individuals who show up for these calls may have a variety of reasons for doing so, from getting more face-time with leadership to just needing a bit more social interaction, but you’ll get a better idea of just how much your team wants to informally talk with each other. These meetings should be truly optional, so that even if only one or two of you show up there is no pressure to attend. Once you’ve seen how a couple of them go, aim for the times and/or styles that draw the most people and have the most easy or positive conversation. You can scale frequency up if they are very popular, and down if they are not.

Focus One-on-Ones on Specific Elements of Remote Work or Current Projects

One-on-one meetings can easily devolve into chit-chat without an agenda, making them feel like they may not have needed to happen at all. Boost the relevance of these meetings by coming in with specific questions regarding the ways that remote work changes that person’s day-to-day and questions about sticking points in their current projects. Using past experiences, ask if things are going well, but focus on specific elements to get more complete answers. If some chit-chat happens, that’s fine, but make sure the meeting has some key outcomes and clarity points so that you and your team member both leave the call feeling like you understand where the other person stands in their work.

Send a Gift Card and Have a Short End-of-Project Mini-Celebration and Debrief

A fun in-between, if you want to boost morale without having a long or drawn-out meeting, is to have the equivalent of an end-of-project party by sending everyone a gift card to get their own treat or meal and then having a brief and positive celebration for the end of the project or end of a great quarter. Focus on sharing updates on what went well and what you’d love to see continue in the future, and let people bring up the contributions of their teammates. These calls may naturally be only 10-20 minutes long but let them end organically and let everyone go enjoy their food treat without having to watch each other eat; it’s different from an office celebration, but it gives you a small positivity boost without keeping people stuck on camera for too long.

Opt for Instant-Messaging “Office Hours” Over Video Chats

If your team has indicated that they are burnt out on so many video calls, especially if they are essential for elements of your work that aren’t internal-facing, consider having instant message “office hours,” where you commit to being available in an application like Google Hangouts or Slack to answer questions on-demand, the way you would in a one-on-one video chat. This strategy works well because you won’t usually find that a clamoring group of people all send questions at once. If anything, these office hours are a good “pressure valve” to show that your team is or isn’t getting enough direction and answers from you in other contexts. Of course, if one or more team members bristles at having to type out questions and wishes to talk on the phone or over video, you can still make an exception, especially if you already have that time earmarked to address team concerns.

Use an Asynchronous Prompt for a Quick Check-In or Bonding Moment

For elements more focused on morale building, such as a round-robin question you ask about everyone’s weekends or recent activities outside of work, find a way to “post” this question somewhere that the team can check easily and respond to over time. Ask that everyone try it for a few weeks and promise to remove it if it becomes an onerous additional activity. By letting people post and respond on their own time, rather than gathering all at once, you let people decide when during their day they most want to do something light and conversational, perhaps as a break from more focused work. Of course, every team is different, and some would respond very poorly to an additional, non-task-oriented action item like this. However, teams that typically thrive on the convivial atmosphere in the office might appreciate having this additional mode of communication while still keeping productivity high.

As you can see, there isn’t just one answer to the issue of video chat fatigue, and not every company or workplace is going to need the same level of both work-related and morale-related conversation. By using a variety of modalities and paying attention to the responses you get, you can be part of creating a positive remote work experience that results in high productivity and job satisfaction.