Missing Out on Water-Cooler Talk: How to Keep Communication Going Both Ways When You Work Remote

Microwaving some mac and cheese while your colleagues are all out having a team birthday lunch is a bummer. It doesn’t matter if your coworkers simply forgot to include you in project planning or if it was a more intentional snub, being left out is one of the most difficult parts of working from home.

It tends to balance out in the long run, you may tell yourself. After all, when you work from home you can have your dogs with you in your office, or catch up on your favorite program while answering email; your office-bound colleagues, meanwhile, get to bond over impromptu Nerf volleyball games and water-cooler talk.

There are times, though, that that balance feels a little off. I once had a short-term supervisor who refused to have videoconferences with remote employees. In fact, he would rarely talk over the phone or use email, and I never saw him in our group chat list. He was a “wanderer” − his way of managing was wandering among the cubicles and offices throughout the day, occasionally meeting in his office with members of his team or taking coworkers out to lunch.

It was unsettling. My supervisor never told me this directly, but his refusal to communicate said, in essence, that I was not important to the team or the company. Out of sight, out of mind.

Thankfully, videoconferencing and instant messaging were second nature to the rest of my coworkers. Whether we were in the office together or thousands of miles apart, we used group instant-messaging and videoconferencing every day, throughout the day. I was fortunate I could count on them to keep me in the loop. It wasn’t strange or uncomfortable for nearly anyone to turn on his or her web cam and “bring me in” to an impromptu meeting.

For them, working with remote workers was just the same as working with someone in the next office. It worked because they were willing to go more than halfway.

What can you do if you fall victim to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind treatment?

Take control. Rather than lamenting that your colleagues don’t call you, call them. Set up regular videoconference check-ins with coworkers. Become one of the volunteer social directors and use GoToMeeting to plan birthday parties, work anniversaries or other “water-cooler events.”

Get help. Invite a coworker who embraces videoconferencing to join any (non-confidential) meeting along with a coworker who avoids using the technology.

Go to the office. Making trips to the home office may be difficult and inconvenient, especially if it’s a long trip and your company won’t pay for your transport. But when you can, try to get to the office once in a while so you can meet with colleagues face to face. Even those of us who are die-hard remote workers would tend to agree that the occasional face-to-face meeting can strengthen almost any working relationship.

Remember, if they won’t bring the water cooler to you, bring it to them. And bring your dogs.

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