Is Isolation Killing Your Remote Team’s Ability to Perform Well?


Feeling cut off and isolated is a real issue for many remote teams. As leaders, it’s something that we really can’t ignore. One big benefit of being in an office with other people was the casual chats and quick check-ins that naturally happened. For instance, there’s those times when you were just passing by someone in the hallway, popping your head around the corner of their cubicle, or grabbing a quick lunch together. Now – working remotely, team members can start to feel lonely and disconnected from each other and the work itself, very quickly.

Therefore, tackling this isolation means getting to the heart of what makes a team feel connected, even when they’re miles apart. And...hint, hint…It’s not about just scheduling more video calls. Instead, it’s about helping your remote team create genuine bonds and making sure everyone feels part of the team.

Understanding the Signs of Someone Struggling With Isolation

In the remote work setup, isolation doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere. There are some definitive signs that can alert you that it’s starting to rear its ugly head. And, it’s not really about being separated physically, in and of itself. It’s more that the physical distance becomes the foundation for creating emotional distance — if we’re not careful.

You can begin to recognize it’s happening when you have a remote team member who’s quieter than usual during meetings. They may be one who’s slow to respond to messages, or maybe they’re just not turning their camera on anymore. It’s less about physical alone time and more about feeling detached, unseen, or unsupported – so then they start to exhibit behaviors that reflect those feelings.

This type of isolation can subtly erode a team’s spirit and energy. It shows up in missed deadlines, decreased creativity, or overall they just aren’t engaging much. These are not just individual issues but are symptoms of a larger problem affecting the collective group.

Forgive me while I get a little “woo” here – but it’s important to understand that as an effective leader you’ll need to see beyond the surface. You’ll need to understand that emotional disconnection requires more than just a technological fix. It calls for a compassionate, tailored approach that respects individual needs while fostering a shared sense of purpose. It’s creating an environment where every team member feels safe to share their thoughts and feelings in a ‘virtual empathy’ way that will show there’s understanding and support through screens and across miles.

Here’s Some Innovative Ideas for Overcoming That Feeling of Isolation

Casual catchups are a great way to get people over that feeling of disconnectedness that comes with working in isolation. Here are three practical, easy ideas that you can begin to put in place quickly.

Virtual Coffee Breaks.

Set aside open office hours each week where team members can hop on a video call without a set agenda. Envision this being similar to how they might meet up in the break room at the office, over coffee. Use tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams to open these sessions. The session doesn’t need to be moderated. It just needs someone on the team to start it, and then come back and shut it down at the end of that time block. Team members can bring their favorite beverage, their favorite child, or their favorite fur-baby – and just talk about their weekend, or bash on a movie that they just watched that was horrible but they stayed to the end, anyway!

Themed Chat Rooms.

If your team doesn’t want to be on video, you can create chat rooms in tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. You can setup themes like hobbies, pet tips, kids, movies, books…and on and on. Get your team involved in deciding 3 – 5 themes. It will be important to also come up with ways to consistently encourage them so it all doesn’t die a quick death. One good way to facilitate this is to send a note out randomly during the day or week and say – “Hey…meeting up at the water cooler in 5. Join us if you have a few minutes!” It’s spontaneous and can create some excitement.

Virtual Games and Activities.

I used to work for a company where, randomly during the middle of the day everyone would just run out back of the building and shoot off a potato cannon. We’d just get a wild hair because a project was getting tense, and we’d take 30-minutes to go and blow off some steam. Here, you and your team can get really imaginative and innovative in how you could incorporate fun, intense and steam releasing activities in a virtual environment. You could do anything from Virtual Talent Shows / Improv, to Online Workouts, to Lightening Debates / Trivia Challenges. The sky really is the limit. The goal is to have ways that together you can team build in fun, exciting and impactful ways.

Now…go and create that connectedness that will virtually eliminate your remote team’s struggles with isolation. Cheers!

Check out my post on the Parable of the Fish & the Leader

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