One of the biggest challenges of working with a distributed team is fostering a sense of togetherness. Whether you’re a team member or the person in charge of far-flung employees, getting everybody on the same page is just the start. A few simple conversation starters can leave your team feeling engaged, motivated, and connected.

You can use conversation starters in group conversations with team members, or in one-on-one settings. As noted in an article at Undercover Recruiter about things you can say to motivate your team, managers set the stage as leaders who can inspire the entire team and improve communication by hitting the right note in work conversations.

If you’re looking to boost motivation and energize your team, try out any or all of these six great conversation starters:

1. “How are you doing?”

Seems simple enough, but seriously, how often do you ask this question just as a time-filler—perhaps without genuinely wanting to know the answer? A great way to get a conversation started with employees is to sincerely ask how they’re doing at work, and leave the question open-ended to invite personal input as well. Asking about workload, organizational communication, feedback, team relationships, and other topics can encourage team members to open up and share their thoughts.

2. “What’s your opinion?”

Providing feedback to remote workers isn’t just a one-way street. Make clear to your team members that, as a manager, you care about what they think. Not only do you stand to reinforce the overall strength of your team or your organization, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by what comes up when employees are asked for input and encouraged to think creatively.

3. “What can I or other team members do to help you?”

Conversation starters are especially powerful if you’re working to manage a distributed team. Virtual workers often battle a sense of isolation that comes not only from being physically separate from other team members, but from feeling that they’re shouldering more of the burden for a specific task or project, or, conversely, that they haven’t been given enough to do. The more you reach out to see if help is needed, the better your workers may feel about pitching in or asking to do more.

4. “You’re doing a great job.”

It’s hard to deny the power of praise. As a manager, you’re in the catbird seat when it comes to doling out words of gratitude and glowing compliments to team members who are doing well. Showering praise in an honest way, in situations where it’s well-deserved, works in private settings like a phone call or email, and it also works in more public forums like staff meetings or conference calls. Hard to deny it: everyone likes to feel their talents and contributions are appreciated.

5. “What can we be doing better as a team and a company?”

Sometimes it pays to go “macro”—that is, to look not just at an individual team member’s contributions, but to solicit bigger views from them about how the company’s doing overall. Opening up the discussion by asking what’s going well, and what’s not so great, can be one of the best conversation starters for your team members, because it can lay the groundwork for great brainstorming.

6. “Thank you.”

The more specific you can be in offering thanks for a job well done, the more it shows your team members that you’re paying attention to their accomplishments. Workers who feel their contributions are truly appreciated tend to be happier, more productive, and do higher-quality work. However, keep in mind that being too effusive in your praise can backfire, so make your “thank yous” count by not overdoing them.

Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com

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