The draw of a remote-first company is more than just the flexibility to work from anywhere. While that’s huge for many employees, remote companies tend to be leaders in other key areas of business, too. You’re signaling to top talent that you offer an innovative culture as a whole.
Company leaders have to get deliberate, though—or employees can fall into silos, focused only on the tasks at hand. Be purposeful about your company’s culture and you can ensure a productive, happy work environment.
Here are five ways to help staff feel connected, no matter where they are when they work.
Make Space for Serendipity
Working in a physical office makes it easy to catch a colleague in the hall or pass their office on the way to a meeting. During one of our recent virtual workshops on remote leadership, one attendee called these moments “organic breaks”—natural mental pauses in the day.
There’s another benefit to these unstructured moments: the potential for serendipity. By making space in the day, you allow new ideas, inspiration, a-ha moments, or conversations that lead to unexpectedly interesting places.
Granted, not every walk down a hallway leads to an amazing breakthrough. But the watercooler effect is valuable. Give employees time to think, free-associate, share inspo, socialize, or chat one-on-one.
This type of serendipity can be found in Action Learning Associate’s leadership workshops. In a virtual world powered by Virbela, Action Learning utilizes networking and socialization to enhance the participant experience.
Encourage Transparency to Build Community
From a business perspective, maintaining transparency generates trust. When you keep employees in the loop, they feel like they’re part of a culture that values them.
Transparency can show up differently across organizations. For instance, regulated or confidential client information might not be available to everyone, but leaders can still find ways to bring employees into the fold. Talk about key initiatives or projects that are percolating in senior offices, instead.
On the community front, simple gestures or gatherings can go a long way. Leaders can model or encourage behavior to let employees feel confident and connected:
- Build time for small talk into meetings. You can chat with people about a home improvement project, a pet, or an interesting news item. Start by sharing your own anecdote to get a temperature check on how personal employees want to be.
- Set up optional events, like a Zoom happy hour or watching a video together at the same time. Bring in fun or useful virtual presenters, like a comedian or a nutritionist.
- Give teams a chance to develop their own ways to connect. Maybe they have a fantasy football league or a wickedly humorous meme channel on Slack. Colleagues who have fun together can accomplish a lot for your company.
Support Open Collaboration
Open up paths for collaboration while increasing transparency with a few ways to build teamwork or expose employees to work from different departments. By setting simple expectations, everyone feels comfortable diving into documents, Slack channels, and more.
- Schedule regular 1:1s with your team members, so you can hear their updates, feedback, needs, and ideas in a private setting that can foster trust and camaraderie.
- Create internal communication protocols so employees know the drill when it comes to which channels to use and what response times different matters require.
- Build a culture of working in the open. For example, whenever possible, post your work in places where anyone on the team can see—and weigh in if they want. Some places might be on Slack, your team’s Wiki, or in project management software.
- Create a watercooler channel in Slack where employees can share shoutouts, great work, relevant links, memes, jokes, big ideas, and more.
Open collaboration is a key benefit for real estate agents at eXp Realty, who utilize their virtual campus eXp World to attend masterminds, brainstorms, and training courses from around the world.
Share Experiences from Anywhere
In a physical office, coworkers build trust by spending time together. The organic nature of being around each other does the trick. But in a remote setting, leaders need to take advantage of technology to create shared experiences.
Using software can do a lot to replace face-to-face interactions. First, many companies use video meetings, where staff can see each other. Then, instant notifications and real-time conversation on platforms like Slack help form relationships.
In a virtual office, employees get the same real-time conversations they're used to in a physical space—without the video fatigue. They're spending time together the same way they would in a physical space, too. Virbela client Riley Consulting utilizes branded spaces, personal offices, breakout rooms and boardrooms to enable consultants to join meetings, have private discussions, or enjoy some quiet time to concentrate on their work.
Those simple activities, like virtually walking together to meetings or hanging out in a virtual courtyard, let colleagues get to know each other and create better work together, while staying remote.
Schedule team-building experiences to enhance relationships further. Many companies are turning to virtual retreats. Employees can join from anywhere in the world and take part in activities, games, and breakout sessions.
Promote Work-Life Balance
Even alongside your best intentions as a leader, your employees need a healthy work-life balance in order to be their best on the job. Help them take the reins to create a life that works for them by encouraging them to balance their career responsibilities as needed.
This isn't an invitation to get overly involved in people's lives. Rather, by knowing when to step back and show trust, your employees will get the message: They matter as individuals.
The balance is one of the main value propositions of remote work. Your company is likely to attract and retain whoever is best for any given role, based on how supportive you can be.
Basic acts of consideration set the tone: Limit standing meetings or schedule them to fit into different time zones, for instance.
Pay attention to what people need on a case-by-case basis. For example, burnout, unfortunately, is real. If one person on a team is burnt out, others probably are, too.
People who are burnt out might be afraid to say so. They don't want to lose their jobs or let down their teammates.
But you can mitigate the risk of burnout or help restore balance to those who are already there by maintaining open channels of communication and creating a healthy environment overall.
Show your teams that work can be a meaningful part of their lives by cultivating a culture that makes space for them to be their best selves everyday.
For more on how to build remote workforces or manage teams from anywhere, follow Virbela on LinkedIn.