If I offered you a job that would allow you to live anywhere you wanted, where you could wake up and start work at any time, and never be stuck in traffic… would that check some of the boxes on your dream job list? It did for me, which is why I quit HR and started working remotely as a travel blogger.
Yes, remote working allowed me to do laundry in the middle of the day and best of all, ditch Canadian winters, but I was left with the feeling of being alone and isolated without a sense of community. I wasn’t the only one experiencing these feelings. Nowadays, remote workers are literally paying to work in an office by purchasing memberships to coworking spaces! It’s easy to build connections with colleagues when you’re in an office, but it can feel like you are wasting someone’s time if your only reason for messaging them is to talk to them about the season finale of Game of Thrones. No matter how meaningless these water cooler conversations may seem, they’re still important to get to know others on a personal level, grow relationships and establish trust.
The International Workplace Group (IWG) conducted a study at the start of 2019 where they found that over 50% of people worldwide are working outside their office for at least half the week. The option to work remotely not only attracts key talent but is also a requirement for many job seekers. By 2020, millennials (those aged 23-34) are expected to make up half of the global workforce and according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), they may not even consider a job unless remote working is an option. Whether employees are working remotely part-time or full-time, we all need to embrace this global trend.
But besides providing your employees a laptop, having meetings with video calls and sending good morning GIFs, what are we really doing to make our remote employees feel connected to the company? It’s time organizations take on the heavy lifting by building initiatives into their business strategies that will help our remote workforce stay connected and engaged. I’ve now since returned to HR where my new role is just that, so let me share with you my top 22 ways on how to make remote work, work.
Create a Culture of Belonging
Sociologists have described people who feel like they are excluded as being part of an out group. When you’re in the out group, you know that you’re on the outside and if you are working remotely, it often can feel like out of sight, out of mind. No one wants to feel this way. To help prevent it from happening in the workplace, you can teach inclusion habits.
- Just because your employees are working remotely doesn’t mean they should never have the opportunity to connect with their colleagues in person. At Pythian, we fly all our new hires out for an action-packed week of activities which we call BORG (bringing on recruited gurus) which helps them get to know one another better and build relationships.
- Give a warm welcome to your new hire. Using tools like kudoboard, you can create a digital card with your team members which can include messages with photos, videos, and GIFs.
- Pair your new hire with a remote buddy. This buddy doesn’t need to be on their team or even the same department. They just need to be willing to offer advice and answer questions on the company culture, workplace norms and working remotely.
- Use instant messaging platforms like Slack where new hires can ask questions and participate in conversations with global peers.
- Rotate your team meeting times if employees are in different time zones.
- Have everyone go on video whether they are in the office or not.
- Designate someone as a facilitator to watch for moments when employees on video want to speak.
- Call on remote employees first during meetings.
- Get into the routine of round-robin sharing where each person gets an opportunity to share their thoughts.
When you aren’t in the office, it’s a lot more difficult to receive a spontaneous great job.
- Create a scalable culture of recognition that will allow you in real-time to give shout outs. Open a #kudos slack channel, create a shoutouts section in your company newsletter, or talk about how a team member wowed you at your next all-hands.
- Invest in a platform that rewards employees by digitally sending gifts. Companies like Bonusly or Snappy Gifts allow employees to actually choose how they want to be rewarded making the recognition more meaningful.
Build Psychological Safety. It’s at the heart of employee engagement.
In a study referred to as Project Aristotle, Google spent two years learning what makes the perfect team. Turns out it’s not putting the most talented individuals together or a group of people who really get along with one another. What’s most dependant on a team’s success is whether or not there’s psychological safety. This means creating an environment where employees feel like they can be vulnerable with each other. Google found when employees felt like they can openly share their ideas, try something and fail, or voice their disagreement, their teams saw higher levels of motivation and better performance. So when it comes to remote teams, here’s how you can build psychological safety:
Start at the executive level.
Encourage your senior leaders to engage with employees through video.
- If you have a company newsletter, have your CEO give a video update on what’s new.
- At Pythian, we’re big fans of online Fireside Chats. In a webinar or video call platform, everyone in the entire company joins our senior leaders online for an informal discussion. We also save the last 30 minutes for Q&A where our employees can ask any question to our senior leaders, which is very popular.
On a manager level, if you can’t see your employees, it’s a lot more difficult to recognize the signs when they’re struggling and disengaged.
That’s why having regular one-to-ones are critical and an important aspect for you as a manager in building that psychological safety.
- Leverage people management platforms such as 15Five, Culture Amp, and Lattice that facilitate continuous feedback between leaders and their team members.
- Onsite employees will often pop into their manager’s office to ask questions throughout the week. That’s why you need to dedicate more time for your one-to-ones with remote team members.
- Never cancel a meeting. We understand that emergencies do occur so if you absolutely can’t make it to a one-to-one meeting, make sure to reschedule for an alternative time.
- Ask questions that will get your team members to open up about their remote work experience such as, “Are you fully disconnecting at the end of the day?” or “Do you feel like a full member of the team?”
On an employee level, creating bonding opportunities.
- Open fun topic channels on internal instant messaging platforms to create those “water cooler moments” remotely. At Pythian, sharing pet photos on Slack is very popular.
- Tap into your employees’ passions and encourage them to share their knowledge with peer-to-peer learning. You can facilitate this as a lunch and learn, social hour or whatever else may work for your company. One of my favorite peer learning moments is Geek Week where we talk about all things geeky and show off our pride in geek costumes.
Share stories to cultivate empathy & understanding
In a study conducted by Paul J Zak and his team, they found that when the neurochemical oxytocin is produced in our brains, it motivates us to cooperate with others by enhancing our sense of empathy. We can ‘hack’ our brains into producing oxytocin by telling stories:
- Pair employees to meet up using tools like donut which helps to foster personal connections across the business.
- At Pythian, we also have weekly interview features and do a spinoff of MTV cribs which we call Pythian Workspace Tours where our global employees show us on video where they live and work.
- Create clubs in the workplace where employees champion different causes and interests relevant to them. At Pythian, we created the Pythia Program which is about finding, retaining and advancing the top female minds in tech to increase the diversity of our talent base.
There you have it, 22 ways to engage your remote teams! Just remember – what it all comes down to is remembering to bring out the human side with our distributed teams. If there’s something you’re doing differently that works well for your distributed teams, please share it in the comments below.
Btw, we are hiring! Be a part of our amazing team. Apply here.
Interested in working for Pythian? Check out our open positions.