Remote work has been on the rise. Recent statistics show that 91% more workers do their work remotely compared to the previous decade in the U.S. It is no longer a rare company perk, but instead a fundamental one that offers a flexible lifestyle. It’s safe to say that it is becoming the new norm for most businesses.
As more companies have people work remotely, they quickly find out that it comes with new challenges for both managers and employees. With the teams communicating digitally, it can become difficult to maintain a strong, engaged company culture. Employees also claim that loneliness and lack of collaborative communication are among one of the biggest challenges of working remotely.
Fortunately, building a better remote work culture can easily be achieved with the right approach. Some remote-first or remote-only companies have been at it for years and have figured out how to achieve a strong work culture with distributed teams all over the world.
Below are four ways to keep your teams engaged while working online and what methods other remote companies have to stay on top of their game.
1. Virtual Social Hours
The social aspect in the workplace is very important. It’s the best way to get to know your colleagues compared to communicating exclusively about work. But when you’re not physically together, this is often forgotten. Experienced remote organizations have started hosting their own virtual social hours, such as happy hours, lunches, or dinners over Zoom calls.
Canva, a graphic design company headquartered in Australia stated that keeping their employees engaged and socially active while working remotely is an integral part of their culture.
Having virtual social hours is one of their ways to keep the culture alive. During the COVID19 outbreak, they have developed a virtual “Friday Night Drinks” which features live performances. As a side effect, they also support the local entertainment industry that has recently been affected by the pandemic.
2. Online Gamification
While playing online games has nothing to do with the workplace, it can be a unique opportunity to let remote teams bond. This concept can stimulate teamwork in different ways.
Clevertech is a company that embraces gamification as a strategy to lower their employee turnover rate. They found that this approach worked out best after experimenting with several others. It helped teams, who had never met in person, to collaborate in a different setting to solve problems.
The company also highlights that they let employees play online games during work hours, so it doesn’t feel like an obligation. It organically became a shared part of Clevertech’s culture. The company has seen an increased level of productivity and engagement and lower employee turnover.
3. Virtual Break-time Chatter Channel
The ideal remote workers are self-sufficient; but they are still humans that need human interactions. Providing a tool that helps to start these interactions can give your team a chance to bond with each other over mutual interests or ideas. When working digitally, those interactions are usually much less common compared to when working in an office.
Revelry, a 100% remote company - organizes all their work conversations and project planning in Slack. Since Slack is their virtual office, they realized that it needs an additional channel for break-time chatter.
Earth Innovation Institute (EII) is an environmental NGO headquartered in San Francisco and with regional teams spread out across multiple parts of the world. They have recently improved their internal communication by using an online platform to share information.
Nindita Hapsari, an Indonesian representative of EII, told us about her first few months while working remotely.
“At first, I felt lonely and disconnected to others. Previously, I used to work in an office and this gave me the feeling I was part of my team and the company. Adjusting to remote work was a pretty big deal. It was hard to get a quick response from others, and I missed having informal conversations that I used to have with co-workers in a physical office.”
To improve internal communication and strengthen the bonds between the staff members, EII decided to make a Facebook group called “Watercooler Chat”. Here they can share non-work related updates to others such as pictures of their pets and places they visited last weekend. It had a big positive effect on the mental wellbeing of the team members, as well as on the work itself.
4. Virtual Paired Buddy Program
It’s pretty common for remote companies to have an onboarding program, during which new hires are matched with a more senior colleague. Help Scout, a remote company with 80 employees, has a program called “Work Best Friend” to help new hires adapt to their new work environment. Automattic, another remote company, has a mix of self-guided training and buddy feedback for new hires.
Not only does it add value to the onboarding process, but it’s also a fun way for employees to interact socially with other departments. Zapier uses a random pairing system within their online workspace for this purpose. It encourages employees to be paired randomly to others from different departments to get to know each other, and the company itself, better.
When your company works remotely, building a collaborative company culture can be difficult and won’t happen without some effort. It’s important to provide the right tools and take the right steps. We’ve talked about virtual social hours, gaming sessions, a dedicated place for non-work chatter and pairing systems. We hope there will be something that you think can benefit your company or team!