To some degree, employees working from home is here to stay for the foreseeable future. As leadership teams move on from the initial concerns of VPN connections and transitioning in-person meetings to video, another question presents itself: How do we maintain our collaboration and company culture with a remote workforce when not all of us are in each other’s company?
Here are some ideas on how to rethink community and culture-building when employees aren’t in the office:
1. Leave no employee behind
Employees who are new to remote work, especially if they’re new to the company, may find it harder to build relationships with coworkers while working from home. And when workers are isolated, they’re more likely to feel on their own and lose sight of their purpose at work.
With some effort, however, your company can still foster a sense of belonging and purpose. Replace typical water cooler moments of interaction with meetups through other means. At WellRight, we encourage employees to set up one 15-minute meeting with a coworker every day—even if it’s just to shoot the breeze. Teams can have daily meetings just to check in and find out how everybody’s doing, what they’re working on, and even what shows or podcasts they’ve taken in that week. Start every meeting with your remote workforce by going around the circle so everyone can shine.
2. Connect creatively
Participating in virtual meetings all day can get tedious, making it difficult to keep engagement high. Consider implementing a wellness challenge like “Walkie-Talkie,” which encourages outdoor walking meetings that can be done physically together (masked and socially distanced), or virtually (via conference call and earbuds). Virtual lunches are another great idea—recreate the breakroom via video chat and catch up on work or non-work conversations.
You can also initiate work-facilitated sessions that can help your remote workforce connect in a creative way. This fall, WellRight is kicking off a monthly, company-wide virtual cooking class. Each class will start at three in the afternoon, with an employee or chef teaching us how to cook a specific meal. This activity takes a standard daily chore (planning and cooking supper for your family) and turns it into a fun activity the whole team can do together.
3. Collaborate with purpose
Your remote workforce won’t be running into each other in the hall, so keeping ideas and information flowing must be more intentional and responsive. At the beginning of the crisis, we upped the frequency of our all-hands meetings to weekly, to ensure nothing fell through the cracks. The agenda of these meetings has also become more structured over time, with a presentation deck, essential topics, and maybe a guest speaker for a pertinent issue. These top-down, information-sharing meetings are critical to keep your employees in the know.
It’s also important to break out of the team bubble with cross-functional activities between different departments. This type of collaboration broadens your remote workforce’s horizons and can spark innovative ideas.
Technology is also a powerful enabler of more intentional teamwork. For example, using Google Docs where everyone can contribute and see each other’s edits in real time can help maintain the sense of teamwork even when employees aren’t talking directly. Other platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams can be used in tandem to enable conversations on specific topics that everyone can see and participate in. It’s important to use technology to your advantage to make employees’ jobs—and lives—easier.
4. Offer full support for your remote workforce
Leading a remote workforce calls for a different management style and a shift away from a “chained to your desk” culture, focusing instead on accountability and deliverables. Managers can’t be worried about whether somebody is sitting at their desk for an uninterrupted eight-hour stretch. Instead, spend the time to get clear on what needs to get done and give employees autonomy and flexibility in how they manage their schedules and workloads.
One-on-one check-ins, whether it’s a phone call, chat, or video call, are a good time to answer questions, address issues, and come into alignment on what needs to get done.
And as it turns out, great things happen when businesses trust employees to get the job done: A recent survey found a 47% increase in productivity since workers have been at home.
5. Combat stress in challenging times
With all the ways in which companies and employees have been trying to keep on with “business as usual,” it’s important to remember that employees are likely experiencing much higher levels of stress, whether from health concerns, economic worries, or the struggle of balancing full-time work with childcare and homeschooling. As such, it’s important for managers to stay alert to signs of stress in their remote workforce.
Keep in mind that mental wellness exists on a spectrum. So, even if employees aren’t feeling the classic symptoms of anxiety or depression, they would likely still benefit from some support. An important first step is to de-stigmatize talking about our emotions, concerns, fears, and struggles. The fact we’re in a pandemic may even help; this isn’t a personal problem, it’s global. We’re all feeling the effects and we should be able to talk about it.
A wellness program can help employees develop habits that improve their emotional health and coping skills. Companies can even bolster employee mental health by providing access to one-on-one coaching services. This proactive approach helps employees build resiliency, so over time they won’t experience such low morale, and if they do, they can bounce back faster.
Another way to mitigate stress is by giving your remote workforce a chance to make a difference in someone else’s life. Group volunteering can improve mental and social wellness while imparting a sense of community and purpose. Even in these socially distanced times, there are volunteering opportunities for remote teams: Employees can help non-profit organizations with pro bono marketing work, can assist the visually impaired from their phone, or can make calls to nursing home patients as a friendly voice on the phone.
Build culture with the right tools
Remote work has highlighted the importance of reliable and intuitive technology that can help employees connect with each other, collaborate on projects, and get the job done. When companies have an equally reliable and intuitive wellness program platform, it becomes much easier to support employees as they tackle the many challenges and opportunities that come with the remote workplace.
By combining flexibility, empathy, clear communication, and the right technology, your remote workforce can feel the support of their office “family,” no matter how far apart they are.
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