Building community within a company is crucial to success. Now more than ever, with some teams being a mix of office and remote work. 43% of people surveyed by Gallup in 2016 say they spend some portion of time working remotely. And while employees are excited about the opportunities, remote working can bring a feeling of disconnect because of the distance.
Employees work harder when they feel connected to their peers, and their values align with the companies. As a manager, here are three ways I created community virtually for a team of remote workers.
1. Build Relationships As You Would In Person
Online relationships shouldn’t be different than building relationships in-person. When I managed a team of 30 employees remotely, I met with them weekly via Zoom. Initially, I prioritized getting to know my team better by asking them personal questions: hobbies, strengths, career aspirations, etc.
It’s crucial to build a strong foundation relationally before demanding results. If the goal is to connect better, think back to how you cultivated your closest friendships.
Listening, spending quality time and finding common interests is a great foundation. If you usually talk on the phone or message, try video chatting every once in a while. 90% of communication is done non-verbally so not seeing the other person’s face or body language can cause frequent miscommunication. Imagine going to grab coffee with your virtual co-worker. Personal conversations such as your last vacation or what did you did this past weekend make people feel more bonded over work. The gap in location closes when each party makes an effort to open up and genuinely attempt to get to know each other better. As a manager, be willing to open up about your personal life. Lead by example.
2. Create a Virtual Water Cooler
There are several pros to working from home, but over time it’s hard not to feel isolated. To fight the feeling of disconnect, create a virtual water cooler. For example, I set up a Slack channel for my team with different ‘rooms’ where people could communicate. This essentially replaces email while feeling more fun and inclusive than receiving a group e-blast.
At first, it took some time to generate conversation, but once we built momentum, people tended to chime in. Conversations ranged from current work projects to hobbies.
One of the best moves I made as a manager was to step back once the participation picked up so the team could take ownership of the platform. From a management standpoint, it’s important to keep the participation voluntary. The goal here is to keep the conversations going between work-based interactions, but if it becomes mandatory to participate, you can lose trust.
3. Resist Micromanaging
One of the main reasons why you hire remote workers is to widen the talent pool. Technology allows us to recruit the best talent regardless of location. Since trust is foundational to remote work, start by celebrating individual strengths and differences. By creating profiles and keeping notes during my weekly meetings with my team, I stayed current with their milestones and challenges.
In a remote environment, it’s tempting to hold the reins tight. Instead focus more on the outcome.
If you hire correctly, the chances are that people working for your company are there because they produce results. Many times in the workplace we allow style conflict to derail us from the mission ahead, but as long as the job gets done who cares how it was accomplished? There were several instances where I didn’t agree with how my team chose to finish a task, but as long as they completed the work, I accepted it. People don’t leave companies; they leave managers primarily because of micromanagement. A manager’s role is to bring out the best in their people by giving them the resources to do their job effectively.
I challenged my team to think beyond their current role. Where did they want to see themselves five years from now? How does this position align with their career goals? When employees feel invested in, they do their best work. Keep people motivated by giving them clear objectives then holding them accountable for tasks completed.
Building community virtually is challenging, but virtual workers are the reality of today’s economy. We all want to belong and thrive at work, and if done right your company’s virtual culture can not only achieve this but also be your greatest recruiting and retention tool. If you want to learn more about becoming a ditigal nomad, check out this extensive how-to guide.
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