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12 Ways to Cultivate Community Among Remote Teams

Employees don’t just want to clock in, clock out, and collect their paychecks. They want to be part of something meaningful so that they know their time spent working is worthwhile. To help employees find more meaning in their jobs, consider these tips for how to cultivate community among your remote teams.


Why Cultivate Community Among Remote Teams?

There’s a big difference between having coworkers and being part of a community. Coworkers are people who share business resources to complete tasks and earn paychecks. They may work together on projects, but collaboration doesn’t necessarily imply camaraderie. Community, on the other hand, is all about connection, sharing a vision, and performing impactful work as a cohesive team.

What Does It Mean to “Feel Connected”?

Connection is a basic human need. Clinical psychologist Diane Grande, Ph.D., defines “feeling connected” as “feeling in touch with someone who cares about us.” Though employees may not need their coworkers to care for them in the same capacity as their family members and close friends, they still want to know that they matter. They want to feel like they are part of the whole and connected to something impactful. In fact, a sense of connection is one of the top 10 things job seekers want from their employers.

Now, you may think that remote work environments easily stifle connection and community building, since telecommuters don’t interact in person. However, sharing an office with coworkers and having face-to-face interactions are unnecessary for developing trust, respect, and open communication. In the age of text messaging, social media, and video conferencing, employees can interact in more convenient, effective, and unbiased ways. For example, telecommuting can prevent workplace discrimination among team members and encourage individuals with disabilities to join or remain in the workforce. Therefore, remote communication platforms help teams nurture diversity and develop respectful, professional relationships.

How Does Community Improve Business?

Businesses benefit immensely when their remote teams feel a sense of community within the company. Some specific benefits include:

  • Greater employee retention
  • Reduced workplace conflict
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased innovation and collaboration
  • Better customer service

Happy employees make companies better. So, it behooves you to entertain your employees’ need for connection and community in order to strengthen and grow your business from the inside out.

12 Ways to Cultivate Community Among Remote Teams

Creating a sense of community is more than developing a company culture. As Inc. author Jeff Haden learned from Claudia Fry, the VP of People at FiveStars, “a culture is imposed. It’s established by the company and employees are expected to be a part of it, to participate, even if it doesn’t fit their style or personality. Culture is about the company, and how you as an employee fit within it.” In contrast, Fry stated that “community is the manifestation of the people within it, guided by the company values.”

Therefore, to foster community instead enforcing company culture, businesses need to empower their employees to develop a community from the ground up. However, business leaders can offer platforms and communication channels to encourage organic community building and relationship development.

Here are 12 examples of how you can encourage team members to connect based on their interests and personalities.

1. Inside Jokes

As Harvard Business Review author Alison Beard put, “Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.”

Incorporate appropriate humor into meetings, emails, and message feeds. Share “inside jokes” that only people in the industry or company understand. Inside jokes are exclusive, which helps create bonds among team members.

2. Show and Tell

Some employees like to keep their personal lives separate from their professional lives. However, for those who enjoy learning about others and sharing their personal interests, dedicate an online space for casual discussion and show-and-tell.

For example, an employee who is working on a home improvement project may want to share before and after photos. The employee may also want to ask coworkers for advice on paint colors, lighting fixtures, or adding extra storage space. Create an online space specifically for conversations like this so that team members can share knowledge and help each other solve problems outside of work.

3. Virtual Parties

Consider hosting an annual virtual party in the summer or around the holidays to showcase achievements and share fun stories from the year. Give everyone some video time to show their face, say a few words, and remind everyone that they are an actual, physical human. To really impress your team, send everyone a party gift, such as a fruit basket or home office gadget, in the mail before the event.

3. Games

Challenge each other to a duel! Okay, not really. But why not take a break and have some fun playing games against each other? For example, have team members download Trivia Crack and pair up employees for tournaments. Post results online and give the tournament winner a small prize like a five-dollar Starbucks gift card.

4. Volunteer Opportunities

Consider allowing employees to log a few hours of volunteering in their timesheets to encourage people to support their local communities. For example, suggest fun Earth Week activities that work-at-home parents can do with their families, and let them earn work credit for their effort. Create a Slack channel or host a call a few days after an event to share stories and talk about ways the company can give back.

To accommodate employees who can’t physically volunteer, but want to make monetary contributions, consider pooling money together every year and donating to an organization like:

  • Adopt a Family Association
  • Feeding America
  • American Red Cross
  • Make-A-Wish Foundation

Philanthropic activities help employees bond and express kindness and gratitude. Plus, they allow businesses to implement social responsibility plans and demonstrate concern for the greater good.

5. Community Races

There are dozens of running, biking, and swimming races that support various health conditions and social injustices. Sign up your employees to participate in a national race located in their city, such as:

  • Race for the Cure
  • Walk MS
  • ASL SuperHero Dash
  • Heart Walk

Organized races help employees feel connected to something bigger. They also encourage outdoor activities and exercise, which can help reduce health risks from sitting at a desk all day.

6. Newsletter or Email

Regular communication is essential for remote teams. Create a newsletter or email template and commit to distributing a new issue monthly (or more frequently, if desired). Recruit a few team members to provide content to disperse the responsibility. Also, automate as much as possible for efficiency and to prevent burnout. Include items like:

  • Recent employee and business accomplishments
  • What’s coming up next
  • Upcoming employee events and activities
  • Important company announcements
  • Funny GIFs or work-related cartoons (don’t forget to leave room for humor!)

Get feedback from team members on the content, layout, and frequency. If employees love the newsletters, keep up the effort. If they never read it, consider retiring this form of communication and rely on other platforms.

7. Send Birthday Wishes

Birthdays are the perfect time to acknowledge employees and send a message of gratitude. Depending on the size of your team and your budget, consider sending a small gift in the mail, a hand-written card, or gift card through email. At the least, post a shout-out online or through email and let the whole team chime in to congratulate employees on making it another year. If you’re feeling extra generous, consider offering a paid holiday to everyone on their birthday to show your appreciation and encourage your employees to celebrate themselves.

8. Skill Sharing Sessions

Your team probably consists of people with different sets of skills. Maybe you have a web developer, writer, business manager, sales representative, and an accountant. Pair everybody up over the course of a year and have them spend an hour teaching each other how to perform a task or how their jobs relate. For example, when your web developer pairs up with your sales rep, they can discuss how design affects marketability. When your writer pairs up with your accountant, they can swap research, analysis, and reporting tips. Such sessions may spark new ideas, create more consistency among departments, and strengthen your workforce overall.

9. Local Meetups

If you have a headquarters, call local employees into the office on occasion for creative brainstorming sessions or lunch training. If you are an entirely virtual company, consider sponsoring local meetups in major cities near where your employees reside. You might even plan an annual in-person workshop or training, depending on the size of your team and budget.

10. Industry Conferences

Instead of planning your own internal event, take advantage of the hundreds of national and international professionals conferences hosted throughout the year. Allow your employees to attend a conference relevant to your industry so that they can learn, network, and have fun together.

If your budget is tight and your team members do not wish to travel, you can register your employees for virtual conferences and hold post-workshop calls on how to apply lessons learned to their daily workflow.

11. Co-working Spaces

Sometimes people just need to be around other people – any people – to feel an overall sense of connection, which trickles into other aspects of their personal and professional lives. For employees who enjoy working around others, consider offering co-working space reimbursements to encourage team members to network with other professionals. Co-working spaces are also great places to meet tech-oriented people and potentially discover partnerships and clients.

12. Respect Different Personality Types

Everyone’s need for connection falls along a spectrum, and not everyone desires strong relationships with coworkers. For example, extroverts might feel a sense of shock when they first start working from home and want to participate in any and all team building efforts. Meanwhile, more introverted employees may feel a sense of relief from telecommuting and need some time before they engage in team activities.

Don’t force people to participate but encourage them to chime in whenever they feel the time is right. Some people would rather observe than partake. Depending on the job, not having to participate in office events and chatter may be a telecommuting perk!

Find the Right People for Your Team at Virtual Vocations

You can host the most amazing company event in the universe, but if you don’t hire the right people, the party won’t last. Find the right telecommute talent for your company within the Virtual Vocations community. Register your company through our Employer Portal and work directly with our Employer Relations Team to get your company profile and job postings listed in our database.

Have you used creative strategies to cultivate community among your remote teamsConnect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to share your tips. We’d love to hear from you! 

Photo Credit: 1. iStock.com/aelitta

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