Six tips on how to build community when you’re working remotely
How many people do you know who worked remotely 10 years ago? How about now? Are you one of them?
These days, working remotely isn’t so unusual. According to recent survey data, at least 3.9 million Americans – or nearly 3 percent of the total U.S. workforce – work from home at least half the time. Or perhaps they log their office hours at a coworking space like WeWork, which provides shared office spaces in 77 cities across 23 countries.
Either way, it’s safe to say that where we work – and how we work – has changed dramatically. Why? Well, technology plays a huge part. Many of us only need a power source and a WiFi network to get our jobs done, and we can find that pretty much anywhere. Also, the rising cost of renting office space, along with all the expenses that go with it, has made working remotely a more popular option.
But one element that tends to be missing in the conversation about working remotely is how it impacts company culture. If there’s no physical space to gather in, how do we create connections? Can we establish meaningful relationships between people who never see each other? Should we even bother trying? In this week’s Conversations from the Corner Office, we explored the subject with ID Plans CRO Seth Garber. As someone who has worked remotely – and led several teams of remote workers – he had plenty to say.
SG: I think we have to accept that it’s the norm, and I actually think it’s great. It gives people the freedom to work the way they want and the flexibility to set up their days so they’re most productive. And that varies from person to person and role to role.
SG: I do think it’s important, and I think it can be done. It starts with having conversations and really trying to understand the remote team member and how they like to work. I think it’s also important to frame things in a manner where it’s not me telling them “this is how things need to be done” and instead talking with them about our vision and getting their feedback on how they can help us achieve our goals. They don’t have to go crazy or get overly involved if that’s not how they are – they just need to be present in conversations and be willing to help us work toward our common mission.
SG: Here are my tips:
If you’re having an video conference call, is it OK to wear casual clothes? Should one-on-one meetings be more formal? It’s simple, but it’s good to discuss ahead of time so everyone is on the same page. Also, it’s important to set expectations in regard to schedules. Some people will need to work regular hours because that’s what their role requires. Others can be more flexible. I’ll actually encourage my sales team to go to the gym in the middle of the day because they’ll come back to work feeling energized and ready to kill it. Other people would rather just work all day. It doesn’t really matter to me as long as they’re getting the job done and I have a general idea of what their schedules are.
If you’ve got someone on your team who you rarely see in person, perhaps schedule an extra call or email with them to check in. Periodically, encourage the leader of the company to contact them. In these conversations, be sure to reinforce your gratitude for their contributions and talk with them about how they impact the vision of the company.
Who doesn’t love to get mail? Send them things like mugs or t-shirts with the company logo. It’ll make them feel like part of the team, even from far away.
People can become disengaged when the only interaction they have with their team members are emails with random names and signatures, and sometimes the tone of electronic communication can be misperceived. This is when it’s good to pick up the phone and have an actual conversation, and don’t just focus on talking about work. Ask your colleague about their family, their pets, their hobbies. The more we get to know one another as people versus simply as names in an email, the stronger the connections we can build.
This can be as simple as sending them a second monitor so they can work more efficiently, a new headset, or even a desk so they don’t have to work from their kitchen table.
We’ve instituted a weekly in-office day for team members who live in our area. We do a catered lunch and encourage everyone to sit down together while they eat. We also do a team meeting where we share our big wins and then answer a fun getting-to-know you question. It’s a great way to put faces with names, and we always get a good laugh.
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