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How to build community in the work-from-home world

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It seems like just yesterday that highly visible companies like Twitter and Google announced they were moving to a fully remote work environment. What began as an experiment quickly transformed work as we knew it, as many companies moved to a remote model and discovered that employees completed more work in the same – or less – time.  More recently, however, these same companies have announced hybrid return-to-work plans. Even IBM, who gained nearly $2 billion selling off office real estate after implementing remote work, is also bringing workers back to the office.

Why? Well, it turns out, many employees missed coming into the office to see people, solve problems, and connect. Loneliness and isolation continue to be top concerns amongst remote workers, as well as lack of career progression. It’s possible the hybrid model could actually exacerbate these feelings, as it will become hard to find an effective balance between one person on a call and three people in a room. So, for those of us who will continue to hire remote workers or work 100% remotely, this underscores the ongoing importance of finding ways to build and maintain a sense of community and belonging.

Creating connection isn’t a one-time event. It’s something that you have to regularly plan and cultivate so that it becomes a foundational part of your workplace culture. When we were all in the office, opportunities to connect presented themselves naturally. Now we have to create them, and here are a few things you can do to get started:

  1. Create parity during meetings

When you hold a meeting, set rules or use tools that limit digital and physical side conversations. If in-person meeting attendees are talking, make sure those who are remote can hear the conversation and that they’re involved. Conversely, ask people who are remote not to spend meeting time using side chat tools. If everyone is remote, ask attendees not to multitask.

  1. Encourage video participation

When people can “see” each other, there’s less multitasking and more tuning in to what everyone else is saying. Additionally, it gives people a chance to see and ask about each other’s work environment, give a compliment, or generate casual conversation.

  1. Create cross-team conversation

Schedule regular roundtables with a group of employees to get informal feedback and ask for input. Consider meeting with people a layer below your direct reports. For managers and employees alike, gaining a glimpse into different parts of the organization creates opportunities to meet a variety of people and to learn, understand, and empathize with their challenges. 

  1. Be creative

At WAHVE, we schedule regular non-meeting meetings. The agenda of these meetings is to socialize – about our lives, our families, our pets, or anything that’s on our minds. The only thing off-limits is discussion about work. Need other ideas? Host a virtual lunch break. Schedule some friendly competition – such as remote Bingo or trivia. Share pictures. Create a collaborative music playlist. Ask team members to take turns each week presenting a topic of their choice for 5 minutes to the rest of the team. You’ll be amazed by what you learn about the presenters.

  1. Start icebreaker conversations

Start your team meetings with an icebreaker that everyone has to answer, such as: Would you rather do this or that? What is your favorite…? What is your secret superpower? What are you looking forward to this week?

The possibilities are endless – and fun.  Creating community takes a little ingenuity and effort, but it will benefit your organization AND your employees’ well being and career growth. Simply put, spending intentional time building connective tissue between employees addresses isolation, generates creativity, and will enhances each worker’s experience within your company.

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