3 Ways to Build Community in a Distributed Company

A lot of people spend more time at work than with their family and friends. That’s why community in the workplace is so key to employee happiness.

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Yet “out of sight, out of mind” is often how remote employees feel. A lack of physical presence often translates to poor communication and a lack of team building opportunities.

Fortunately, companies can foster meaningful culture for employees that can’t gather around the watercooler. Here’s how.

Use technology to bond

Companies can lean on communication technology to build team culture. Don’t set rigid rules for internal communication on these channels. Encourage jokes, random discussions, and other things that would normally happen in an office.

Creating office traditions like virtual coffee breaks that match up random employees on Skype or Wednesday morning lightning talks on Google Hangouts or a designated channel for sharing music on Slack can help employees meet and engage with people from every corner of the organization.

Making these connections isn’t just good for employee happiness; it also builds networks beyond designated teams. Over time, this will encourage fresh perspectives and make it easier for people to request and receive help from colleagues whenever they need it.

You’re already using technology to communicate, why not use it to foster culture as well?

Assembling is important

No amount of messages, funny gifs, and video chats will replace face-to-face interactions. That’s why remote companies often organize company-wide meetups that range from meeting for company-sponsored events to attending conferences together to renting a house in a new city.

For most of these companies, the money saved from not having to lease expensive office space offsets the expense of bringing teams together. The cost is well spent toward creating amazing memories and building strong, long-lasting team camaraderie.

Remote companies like Automattic bring employees together with annual retreats in exotic locales, sometimes even including significant others. Teams are encouraged to plan their own outings (with a budget) and organize happy hours.

Not only are these sessions important for building working relationships, you’ll be amazed at how much the team can accomplish with time set aside for focused strategy and engagement.

Co-working spaces provide a network

If focusing on the company’s culture seems out of bounds, management can help employees beat remote isolation by encouraging use of coworking spaces.

These offices are filled with people who share similar workstyles and industries, giving lots of opportunity for networking and casual chit-chat. Many host events that encourage idea sharing and relationship building—two opportunities sorely missed for many remote workers.

Of course, it’s important to let your employees make the decision for themselves. You can incentivize this sort of culture-building by providing monthly allowances for coworking spaces, but understand that some employees prefer working from home.

Remember to focus on community

Establishing a sense of community is challenging with remote teams and traditional ones. The key is purposely creating opportunities to reduce isolation in the organization, whether that means taking advantage of technology, organizing retreats, or collaborating in co-working spaces.

Letting employees know that they are valued and their happiness is prioritized will go a lot further in establishing a positive culture than simply working in an office under the same roof.

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