5 Fun Strategies Companies Are Using to Make Remote Workers Feel Included

Source | | Samantha McLaren

The freedom to work when and where they choose is a huge draw for today’s workforce. In fact, LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report found that 36% of women and 29% of men consider flexible work arrangements to be a very important consideration when choosing a job.

But flexible work arrangements by themselves aren’t enough. A 2017 study found that remote employees are more likely to feel left out or isolated than their onsite peers. And when employees work remotely most or all of the time, they can find it hard to mesh with the company culture, which will hold back collaboration and hurt engagement and morale.

But, remote work doesn’t have to be isolating. Here’s how these five companies have made remote employees feel part of a close-knit team — no matter how far apart they may be.

1. GitLab encourages remote team members to take virtual coffee breaks and even pairs them up for randomized video calls

Meet-ups don’t have to take place in person. GitLab, a web-based repository manager, aims to replicate the fun and camaraderie of office culture for its remote-only team by using video calls.

One tactic GitLab uses is the virtual coffee break, where team members can take a break and chat with one another via video call. Employees are encouraged to spend a few hours every week taking these calls, with the goal, the company website says, of creating “a more comfortable, well-rounded environment” to work in.

Virtual coffee breaks don’t just take place between friends. GitLab uses Slack to help employees connect, and in the #donut_be_strangers channel, team members have the option to be randomly paired up by a bot called Donut. They can also join the “Random Room,” a chat on Google Hangouts that’s always open for anyone to pop into.

These strategies have helped GitLab’s employees socialize more, even though they span 39 countries. Many have even met up in person outside the office.

Communication and video conferencing tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams make it easier for employees to stay in touch, no matter where in the world they are. The technology also enables opportunities for fun, from sharing GIFs to discussing mutual hobbies, which can help prevent isolation and burnout and create a closer-knit culture.

Many companies, like Revelry and Groove, dedicate a specific Slack channel to virtual #watercooler conversations. The LinkedIn Talent Blog team has one, too — it’s called the Story Squad thread!

2. Help Scout holds monthly themed “troop talks” and encourages employees to make video tours of their workspace at home

Customer support service Help Scout believes that planning and effort are key to building a strong remote culture. One strategy it uses is the monthly “Troop Talk,” which brings together groups of 10 or more employees using Zoom.

Help Scout first experimented with Troop Talks in 2014, but found these calls were plagued by awkward silences or people accidentally talking over one another. To make sure things ran smoothly, they introduced more structure and planning.

Today, the company’s people ops leader chooses a theme, like recipe party (sharing your favorite recipes) and bon-app-etite (discussing the phone app you can’t live without), for each conversation. Then a date is set, giving employees time to think about what they want to say. During the call itself, everyone takes turns talking and sharing.

Help Scout says each Troop Talk tends to include about 25% of its team, though the number will fluctuate with the topic and the time. To accommodate employees in varied time zones, calls are recorded and held at different times each month.

While video calls provide a small glimpse into a remote employee’s life, Help Scout also encourages team members to create fun little videos of their workspaces. Inspired by the television show MTV Cribs, these “At Home with Help Scout” video home tours allow employees to share more of their personality and day-to-day life with their coworkers. In the past, employees have discovered, among other things, that some colleagues raise chickens and others have lie-down desks.

Shared practices like these can make cultures strong, whether or not your employees share them in person. What’s more, they can help employees discover connections with each other (like a mutual love of chickens) that can spark more conversations in the future.

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