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Tips for building community among a fully remote staff

Hi everyone,

First post! Discovered the community this morning and loving it.

I work for a tech startup with employees across the UK, Spain, Germany and in different parts of the US. We are fully remote - that is, no office nor any intention of having one - and in terms of operations, logistics and most other aspects of the work we do, we're experiencing no difficulties. The nature of our work is such that we are capable of doing most everything virtually, and the intention has been to hire globally with the funds we would otherwise spend on things an office would cost. This has proven largely successful.

The singular issue we have is relating to social activity. The team are spread far and wide, with no clear 'hub' in any location, and there are some difficulties we are facing in terms of the culture. People all work by themselves, at home - and while they are often on calls or in virtual conference rooms, there is a gap in terms of pure relationship-building. Some of the team - largely, in Engineering - are very resistant to increasing social activity, whereas others in the business are crying out for some ways to change this. We're improving cross-team communication in a general sense, but in terms of social activity there's a clear disconnect. We are organising a company retreat; pulling people all into one in-person location in Europe later on this year which will build a community among our current staff, but as we scale I'm concerned it wont solve our issues.

Has anyone had any real success with this? I'm trying to avoid 'enforced fun' scenarios if I can but it seems like that's the only real direction I can go at this point.

Thanks!

4176 views
  • Just a quick thought - you could start with some kind of social networking platform which the general public have no access to (settings?) By posting stuff which concerns a majority and encouraging people to post whatever they want s- within reasons, then perhaps that will go some small way to improving the situation.

    In terms of your engineers, I'm not too surprised they aren't interested in social activities etc.,. They chose engineering because you don't necessarily need 'social activities' to be an engineer unlike many jobs which require you to be somewhat gregarious.
  • Hi Chris,

    Unfortunately, the benefits of informal social interaction of being together in-person in one physical location is just not something you can fully replicate if you have a fully remote team spread across many various countries (and time zones), that will always play against you.
  • What is the problem you're trying to solve?

    How is the lack of social interaction between staff causing the business to suffer? As HR people, we should be familiar with the idea that social interaction between staff is often the cause of - rather than the solution to - problems.

    Where I've seen problems arise is that people, of course *need* social interaction and, for several generations, we've become used to the idea that the workplace is a source of social interaction. But the social interactions at work are a pale imitation of those we enjoy through our communities, volunteering, churches, hobbies and family. So if staff are suffering from a lack of social interaction the solution may not be to look inward, to work out how to increase interaction in the business, but to look outward to how to encourage more staff to engage socially in more rewarding ways, outside office hours. Something, incidentally, that your commitment to remote working (can I work for you, please?) makes infinitely easier to do than it is for those us stuck on the daily commute.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    21 Aug, 2023 13:12

    Hi Chris... 

    Chris said:
    First post! Discovered the community this morning and loving it.


    Welcome to our Community. Glad you found us!

    Some general CIPD guidance here...
    https://www.cipd.org/uk/knowledge/guides/planning-hybrid-working

    Furher to what David says, do you use any online tools, such as Slack?

    Picked out this research from our knowledge base, too.
    https://www.cipd.org/uk/knowledge/bitesize-research/not-working-from-home/

  • Long-time HR person in tech companies. From covid times and now at a company that is 100% remote. I have thrown some words below to spark some thoughts as to what could work for you. This is absolutely one of those things that is "not HRs job" but if no one else will do it, we will get the blame when people leave and cite a lack of culture in an exit interview.

    - How do you communicate good news/congratulations across the teams? Do you hold regular all-hands/town-hall meetings?

    - Do you use Slack/Teams? Build communication for non-work things in there. A group about gardening, a group about gaming etc.

    - Are people on video when they speak? I worked at a company that never had cams on and the difference that makes is massive. My personal inclination is for organised meetings a cam is on, if it is a "quick call" cam is off.

    - Can people express themselves in small ways? A lot of our engineers would have memes as their profile pics that would change. Or virtual backgrounds that would start conversations (mine changes through my underwater photography).

    - Have "community champions". You will already know who these are, but get them to post at least once per week so not everything comes from HR.

    - And as always... are leadership behind this? Will they add comments to a "sports" channel or get annoyed at seeing people "slacking off"?
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    21 Aug, 2023 15:38

    In reply to Cat Jones:

    Thanks for sharing this,
  • Johanna

    | 0 Posts

    CIPD Staff

    24 Aug, 2023 09:48

    The role of the line manager is very important here too - when they work on engagement in their own teams and everyone feels supported and able to chat to their own immediate colleagues, then it should have a ripple effect to wider collaboration and participation. There's a strong association between line manager quality and job satisfaction. Would also echo the need for the right tools to faciliate collaboration, eg teams chats, special interest groups, reward and recognition platforms can also work well - celebrating success is something everyone can get behind and it's nice to see people acknowledge others inc those who may not usually get the shoutouts!

  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    24 Aug, 2023 10:19

    In reply to Johanna:

    Here here