COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work, and have fun. Over the past year alone, we’ve touched on topics like virtual learning, virtual celebrations, and adjusting to social life indoors. We’ve been challenged to find new ways to connect, recognize inequities, and open our minds to the possibility of risky but positive change. A large part of the country has gone virtual while still maintaining traditional modes of communication for those without computer and internet access. We’ve discovered that work once done in an office can be done efficiently from home, expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, parents, and those with limited transportation budgets. With that advantage though, comes the responsibility to not only maintain open and effective remote communication but to also foster meaningful relationships and a strong sense of workplace community.

How is a community-minded workplace important to the success of an organization and its employees?

  • Community creates a sense of belonging where everyone feels valued and significant.
  • It builds transparency and trust.
  • It strengthens the organization’s shared goals.
  • It improves and encourages collaboration.
  • It empowers employees to share feedback and ideas.

Whether your organization works remotely or in person, developing a strong community bound by an innovative and inclusive culture is vital to employee professional development, productivity, and organizational growth. It can be challenging to build a community without face-to-face communication, but it is possible. Civic associations, social groups, religious organizations, and others have adjusted successfully and accomplished, in some cases, increased engagement.

In your case, as a business owner, manager, or employee of a company or organization, community-building may take a little more intention online. Engaging employees beyond their basic job responsibilities can be overlooked when you don’t see one another in the halls, exchange weekend stories over coffee, brainstorm ideas in the conference room, or get to assess body language during meetings to name a few disadvantages. But all hope is not lost. We have been taking notes over the past year of ways to maintain and enhance interpersonal relationships from home. We’ve used those insights to reevaluate the way we engage, empower, and enrich the professional and personal lives of employees both in the office and remote.

8 Ways to Engage Remote Workers

  1. Host virtual celebrations like birthdays and diverse holidays with online activities. Exchange Christmas lists and addresses, set a limit, and unbox your Secret Santa gifts in a virtual meeting. Spice it up with contests, challenges, and raffle prizes. 
  2. Schedule standing check-ins with individual team members and the team. Share highlights of your past week or month, consult on challenging projects, share information, and give praise. This is an opportunity for employees to broadcast the accomplishments they are most proud of and receive and give advice that can benefit the whole team. Brainstorm innovative ways to reach strategic goals and construct your comprehensive action plans as a community.
  3. Get creative and get outdoors. Plan an outdoor, socially distanced get-together or retreat. Retreats are a great opportunity to set new goals, practice teambuilding, and reassess assets. Meet at a restaurant with outdoor seating, a park, or for a fun alternative, in a tailgate-style meeting. Be sure to bring your pens and clipboards, and plan away.
  4. Create opportunities for collaboration by assigning team and partner tasks. Allow employees to volunteer for what tasks interest them and match their skillsets and goals best.
  5. Incentivize innovation. Encourage employees to think outside of the box and offer fresh, new ideas that have never been done in your organization or otherwise. Give them opportunities to make important decisions and take risks. Offer incentives like recognition or a bonus, but most of all, always give employees credit for their effort and intellectual property.
  6. Break the Ice. Get to know one another with group ice breaker activities and ongoing conversations between team members. One way to build rapport with remote employees is with those monthly, biweekly, or weekly check-ins. Discuss project updates and professional needs, but also use your one-on-one time to do a mental check. Does the employee need support, grace, additional resources, a day off, or a safe space to vent? What assistance can your company provide to uplift employees experiencing work and other stress?
  7. Encourage professional development. When possible, offer and recommend training and professional development. Education can be anything from a free webinar to a statewide conference. In the office, there are infinite opportunities for observation and peer-to-peer training. While still possible remotely, it is important to propose alternatives to ensure your employees are constantly growing, learning, and employing best practices.
  8. Turn on your cameras sometimes. It’s important to see your team members’ faces especially during serious discussion where criticism or confrontation might take place. Establish guidelines for when meeting attendees should be visible. Although you can’t be in the same room, seeing each other can enhance your connection and be a reminder that your colleagues are human beings and not just working machines.