How to create connection, community and belonging remotely

Feb 15, 2021

Elizabeth Houghton

Sutton Full Potential Founder

The importance of maintaining physical distance has grown drastically since the start of the pandemic. Local authorities and health officials are relentlessly stressing upon a ban on large gatherings and quarantining oneself to avoid exposure to others. Most schools, universities, and offices are advocating for studying and working remotely. People are advised to take precaution while interacting with any person.

A consequence of the establishment of distancing protocols has been the creation of a virtual community. As people adapt to the “new normal” of doing tasks remotely, there are mixed opinions on the new modus operandi. While there are certain advantages of being able to do things remotely, some challenges are hard to ignore.

What are the pros and cons of doing things remotely?

There are many benefits of studying and working remotely. Students reportedly have more time to work on homework and learn subjects at a slower pace. Employees can avoid traffic on their daily commute, have more flexibility, and spend more time with their loved ones.

Despite these advantages, there are drawbacks to being in this virtual space. The absence of people around you can be mentally and emotionally isolating. Physical interactions allow people to know a person from close, build trust, and develop socio-emotional skills. When there are no such interactions, it becomes difficult for people to grow bonds and deepen relationships.

Isolation also prohibits people from being fully focused and productive at study or at work. They further strain communication between co-workers. According to a Harvard Business Review study, nearly 69% managers said that they felt uncomfortable communicating with junior workers. This results in people being demotivated about their work and unwilling to take risks.

How can you create a sense of unity remotely?

Accomplishing tasks remotely is no longer an option. Since the start of the pandemic, almost 88% organizations have implemented a work-from-home policy. This is regardless of whether someone is showing symptoms. With its rise in popularity as an option, working remotely can be extremely rewarding or challenging for your employees.

If you wish to make the transition to remote work more acceptable among your employees, you must create for them a sense of being connected despite the physical distance. This can be achieved by encouraging camaraderie between people and creating a community online. Here are some ways in which you can do so and make your employees feel less isolated from others:

Establish boundaries of remote working:

A study reported that 39% of all people who work remotely tend to finish their tasks quicker than those working in fixed places. However, to ensure that your team delivers their best performance, you need to define clear boundaries for working from home.

Let people know what their responsibilities are ahead of time. Prepare a work schedule that balances relaxation with work. Ensure that your employees that are not consistently working round the clock to avoid worker fatigue. Set reasonable expectations for response times and try to be a good listener.

You should let know people that they do not have to be available all the time for work- they should mention a preferred time for calls, emails, or messages. Let them know that if it’s not urgent, emails do not have to be addressed right away or when your employees are not working on the clock.

Strengthen internal communication:

Prioritizing employee relations by improving internal communication can help you and your team greatly in the long term.

Exchanging emails is a more formal way of communicating. While you can save emails for work related discussions, use another communication tool for more informal discussions. Slack is a popular remote work tool used by organizations across the globe. It sends messages instantly and allows you to manage all your conversations by streamlining them into channels. You can have a specific channel for each of your teams or projects.

The benefit of using a tool like Slack is that your remote employees can quickly get in touch with someone when they need to. Another advantage of using Slack is that it allows you to have informal chats with employees. You can easily create a channel where people talk to each other about non-work related topics like family, hobbies, interests, and so forth. When your team gets a platform to interact with co-workers on a deeper level, they will feel happier and better connected with the organization.

Working remotely can make relationships transactional. Good connections are often built when people can talk to each other without feeling stressed about work. As a team leader, make sure you are encouraging such opportunities so that your team can grow.

Share your projects with other people:

This may not seem like a useful thing to do but it further helps in creating a sense of belonging within entities that operate remotely.

When you are in a regular office setting, your teams can clearly see what the other person is doing. This is much more difficult when you are away from a physical work environment and cannot see what your co-workers are up to. In such cases, you can use a task management tool to keep yourself updated about what projects people are working on. You can also reach out and ask questions or find out if anyone needs help with accomplishing their projects.

Likewise, try to share what you are doing with others over video or chats. Solicit questions or reach out to your employees if you have challenging questions. Always remember to give positive feedback to your employees for their efforts.

Organize video conversations:

The popularity of Zoom calls and Microsoft Teams rose dramatically after the pandemic started. Not only do video conversations provide a safe avenue for interacting with people, but they can also be customized to suit your needs. If you are trying to share a presentation with a group of people, you can use sharing settings on a video call to show your work and discuss important points.

Typically, all companies follow a certain call structure in work related video conversations. Meetings begin with an introduction, a welcome note, and an agenda. There is a discussion on updates and progress on current projects. Following this, there may be some brainstorming of ideas on how to take things forward. Meetings wrap up with a recap of what will be accomplished next.

This structure can be slightly modified when you are having your next video meeting. Highlight achievements, encourage discussion in small groups, and allow your participants to do more of the talking. You can also organize informal video meetups where people can talk about things other than work.

Plan a retreat:

When social distancing restrictions are more relaxed, you can try to organize a retreat for your company or students. A retreat is a fun way to connect and bond with people after spending most of your time together remotely. Based on where everyone is located, it may not be possible for every institution to organize a retreat. However, if it can be executed, it can be greatly beneficial in making a community stronger.

If planning a retreat for your employees, allow your employees time to get to know each other well, discuss ideas, and work on projects together. In addition to work, allow your employees time to explore and do activities together. A retreat can be a refreshing experience that all your employees will look forward to.

Organize events and activities:

You can do several creative activities and projects with your employees while working remotely. When you are together in person, you have the opportunity of celebrating occasions like birthdays, special events, and so forth. You can continue the same tradition online in several ways.

Post a congratulatory message on a special happening like a promotion, a wedding, etc. Create a calendar of everyone’s birthdays and wish people on your shared communication tool. You could also deliver a cake or a pizza to your employees’ location as a surprise. Organize sports or indoor games activities online and encourage your team members to compete against each other. Such activities encourage participation from all and help toward building a stronger work culture.

Empower your employees:

All workers want to be involved in the decision-making processes which a company makes. Remote workers should have the opportunity to be just as involved.

Empowerment can be ensured when employers give employees liberty to make assessments, collaborate on new ideas, and implement them. Feedback and positive encouragement should be given so that employees feel recognized for their contribution. Employees that are empowered tend to feel better engaged with their company. Likewise, employees that do not have much decision-making power tend to feel less engaged with the work and the company which leads to high turnover rates.

Another way in which you can empower your staff is by providing workshops and training online which allow people to share knowledge and learn from each other. Technology offers many ways in which knowledge can be shared easily. Provide career advancement opportunities and allow people to assume leadership roles so that they feel respected.

Celebrate accomplishments:

Another way you can create a sense of connection and community with your remote employees is by celebrating their accomplishments. Acknowledging achievements and improvements made by your team is an excellent way to make your employees feel proud of their work. It also helps them feel better connected with the rest of the organization.

There are several ways in which you can make your team feel like valuable members of your organization. Start an “Employee of the Month” program in which you highlight one person for the good work they have done in that specific month. In addition, in your video meetings, mention if a worker has done a good job with a certain project. Encourage your team members to take leadership by implementing a system where people praise each other.

In this regard, you can use social media to your advantage. Highlight success stories, do an “Employee of the Month” feature story, and share information about projects that your workers are doing. Ask each of your employees to either give an interview or write an article on a topic they have expertise in and share that with your followers. Share these posts on your personal social media pages so that people get due recognition for their hard work.

If you wish to create a stronger sense of belonging and rapport within members of your organization, you should take the time to celebrate their contribution. Not only will it help your team feel better connected to each other, but it also leads to greater productivity.

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