How to help remote employees bond

Research has shown that employees who work remotely often feel as though they are excluded from the company culture. These employees report feeling as though they are not treated equal to the colleagues and are often worried that their colleagues are working against them. As a result, if a problem occurs, almost half of remote employees let if fester for weeks.

In order to improve workplace integration in their company, Clevertech experimented with a number of difference ways to bring remote workers together such as book clubs, virtual coffees and executive-led webinars which focused on values. The results showed that some of the activities temporarily boosted the team, however they didn’t solve the culture problems that come with have a large remote workforce.

They came to the conclusion that they need to create a ‘beyond remote’ workforce by creating an environment of cohesion and trust through building meaningful relationships and conversations. The two strategies which were most successful in terms of increasing engagement were creating structured conversations around shared content and using online games to build trust.

Creating structured conversations around shared content – The aim here is to create deeper conversations among coworkers through virtual meetings which are structured like a book club but with a greater variety of content and platforms. Clevertech had employees watch the same TED talk, take the same online learning course or read the same book or article. Everyone then participated in a video conference where everyone was asked to share a reaction. It started with one person speaking and then choosing the next employee to speak. This selection process was also helpful in identifying where social bonds were strongly developed and where they may need to be further developed.

They also found that success in encouraging discussion and openness lay with starting the session with an icebreaker question such as ‘how did you take your coffee this morning?’. If two people use almond milk for example this can promote further bonding. Learning this type of information about coworkers can create trust.

Use online games to help build trust – Although this may be unconventional, playing a video game that has been chosen for it’s ability to force collaboration and put the team into situations which are destined for failure can help to build trust and show how the team handles negative pressures. Gloria Flores in her book Learning to Learn and the Navigation of Moods: The Meta-Skill for the Acquisition of Skills, speaks about how the negative emotions that are present when you are learning something new can block skill development. She stresses how important tools and prompts are in helping us push through, which is what the gaming framework does. It enables team members to work through negative emotions the come about during the learning process.

It is also important to choose a game which forces your team members out of their comfort zones. It is imperative that the equivalent amount of stress and possibility of failure that exists at work is created. Failures and how people react to them inspire better conversations as the team dynamics involved in game challenges are often a copy of the dynamics of work challenges. Clevertech found that from taking part in these games, employees learned that they needed to speak up as soon as they saw an issue so they could renegotiate and create new goals. This alone has a huge impact on work and interpersonal relationships.

Kuty Shalev of Clevertech states that although gaming and book clubs don’t sound like they belong in a work environment, they have given Clevertech the cohesion and retention that had been missing. Their retention rate has improved and as a result their turnover has decreased. They have also seen an increase in progress on ongoing projects, some of which had been put on the backburner for a long time, as well as greater employee engagement. By coming together for non-work activities has enhanced their ability to band together around common goals.

Kuty Shalev (2019) Ideas for helping remote colleagues bond. [online]

Workplace trends (2018) The work connectivity study [online]

Grenny, J. Daxfield, D. (2017) A Study of 1,100 Employees Found That Remote Workers Feel Shunned and Left Out [online]

Flores, G. (2016) Learning to Learn and the Navigation of Moods: The Meta-Skill for the Acquisition of Skills. Pluralistic Networks Publishing