Engagement and community with remote teams

We have a largely decentralised team - with people working in small teams (1-3) in different cities across the UK. Creating community and ensuring effective communication with remote teams is one of our current challenges. Has anyone done/ seen this done effectively? I would love to hear some tangible ideas of how to do this effectively?

Hi Fran,

Thank you for raising this topic. So many people geeks across the globe and industries are wondering how to engage their remote workforce and building community and facilitating effective communication is definitely a huge part of that.

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Create a decentralized work agreement. While this could include norms around progress reporting and requesting resources, it could also include expectations around responsiveness, work hours, communication methods (when to use which one, e.g. email for long paragraphs, phone only in emergencies, IM for quick high fives), and establish standards around video conference meetings (e.g. make it a requirement for all meetings).
  2. Encourage colleagues to assume the best intentions. Though we all should, it’s especially important for remote workers. Onsite employees have more chances to get to know their employees and collect multiple data points to construct an idea of a colleague’s personality, intentions, and convictions. If a remote worker’s direct instant message falls through the cracks, this might be the only data point they have about the receiver of the message and thus they might assume bad intentions. While some people just go with assuming incompetence over malice, the Omidiyar group, for instance, was built on the belief that “people are inherently good and capable”. So, while making people aware of their biases shaping their assumptions about their colleagues could be a start, ingraining positive assumptions in the culture could be the goal.
  3. Be creative in utilizing communication tools. Encourage employees to connect with co-workers just for the sake of connecting can help you build a stronger community. The additional benefit is that it helps you normalize tools like video calls to make them stickier. For instance, do virtual lunches, happy hours or coffee hours. Another idea that I’ve seen work is to use tools like Slack, Trello boards, and other virtual progress reporting tools to share what people are working on, share where they might be stuck and would appreciate help, and what their achievements are.
  4. Encourage the use of emoticons and gifs/giphys. Some people argue that it is childish or might seem unprofessional, which is fair, but I think it’s fun and it represents emotions or the tone I intend to convey quicker, easier and more nuanced than words.

I would be curious to hear what would work in your organization and if any of it inspired you to give it a shot.

Hi Hannah,

Thanks so much for your reply!

Awesome ideas! I think a decentralised work agreement (or something a little softer in tone, but hard hitting in meaning), is a must-have. I also love the idea of virtual lunches, so will give that a try - I think the challenge here is balance between driving community through these initiatives but also making sure that they are value add, as everyone’s time is precious (!) Perhaps the virtual lunch needs structure in agenda e.g. lunch and learns

Also another of our challenges is how to drive community from those working remotely ALONGSIDE those who work in our HQ. I.e. how do you create physical community in London, without making those outside of London feel excluded. A lot of this relies on good tech, which we are trying to invest in at the moment.

Appreciate the ideas, and welcome more from anyone else!