18 Ideas to Help Remote Employees Feel Connected

The single biggest challenge of companies working remotely isn’t aligning different time zones or achieving peak productivity. Instead, it’s ensuring your team feels aligned with the company culture, connected with each other, and driven by your company goals, values, and mission.

At Gable, we know a thing or two about how to help remote employees feel connected, so we’re bringing you these 18 ideas to try:

Breaking down communication silos

Engagement and connection in remote teams start with a positive, well-built, and functional work environment. And the first step to achieving that is transparent and clear communication across departments, locations, and time zones. Here are three ways to break down communication silos in remote teams:

Cross-department connections

In remote teams, it’s easy to get stuck in communication silos and not have a clear overview of what other teams are working on and how everyone’s work contributes to the shared business goals.

To help your remote employees connect to their work and get a shared understanding of how their work fits the company goals, try out these ideas:

  • Team highlight sessions, where each department presents a deep dive into their work, goals, and how they collaborate with other departments
  • Adding product and engineering teams to internal sales and customer success meetings, and vice versa
  • Record all customer calls and make sure every department can access them and see what everyone else is working on

Implementing these simple ideas takes little time and effort, but their impact can be essential for getting a remote team to work together for a shared purpose and contribute more strongly to the company’s growth and goals.

User manuals for remote workers

For remote workers, personal user manuals (or user guides) are entirely new ways to facilitate team communication. These guides are a fast, simple, and effective way to share your work hours, time zone, communication style, and work preferences with coworkers in a distributed team.

Creating a user manual as part of the onboarding experience for new hires and having it linked in everyone’s Slack profile or title description makes it easy for teammates to know how to best communicate and collaborate with each other without needing to schedule calls or remember everyone’s preferences.

Guidelines for effective remote work communication

In addition to user manuals, having a clear, company-wide guide on communicating in remote teams is essential not only for teamwork and collaboration but for employee engagement as well.

Knowing when to send an email and when to communicate on Slack or another app may sound like a purely work-related matter, but it helps employees build confidence at work, establish healthy communication, and work better as a team.

Recognizing employees

From a company standpoint, employee recognition is a fast, cost-effective, and efficient way to connect employees to their work, team, and company. Try out these three ways to recognize your remote employees:

Shoutouts on Slack

Make it a standard practice to celebrate company wins and individual milestones on Slack (or Microsoft Teams, if that’s what you’re using!). It may not sound like much, but getting a shout-out and some team encouragement can go a long way in making employees feel happy and proud of their work.

A bonus tip: personalize your company chat by creating unique company emojis. Whether it’s photos and gifs of team members, the company logo and brand materials, or unique reaction emojis, it’s a low-effort way to get a remote team engaged in the company chat.

Gifts and swag packages

Celebrate your team with gifts and swag packages at every appropriate opportunity. Start by sending out a welcome package for newly hired team members, as it’s an excellent way to make them feel welcome and part of the team from day 1.

After onboarding, employees should get birthday and work anniversary gifts and cards or gift packages for major holidays they celebrate. It helps improve morale and increase the sense of team belonging with remote employees.

Employee recognition programs

In addition to sending gifts and building a culture of team recognition, companies with remote employees should invest in structured employee recognition programs. Recognition programs help People teams track people analytics and data, integrate recognition into their everyday work tools and software, and reward employees.

Fostering in-person connections

Remote workers love their flexibility, but 44% say their biggest challenge is connecting with coworkers. One of the ways companies can tackle this challenge and get to keep the best of both worlds is to get together in person.

Face-to-face encounters are opportunities for remote teams to connect, brainstorm, and collaborate instead of doing solo work, which they typically do successfully at home. Here are some ways to facilitate getting together in physical spaces:

Company offsites

Organizing a company offsite is an effective way to get all your remote workers together at the same location, so most remote companies try to organize them at least once a year. Offsites help companies and People teams showcase the company culture and get people to bond on a personal level.

Company offsites are made easy with Gable. You can choose and book workspaces for all team members in one place, and focus on planning activities instead of admin work and logistics. See our guide for organizing offsites HERE.

Events and holiday celebrations

Whether it’s an end-of-year holiday party or an event to celebrate a big company milestone, it’s a good idea to gather remote employees in one place to celebrate and have non-work-related conversations and activities.

Even companies whose remote workforces are distributed across the globe can organize events easily. If it’s too complicated to get the whole team in one place, you can organize events in several cities at the same time and combine on-site gatherings with virtual team events in a true hybrid-work fashion.

Team meetings and brainstorming sessions

On a more frequent basis, companies can provide remote teams with opportunities to connect in person on their own terms. Whether you’re using flexible workspaces or have office hubs for your teams, it can be helpful for employees to have access to a workspace when they need one.

Employees who live in the same area can get a chance to meet up and get to know each other better, even if they don't work on the same teams. For companies like Future, getting together a few times a week or month in a workspace nearby helps them solidify work relationships and reinforce the feeling of team belonging.

Organizing team building activities

When meeting in person isn’t an option, virtual team building activities are an excellent option to get your team to bond, connect, and get to know each other better. Some ideas you can use are:

Team social time

Social time is a recurring company-wide (or team-focused, if you’re in a large company) hangout focused on team building, having fun, and getting to meet your team. You can organize these once or twice every month, and activities can vary widely, from live cooking, yoga, and quizzes to scavenger hunts and trivia.

These events are usually hosted on Zoom, but you can use other platforms to amplify your events. Additionally, make sure these events are happening regularly but not in a cadence that overwhelms your team’s calendars.

Water cooler-type chats

The one challenge remote employees have when building connections with their teams is the lack of serendipity that often happens in an office space — known as the famous “water cooler chats.” Remote leaders have to be intentional about providing these types of connections, but it’s far from impossible to achieve.

For companies with many employees, it’s a good idea to organize events dedicated to personal interests and hobbies, like book clubs, yoga workshops, or sports events. In case this is logistically challenging, virtual coffee chats or once-a-month virtual happy hours can also be a good team bonding solution.

1-on-1 check-ins

When working in a remote team, employees can find themselves mainly communicating with groups of coworkers and needing more personal 1-on-1 connections. Therefore, managers and leaders should also facilitate employees to connect and meet 1-on-1 to increase bonding on personal levels.

One of the best ways to do that is to ensure every new hire invites all their teammates for a 15-minute intro chat during their first week on the job. It’s an effective way to speed up relationship-building and make the first week on the job more balanced for the new employee.

Prioritizing work-life balance

Unlike their office-based counterparts, remote employees are more likely to feel symptoms of burnout and isolation and experience the inability to switch off from work, which can easily affect their wellbeing. Here are some ways remote companies can help their employees improve work-life balance, preserve mental health, and retain positive feelings about their work:

Setting boundaries

Remote work gives employees freedom from long commutes, but this is often compensated with long work hours, endless video calls, and the invisible pressure always to be online and available. As part of their communication tools and guidelines, companies would do well to encourage employees to set boundaries about their work hours and availability and use their PTO.

Managers can further improve initiatives like these if they lead by example; not scheduling meetings outside of core hours and using PTO regularly can go a long way to show employees it’s okay to set boundaries even when working remotely.

Perks employees will use (and love)

During the coronavirus pandemic, companies worldwide realized that the traditional perks and benefits offered to office-based employees differ substantially from what their remote employees want. So, to improve employee retention and achieve relationship-building, remote companies are listening to employees’ needs and offering perks employees actually want.

From home office stipends and wellbeing budgets to better parental leave policies and PTO offerings, it’s essential to offer remote workers a wide array of perks they can choose from, as not everyone will benefit from the same offering.

Flexibility as part of company culture

The single biggest step any company can take to promote wellbeing and work-life balance of remote employees is to ensure flexibility stays part of their company culture. This doesn’t mean only location-driven flexibility, which is the prerequisite of remote work, but flexible work hours, too.

Reducing your dependence on real-time video chats and meetings and relying more on async communication lets your employees plan their days better, improve work-life balance, and work on a schedule that fits their life and family duties.

Providing professional development opportunities

Remote workers can often feel disconnected from their peers, managers, and company, especially if they don’t have a clear idea of whether they can grow and develop their professional skills. Communicate any professional development opportunities clearly and encourage employees to use them.

Conferences

Attending industry conferences is an excellent way for your employees to catch up with trends, learn new skills, and network with field experts. After a few years of video conferencing, some people will likely enjoy an in-person event, although virtual conferences offer great programs and lectures as well.

Create a list of conferences relevant to your departments and teams and let employees know they can attend one (or more!) at the start of the year. You’ll be surprised how many takers you’ll have!

Budgets for courses and certifications

Besides conferences, courses and certifications are a great way to engage remote employees in professional growth and development. For example, your marketing team might want to strengthen their knowledge with an expert-hosted course, and People team members will likely want that SHRM certification.

Come up with budgets per person or department and let employees know they can use them to get certified, attend a course, or even purchase educational materials to help them grow and expand their skills.

Company training and learning

Finally, if you have the capacity, provide some learning and training programs for employees as a company. These programs don’t always need to be strictly related to a field of expertise — companies can offer training to tackle the challenges of remote work and adapt to this new work environment. For most employees who didn’t work remotely before, trainings like these can improve their performance and confidence in a new workplace.

Remote teams can have strong connections

Remote employees can be strongly connected to their work, company mission, and teammates — but they need to experience being part of a community to achieve that. Companies can produce highly engaged, connected, and happy remote employees by providing a holistic approach to how they communicate, collaborate, and meet and bond.

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Andrea Rajic