It is inevitable and increasingly apparent – times are changing. While the world around us feels strange and uncertain, with teams spread out and working virtually more than ever, it’s a critical time for leaders to get creative and focus on nurturing human connection in the remote workplace. It is a challenge some have never come up against since many companies are used to having their employees in-house. The issue of human connection was nearly nonexistent before. Human connection happened at the water cooler, in the hallways, amongst team members sitting in their shared workspaces. Leaders are now faced with figuring out how to drive employee engagement and satisfaction in a remote setting while fostering meaningful relationships within and across departments that operate hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles apart.
While it may seem like an insurmountable feat, we are successfully undertaking the challenge here at Satterley Accounting Services, and we would like to share some insight into effectively navigating the remote workspace while continuously nurturing human connection.
Our accounting and bookkeeping firm is a 100% remote workplace by choice. Who we are as a company is built upon the notion of balance – from our mission to our policies to our communication methods. Our Founder and CEO, Heather Satterley, has purposefully created an environment of flexibility, where our team members can adapt their hours and work locations to suit their needs and home life demands. This type of flexibility recognizes the human aspect of our employees. There is more going on in our lives than just our work responsibilities and acknowledging that has encouraged our employees to take ownership of their work tasks. They feel connected to our firm and our initiatives and make it a point to do a stellar job for our clients while maintaining a sense of work/life balance.
Ways to incorporate more flexibility in the remote workplace
- Allow your employees to schedule their work hours around their home life, and not the other way around.
- Get feedback from your employees regarding PTO and vacation policies. By giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions, you will create an open dialogue that can boost overall employee satisfaction and connection.
- Share with your employees the reasons why flexibility in the workplace is important to you. This will convey the impact it has on the team and company as a whole and help them stay motivated.
Capitalize on the technology that is available
Microsoft teams. Zoom. Google Hangouts. Slack. There are so many meeting and interoffice tools available these days. Use them to the fullest! Here at SAS, our operations would probably suffer tremendously without Slack. Our mental health likely would too. Seriously. Slack is our office. It is our collaborative space. It is our shared hub of all things work and all things ‘us’ as a team.
Our communication policy is built around staying connected through our use of Slack. Everyone checks into the #schedules Slack channel when they start their shift, take breaks, and call it quits for the day. We keep one another updated on what we’re working on and the challenges we’re encountering. This connection we maintain with our teammates drives engagement and engagement drives business results.
Zoom is another favorite of ours. Not a day goes by where we don’t hop on a Zoom call to catch up or request input on a project. We don’t hide behind our distance with our heads down into our work. We are encouraged to reach out, involve one another, ask for help and offer assistance.
Ways to capitalize on technology in the remote workplace
- Encourage employees to engage daily with one another on your preferred interoffice communication application.
- Have employees keep the video feature on during Zoom meetings, if possible, to allow for effective communication and ‘face-to-face’ interaction
- Incorporate the use of such applications into your company’s communications policy.
Create space for fun
As was mentioned, Slack is our office. We inhabit our office in a similar way any other company would inhabit a physical office space. Yes, we talk about work-related projects and problem-solve together. But we also use our workspace for the fun stuff. We have created designated channels for #pets, #family, #random, and so on. We will post pictures of silly things our cats do, or school projects our kids worked on that day. Sometimes a hilarious meme will pop up in our Slack notifications.
Even our weekly staff meetings are fun. Sure, we have an agenda with things that need to be discussed and resolved. However, our staff meetings are loosely structured to keep us on track but also allow for input from all attendees. We typically start with a round-robin question. This is a fun ‘get to know each other better’ question — an ice breaker that sets a relaxed tone before we dive into business. This casual and personable approach helps us to forge relationships with one another as though we’re not separated by miles and time zones. We engage with one another and share our lives which has ultimately created a safe and trusting family vibe.
Ways to create space for fun in the remote workplace
- Allow employees to create their own Slack channels if that’s what your company uses. Encourage them to engage with one another regarding topics that aren’t all about work.
- Host fun virtual interoffice events, such as holiday parties or staff lunches.
- Plan an annual or bi-annual staff retreat where your employees can come together in person.
Encourage feedback and information sharing
Heather, our Founder, is a bold and innovative thinker. This is especially true when it comes to creating a nurturing environment for our employees. She goes above and beyond to include us in the decision-making process regarding company strategy, policy input, and best practices. She encourages us to contribute our ideas and share information. She is also a champion of cross-functional collaboration that helps employees feel a greater sense of shared goals. This type of involvement truly makes it feel like we are a team, not just employee robots showing up to clock-in, complete menial tasks, and then clock-out. It is refreshing, to say the least, and helps deepen our connections.
Ways to encourage feedback and information sharing in the remote workplace
- Continually lean in to ensure that your employees always feel safe to share feedback in an open and honest fashion.
- Ask questions! Don’t assume that when things are quiet that everything is wonderful. Always inquire to gain information and your employees will be encouraged to do the same.
- Promote transparency amongst your team members. When we share information, we help one another grow and influence the expansion of ideas.
Promote new connections
Recently, Heather introduced the idea of having ‘office hours.’ The idea is that whoever is online and available could join a common Zoom meeting room with their teammates while they complete their daily work tasks. We would be able to crack jokes, bounce ideas off one another, and share ‘space’ while we work. Having office hours truly fosters connection because there’s no purpose or agenda behind our Zoom meeting. We’re simply hanging out because we want the camaraderie.
Another connection-supporting endeavor we are going to be implementing is a mentorship program where teammates are paired up for a specified duration of time. Each person will make their teammate a priority and make it a point to engage daily. This fosters closeness and helps us feel like we’re not working in a vacuum.
Ways to promote new connections in the remote workplace
- Facilitate a mentorship program in your organization to foster employee bonding and relationship development.
- Encourage cross-departmental communication. Everyone on your team is working toward a common goal and the ultimate success of the company. If the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, connections are cultivated, and goals become clearer.
- Introduce an office hours space where employees can log in and work together virtually.
Nurturing human connection in the remote workplace is a priority for us. Sure, we’re in the business of accounting and bookkeeping. But we’re in the business of people, first and foremost, and that all starts with our team of employees. A remote work environment requires intentional culture-building. Help your employees connect as real, complex human beings and strengthen your culture and relationships in the process. It takes time, but it is totally worth the effort.