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Why shared experience is the basis of a thriving remote culture

Community is for all of work life. Not just for Christmas parties. 

Monday, January 25th, 2021. We settled down at our desks for our weekly cross-team meeting, but, we didn’t stay settled for long. Helen Earl, Head of Global Business and Strategy, invited us all to put on our walking shoes, grab our headphones—and for those of us experiencing more wintery conditions—pop on our Quadmark bobble hats to take the meeting on the road. For around half an hour, many of us went for a walk, listening as the 2021 strategy was explained. 

Walking meetings are now a regular part of company life. Many people choose to conduct their one-to-one meetings while walking, and our internal chat is filled with photos from colleagues out and about on their Wellbeing Wednesday walks. It’s not just the act of getting outside for some fresh air that makes these Wednesday walks so impactful—it is a collective experience, shared across the teams in our company.

As we covered in our post about the future of the office, a more flexible working environment is likely here to stay. The results from a poll we ran on LinkedIn recently found that only 5% of respondents wanted to work in an office all the time. The majority of people—61% of respondents—said that they favored a hybrid approach, splitting their time between the office and working remotely. It's not just how we work internally that’s changing either. More than 50% of business travel will disappear in the post-pandemic world, according to Bill Gates. 

All of this makes investing in building a thriving remote culture essential to businesses’ success as we emerge from the pandemic. 

Shared experiences are the basis of community building

Studies suggest that humans are strongly motivated to engage in shared experiences, and this motivation is driven by a desire to forge social connections. As reported by Forbes, social connections are key to a thriving workplace. Employees with strong social connections at work tend to be happier, healthier, and more engaged, among other benefits. 

This makes events like the annual Christmas party important for a number of reasons. Not only do they bring the whole company together to have fun, unwind and get to know each other, as shared experiences they generate culture-defining stories that can have a long term positive impact. Party antics become the stuff of legend, told and retold by employees, and can even influence future employee’s perceptions of the company. As Susan M. Heathfield points out, “the tone and the content of your work stories are powerful forces in shaping and strengthening your work culture.” 

Now that the pandemic has ushered in a number of permanent changes to workplace setup, how do we create culture-forming moments in a remote workplace?

Invest in socializing opportunities

Meeting colleagues in the cafeteria or popping out together to grab a Meal Deal is an essential part of the office experience. We spend more time with our co-workers than with our partners, family or friends, and research shows that eating together helps us build social connections and communities. One thing our Singapore and Norfolk offices have done is host virtual lunches for colleagues to eat together like we would in the office.

Two handmade clay pots in a charming amatuer style. One has a smiling face.

We believe that it's important for teams to come together multiple times a year. So much so that our managers have it as part of their objectives. Each of the teams organize their own “offsites” around activities that the team chooses—with some creative results! One of our client teams got to play with clay, making pots in a virtual workshop, and our Digital and Design teams partnered up to play video games against each other.

Positivity boosts productivity

While it may all seem like fun and games—quite literally for our colleagues in Digital and Design—there are real benefits to these shared experiences. A positive workplace culture is shown to boost commitment, engagement, and performance. Whether that’s celebrating individual successes on weekly team calls, chats, or email, or handing out rewards at our virtual offsites. Sharing these wins with the rest of the company helps employees feel that their work is really appreciated and reinforces a sense of belonging.

And, the benefits of creating a sense of community impacts more than just the individual employee. As noted in the Harvard Business Review, treating employees as resources rather than people reduces their sense of belonging and their ability to care about issues larger than themselves. When people don’t care about the big picture, they’re more likely to engage in reckless behavior, which can have serious effects on both work culture.

Conversely, when people are happy at work, they tend to have better health and wellbeing, more creative and effective problem solving, more productivity and innovation, and faster career advancement. We spend a great deal of time at work, so it’s in everyone’s interest to make it somewhere people don’t dread to be.

Cultivate work friendships

In the last year, one aspect of work life that people have missed most of all is friendship. Research shows that small interactions such as making coffee in the kitchen or working together on a task, even with those we don’t know that well, can spark feelings of belonging and happiness. These moments of connection are sorely missed when people are not in an office together. 

But just because these moments do not happen as naturally in a remote context, does not mean that they should be abandoned altogether. If you’re missing one of your work friends then pop in an after work or lunchtime catch up in your calendar or take them on a Wednesday walk. And if you want the opportunity to get to know new people, then organize after work socials that bring together different people across your company. The benefits are clear—those who socialize with colleagues outside of work have stronger at-work relationships with them.

We’ve found our monthly group socials over a cup of tea or a Long Island iced tea have created new opportunities to foster wider work friendships. They’re completely optional and children, pets and other family members are encouraged to join in as well. 

Creating community virtually takes commitment

This is not to say that building remote culture is easy. Quite the opposite. So much so that some business leaders are ready to throw in the towel on remote working. "When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be… if they want to build a culture within their teams, how are we going to do that remotely?" IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna recently said

But, in the long run, putting time and effort into remote community building will make your company a more resilient and attractive workplace. 

Whatever the workplace looks like for you, whether you’re working in an office, at home, or a mix of the two—building a community takes time and effort from people at all levels in the business. But the rewards are certainly worth it. 

To read more about this topic, check out our articles on how kindness empowers productivity and how to manage and motivate remote teams. 

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