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4 Ways to Boost Social Connections in the Remote Workplace

published11 months ago
5 min read

I’ve explored many aspects of the hybrid working model over the past few months, including what it takes to build a high-performance hybrid culture, how to make hybrid meetings fair, and how to create a great hybrid work culture. In this week’s article, I discuss the importance of encouraging social connections in the hybrid or remote workplace.

The desire to connect with others is a basic human need, and in the workplace this is no exception. When people have meaningful relationships with their colleagues, they’re happier and healthier, not to mention more engaged and productive. Being able to socialize at work has also been shown to impact creativity and even our ability to learn.

Research from my company, Workplace Intelligence, and Kahoot! confirms that people’s ability to informally spend time with their coworkers contributes a great deal to their workplace experience. We found that nearly three-quarters of employees (72%) say it’s important that they can have fun with their colleagues during the workday, and most would like to socialize with them after hours as well.

However, many workers reported that they aren’t engaging in these activities as often as they’d like to. Only 57% say they always or often get to have fun with their teammates at work, and just 50% spend time with their colleagues outside of the workday. Adding to this issue is a notable perception gap that we uncovered between workers and their employers. Specifically, we found that many HR leaders think that employees are getting enough social time with their peers, when in fact this isn’t the case.

Hybrid or remote organizations should take note of this gap as they consider how to create a culture where all employees, regardless of their location, feel a sense of connectedness. They’ll have to be much more intentional about encouraging people to spend time together and get to know one another, and they’ll need to provide the right tools and technologies to support these interactions.

I recently interviewed several CEOs about this topic, and they shared some of the unique ways they’re encouraging social connections among their remote or dispersed teams. Let’s take a look at their suggestions and best practices.

1. Leverage technology to drive connectedness

My research with Kahoot! revealed that 91% of workers want to feel more connected to their coworkers, and they believe this could be accomplished by having access to more collaboration and employee engagement technologies. Platforms like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams are a few of the obvious options in this space.

One employer that’s setting the example is Articulate, a fully remote company that builds online trading apps. I spoke with Lucy Suros, the company’s CEO, and she highlighted how Slack has become an integral part of their workplace culture. “We have over 500 Slack channels, and many of them are social channels,” she said. “So we do a lot of things on Slack and we have different activities that keep people connected as humans — we imbue that into the DNA of the way our employees work and how we do things here.”

With its ability to support trivia and games (in addition to watercooler-style conversations), it makes sense that Slack is so popular among remote teams. Employers can also consider offering learning tools that incorporate a team-building element, or they can put an internal social network in place so that team members can get to know one another on a more personal level.

2. Use competition to inspire camaraderie

A little healthy competition can drive people to be at their best, whether it’s in their personal lives or at work. It can also create a strong sense of connection among people as they work toward similar goals and support each other along the way.

PandaDoc, a fully remote SaaS software company based in San Francisco, has seen first-hand just how engaging a little friendly competition can be. Rather than simply encourage casual conversations, the company helped their staff tap into their inner athlete by creating a competition among different teams.

Whether employees were going for a run, going surfing, or heading out for a hike — all they had to do was post a picture to Slack, and their team got points. Then they counted the number of exercises that each team posted, and the team that exercised the least had to do a 5k run. “It was a way to do something that’s not work, do something social, and to see each other as human beings outside work,” shared Mikita Mikado, PandaDoc’s CEO.

3. Organize virtual social events

In the remote or hybrid workplace, those all-important “water cooler” conversations won’t happen very often anymore — if at all! That’s why it’s critical that companies create opportunities for employees to get to know one another on a more personal level. While it may not feel as natural for them as running into each other in the office, virtual meet-ups can go a long way toward fostering strong workplace relationships.

In our conversation, Mikado described some of the initiatives that have helped bring PandaDoc’s remote employees closer together. “Some teams organize whiskey nights where they have drinks over Zoom. Other teams organize gaming nights, and there are cooking classes too. Basically, we’re trying to organize remote social events that bring people together out of the context of work,” he said.

Articulate’s employees also enjoy these types of after-hours activities. “We’ll have hangouts on Zoom where you can come in and have a cocktail hour or play a game,” Suros shared. These are all great ideas, and I’ll add that managers should consider scheduling meet-ups during the workday as well. For example, virtual coffee chats and lunches are a great way for workers to connect with minimal time commitment.

4. Bring teams together a few times a year

Although it’s certainly possible for employees to have strong relationships even if they never see each other in-person, some companies believe that a little facetime is necessary. At Prezly, for example, teams meet together a few times a year, including at an annual company retreat. This is something that the company’s founder, Jesse Wynants, strongly believes in.

“We’ve seen that when people come out of that retreat, they’re still buzzing. That kind of energy pushes them forward in their job, and new connections exist between different teams that weren’t there,” Wynants shared. “I’m not saying that you can only have memorable experiences in person. But there’s something different about being in the same place and spending a lot of time together, that for me, is unreplaceable by something virtual.”

Of course, whether or not your company holds in-person gatherings depends on many factors. You’ll need to reflect on your business needs and workplace culture, not to mention the cost of travel and COVID-related safety concerns. But I agree that there are benefits to getting facetime with the people you work with. In fact, that’s the exact reason why many companies are opting for a hybrid model over a fully remote approach.

No matter what working model your business uses, it’s important that you examine whether employees are connecting in a way that allows them to form deeper, more meaningful relationships. Offering the right technologies, encouraging a little friendly competition, and organizing virtual or in-person meet-ups are all great ideas to set your company on the right path forward.

How is your company encouraging remote workers to connect with each other? Let me know in the comments on LinkedIn!