After almost a year of remote work, many companies are returning to the office. Others have made temporary remote working their permanent new reality, while many have decided to opt for hybrid remote working models. This rise in flexibility and autonomy is good news – but that doesn’t mean it comes without problems. Remote worker isolation and loneliness are partly fed by feeling disconnected from the rest of the team and company culture.
So if some of your team are in-office and others are remote, how can you bridge the gap? How can you provide equity of experience to build inclusivity between remote and office teams? Crucially, how can you ensure that everyone feels like a “full” employee?
Incorporate regular check-ins
To stay in the loop, it’s important to schedule regular status updates with remote workers – but these updates should go beyond work matters. Research by Culture Amp found that a sense of belonging is the single metric that’s consistently linked to overall workplace happiness. Their research also showed that improving belonging is one of the best ways to build inclusivity. So how do you build a greater sense of belonging when your team is dispersed?
According to Forbes, most people “feel the greatest sense of belonging when their colleagues check in with them, both personally and professionally.” Establishing regular, non-work related catch-ups for remote employees is a great way to virtually emulate those small water-cooler chats that are so integral to creating camaraderie. Arranging regular check-ins between remote employees with their colleagues, and sponsoring the creation of employee-owned channels and discussion groups, also goes a long way in building trust. Whether they’re in-person or remote, the better working relationships are, the more collaborative and inclusive the working process will be. So rather than simply asking how a project is going, save space at the start or end of the meeting to ask how everyone is doing: from exploring their personaal to their goals to see what you can do to help.
Ensure milestone events are universally felt
Remote work can be an isolating experience – particularly when you’re shut out of company events and celebrations. If a company is launching a product or celebrating a milestone, they might decide to bring cake into the office, to toast their achievements, or to treat everyone to pizza to say thanks. While the intention itself is kind, failing to provide remote employees with some alternative can make them feel shunned and overlooked, and separate from wider company culture.
Inclusivity rests on the idea of universality – of shared experiences. To encourage inclusion, it’s important to do everything you can to ensure all employees share a universal experience, no matter whether they’re in the office or at home. So if you’re bringing a cake into the office, send a cupcake to your remote employees, too; if you’re having a happy hour or making a toast, encourage remote employees to join the celebrations via Zoom and raise their own glass along with you.
Create a remote/in-office culture committee
Building a digital space where everyone can come together and chat is a great way to unify remote employees and in-office workers. Many companies are creating dedicated Slack channels where all employees can share their news, catch up, and talk about non-work related issues. Building this type of community is a great way to encourage shared experiences – but to build even more inclusivity, go one step further and create a digital culture committee that ensures both remote workers and in-office workers are fully represented in company decisions.
If someone’s only ever worked in the office, they just won’t be aware of some of the downfalls of the remote experience – whether that’s feeling invisible and unheard during meetings, or feeling out of the loop on project progress. Setting up a committee where people can push for improvements, discuss their experiences, create inclusive company events and raise issues can help remote workers feel like their opinions and experiences actually matter. Plus, having a balance of in-office and remote employees wading in on issues allows companies to make decisions that will benefit everyone – not just people in the office.
Create company traditions throughout the year
To ensure feelings of inclusivity remain consistent, try to plan company events and celebrations throughout the year. For example, you could arrange an annual in-person meetup, where all employees come together in one location and have a chance to get to know each other and chat face-to-face. This is a great bonding event that creates the opportunity for meaningful connection and impromptu interactions. Even if this happens just once a year, the effect it has on relationships can be enjoyed for a long time after.
On a smaller scale, think about introducing fun games, quizzes and competitions for remote and in-office employees to take part in. For example, at Memory we hold our own Memoryvision song contest each year, where all employees submit a song and vote on everyone else’s submissions. You could also hold virtual events every payday – things like virtual pizza parties and movie nights – or hold a light-hearted annual awards ceremony to celebrate achievement. The idea is to create events that produce a universally shared experience – so it doesn’t matter whether someone’s in the office or not.