From Remote to Connected Cultivating Belonging Through Online Communities

There was once a time when working remotely seemed like a remote possibility. Those days are far gone, but it’s not what we thought it would be. As the virtual revolution makes work-from-anywhere arrangements possible, we struggle to connect. 

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In this article, we look at ways to cultivate belonging at work by building online communities and the tools that make it possible.

Common Challenges of Remote Work

So, what common challenges do remote workers now experience? Here are some of the most glaring:

1) Overworking

The boundary between work and home life blurs in a remote setting. As a result, employees work longer hours than they might in an office simply because they can. Up to 50% of remote workers admit they’re more prone to overworking now that they can work anytime, anywhere.

While more work might benefit the organization, it’s unsustainable in the mid to long-term. This can result in burnout and decreased productivity over time. Remote workers need to establish clear start and end times for their workday to prevent this issue​​.

2) Communication Issues

Remote work can lead to poorer collaboration among team members due to the lack of face-to-face interaction. Companies might see this more often when a team adjusts to remote work setups. 

Communication barriers can negatively affect a team’s ability to work efficiently and produce cohesive results. Companies and employees must leverage technology effectively and establish communication channels and protocols to mitigate this challenge​​.

3) Technology Hiccups

Depending too much on technology for connectivity means that any technical issues can significantly disrupt work. Some common problems include problems with internet connectivity, software glitches, and hardware malfunctions. 

Some organizations will have IT support readily available​​. Unfortunately, this is not an option readily available to all companies, especially smaller businesses that might not have the capacity to hire in-house tech staff to help. Also, even with remote work possibilities, experts can’t address some issues if they’re not physically present with employees.

4) Loneliness

Working remotely can isolate employees from their colleagues, causing feelings of loneliness and disconnection from the company culture. 70% of remote workers feel like they aren’t able to socialize enough.

Even as we close the chapter on a worldwide pandemic, we see a new one that’s more psychological than physiological. Loneliness can affect an employee’s mental health and sense of belonging. Encouraging virtual social interactions and creating opportunities for in-person meetups can help combat this​​.

5) Maintaining Work-Life Balance

The convenience of working from home can also make it challenging to disconnect from work. At times, such problems will affect personal time and relationships. Employees must set clear boundaries between work and personal life. Some great examples are setting a specific workspace at home and limiting work communications outside working hours​​.

When unaddressed, all these challenges contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness at work. What teams need to do is cultivate a feeling of belonging for their remote teams, and the best way to do that is to encourage online community building. In the next part of this blog, we’ll look at some of the best ways to do that.

Learn More: What Is Time Management System And How Does It Benefit You

7 Best Practices to Help Remote Teams Connect 

So now that we’re aware of challenges and issues affecting one’s sense of belonging, how do we address them? Here are some best practices to help your teams connect by building online communities.

1) Create a Shared Space for Interaction

While there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction, virtual ones can help alleviate loneliness. We recommend using platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Discord to establish a dedicated space where team members can communicate, share ideas, and collaborate. 

Having platforms for interaction lets you host various channels for different interests, projects, or casual conversations. Consequently, your team members can engage with one another more freely and share work and non-work thoughts and struggles.

2) Regular Virtual Meetups

The above platforms allow for chat interactions, but you should speak with someone at a more personal level. In these cases, you should schedule regular video calls for work-related meetings, virtual coffee breaks, happy hours, or informal catch-ups. 

Creating sessions for online catchups can help replicate the water cooler conversations of an office environment. Team members can connect personally.

3) Host Online Team-building Activities

Organizing virtual team-building exercises and activities can be a great way to break the monotony of isolated remote work. Try ideas like online games, trivia quizzes, or collaborative challenges. 

We highly recommend using a platform like Kahoot or signing up for online murder mysteries or escape games.  Such activities will be a fun and effective way to strengthen team bonds and foster a sense of belonging among remote employees.

4) Encourage Knowledge Sharing

Teams that learn from each other can bond over shared growth and development. You can achieve this by organizing forums or dedicated channels for sharing professional insights, learning resources, and personal development tips. Some HR systems have a learning management system where teams can record and upload their knowledge bases and best practices.

Try creating an online lunch and learn and buying lunch boxes to be delivered to your team members’ homes. Promote or even sponsor accelerated bachelor’s degree programs that team members can take together. Encouraging your team members to share their knowledge encourages a learning culture and helps build trust and respect within the team.

5) Celebrate Milestones and Achievements

Make it a point to celebrate team and individual milestones. Some you should be aware of include birthdays, work anniversaries, and achievements. Send gifts or do something in daily standups or weekly meetings to make the celebrants feel appreciated. As simple as these celebrations can be, these occasions will provide a supportive and appreciative community atmosphere that will build belonging in your virtual team.

6) Implement a Buddy System

Pair up team members, especially new hires, with a buddy. This will help them feel more connected and supported at work. In hybrid teams, work buddies can come into work simultaneously, so there’s a familiar face at work. 

A work buddy system can facilitate smoother onboarding. There’s also quicker integration into the team, providing a go-to person for questions and guidance. Use HR software to pair up buddies and shuffle them once a quarter or twice a year to get team members to bond with new people at work.

7) Encourage and Support Employee-Led Initiatives

Supporting employee-led initiatives can empower team members to participate actively in the community. Encourage certain interest groups, like book clubs, gaming groups, or professional development workshops. Making it as disconnected from work can increase engagement, creativity, and a sense of ownership over the community culture.

Strengthening Remote Team Connections and Community

Connection and community within remote teams will be a massive need in the coming years. More companies are now deciding to maintain a remote or hybrid work setup even long after shelter-in-place mandates. And with that trend in place, remote and hybrid companies need to think of ways to connect like never before.

Focusing on remote team connection strategies will help significantly with efforts to maintain engagement, productivity, and a sense of belonging among team members. Organizations can build a vibrant online community by implementing the best practices mentioned in this article. Beyond that, there are so many other opportunities for connection. 

These strategies can replicate an in-person office environment’s social and collaborative aspects, ensuring remote teams remain cohesive, motivated, and connected despite geographical distances. Through these efforts, companies can enhance the remote work experience and cultivate a culture that values communication, collaboration, and community. All this will contribute significantly to your workforce’s overall success and well-being.