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How to build a sense of employee belonging in remote times

How to build a sense of employee belonging in remote times

Jonathan Davies


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3 mins read

Mon, Feb 14, '22  

Remote work undoubtedly has its perks, but so does feeling connected to your colleagues. Countless studies have found how beneficial a connected workforce is, from heightened productivity to reduced employee turnover. One Harvard Business Review study even found that employees who feel love perform better.

Jaime Cannon is the Director of Employee Experience at Super Coffee. With a background of 6 years as a school teacher, Jaime knows a thing or two about communications. She shared a few tips and tricks with us on how to keep your workforce connected in remote times.

Welcoming new employees when working remotely — what you should and shouldn't do

Jaime tells us you shouldn't assume people know how to connect: "The first step is to put the right digital tools into place, but you can’t presume things will happen. People need that nudge to go out of their comfort zone, and they have to feel safe to do that.

“The same goes for change management. When you push-out updates or news your team needs to be aware of, don't assume everyone is interpreting things the way the company is interpreting them. Introduce the news in a way that welcomes feedback and gives people the opportunity to share any questions or suggestions. You want people to share because you never know what’s happening in their specific realm of influence that you haven’t considered. And you want to make sure you keep new joiners in mind when implementing feedback opportunities.

“Really have the lines of communication open for people to take advantage of and try to foster a culture where people feel empowered to do so. There's a lot to say for both of those things, you have to have the way to do it, but then you also need the mind to build a culture where it’s okay for people to run things up the channel versus just down.”

This boils down to:

  • Do create a culture of transparent communications

  • Do select the best tools for digital communications

  • Do include and encourage new joiners to openly communicate 

  • Don't assume people know how to connect 

What is the most important part of the employee life cycle?

One thing remains constant throughout the employee life cycle: the importance of human connection. Keeping that connection constant with both employees that have been there from the start and those that have just joined isn’t easy. Super Coffee has employees that have been with them for six years, and newbies who haven’t met any colleagues face-to-face. 

Jaime explains: “a crucial part of the employee experience and the employee life cycle when you're working in a new job, is making that human connection. And this becomes even more important, and challenging, when working remotely. We're constantly trying to think of what opportunities exist virtually, but also future opportunities to connect in-person. It’s important to remember there has to be some aspect of human connection for it to translate to the digital world. Most importantly it’s about striking that balance of making sure people feel like they belong. For this, you have to focus on making people feel comfortable quickly because you're asking them to do important work and that's hard to do over a screen.”

Don’t always try to “fix it”

We all have problems. As a manager, the responsibility to solve some of these problems will fall on you. Yet, sometimes your focus shouldn’t be on fixing problems but listening to them.

Jaime explains: “It can be a challenge to just listen. But sometimes it’s about giving people the space to talk and not necessarily trying to fix it. People want to be heard — it’s about giving them the space to talk and share.

“There are indeed matters that require action. But when living in an isolated world, people just want to be validated and know that whatever they're living through is okay.”

We've all had our fair share of virtual meetings and might not want more. But sometimes having a call just to talk and share can make a world of difference. 

Lead by example

“Sometimes it can be a bit intimidating for employees to post on their company’s social intranet. Then again, the more they see their direct manager, the C-level Suite, or the founders of the company posting open-ended questions and sharing responses, the more the curtain will be lifted. I think people will become more comfortable in doing so and putting themselves out there. Most people already have their favorite social media platform, which they feel comfortable interacting on. It’s about tapping into that pre-existing potential and getting people to engage on an internal level.”

Put yourself out there, build trust, don’t force anything

Jaime leaves us with some parting wisdom: “If you can model the behavior you're asking for, people will be more comfortable participating. I post a lot of things on our social intranet that I wouldn’t necessarily share on my Linkedin or Instagram. If people can see that I'm asking them to be vulnerable whilst I’m being vulnerable, I think that’ll inspirit trust and a sense of belonging within the company for everyone. You can't force a sense of belonging but you can encourage it.”