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Is Workplace Camaraderie Across Distance Possible?

Published
08/27/2014 by Carole Trask

Connect widespread employees with one another

Aligning corporate culture can be difficult enough with one office location, but how can a company make sure multiple offices feel connected? What strategies can HR departments implement to foster a sense of community and camaraderie between workers who live across the continent from one another?

At Rand Worldwide, our workforce is incredibly dispersed. Over 365 employees work from over 40 separate locations across North America, as well as employees who telecommute. With such a geographically fragmented workforce, one of the top challenges Rand Worldwide faces is creating a sense of community among co-workers.

Below is an overview of some of the strategies and solutions that Rand Worldwide has successfully implemented to connect its staff working all over North America.

Make use of available technology

Because Rand Worldwide is a technology consulting company, it only makes sense that we use a variety of technologies to keep teams on the same page. Many departments are entirely virtual. To keep people working together, project teams and departments regularly hold meetings online. Being able to share screens is valuable and simulates in-person responsiveness, and everyone in the company has access to an online meeting tool account.

We also allow everyone to use instant messaging (IM). IM is an efficient way to ask a question, get feedback or provide invisible backup when a team member on a call is asked a question they can’t answer. IM replaces hard to schedule calls and email, which at times can be painfully slow. IM has been the ideal solution when someone has a quick, straightforward question. Even though employees may not be in the same office, it’s easy for them to be there for one another and foster a culture of helping each other out.

Having technology available that allows for easy access to other employees lubricates communications and provides opportunities for workers (who may not otherwise have the chance to meet face-to-face) to become internal support systems.

Establishing an informal employee voice

Rand Worldwide publishes a monthly newsletter called Random Thoughts. The newsletter focuses on people in the organization; in each issue, we run a story written by an employee about who they are and what they do when they aren’t working. For example, an employee was setting out to climb one of the highest peaks in the Himalayas, and he wrote his story to share with other employees at the company. He also created a blog where co-workers could follow his trip online. Everyone talked about where he was and how he was doing, even though many did not have a personal relationship with him. Other workers were able to bond over his story and ambitions, and he built a community within the company that cheered him on and supported his goals. 

Random Thoughts also features photos of people both in the office and out of the office, at work or play. Staff members submit photos to the editor of the newsletter on a regular basis, and the editor chooses several photos to include each month. 

While Rand Worldwide has an official employee recognition plan that honours employees for length of service and rewards them for outstanding performance, on a less formal basis, we ask staff for “shout outs” for the newsletter. Shout-outs give people a chance to thank each other publicly. They also demonstrate appreciation for excellence, diligence, kindness and many other qualities that we value. 

The heavy emphasis on people stories and photos serves to make staff feel more connected. At Rand Worldwide, we are continually forming project-based teams; members on any given team might have met each other in person – or not. The newsletter shows what different staff members look like and can provide a starting point for conversation between two remote colleagues. This way, while two employees may not have met in person, they’re able to potentially know the other person’s face and a few key facts about their team member.

Health and wellness

Rand Worldwide takes a long-term view regarding our health and wellness initiatives, and uses those initiatives as another opportunity to help employees feel connected to one another. The interesting thing about focusing on health and wellness is that it also fosters community, as many programs also instigate teamwork and good-natured competition. The company has a standing group of five people who serve on the morale and wellness team. As a virtual team, they come up with ideas for new ways to promote health and fitness – as well as corporate camaraderie.  

Some programs that have been successfully implemented:

Fitbit 10,000 steps challenge

The morale and wellness team started a walking program based around the wearable Fitbit activity tracker, which turned out to be a very successful means to encourage staff members to interact with each other. The company offered all employees and their partners the opportunity to purchase a Fitbit tracker for half-price. Employees paid half through payroll deduction, and Rand Worldwide paid the balance. Over 200 people at the company have consistently participated in the program. 

In 2013, during the challenge, participants collectively walked 26,981,820 steps, equaling 12,432 miles. We burned 1,498,492 calories. The morale and wellness team created a website with a leaderboard, active minutes, distance and steps over time. The stats allowed people to see who is most active and motivated others to get going. Several offices started a lunchtime walking group, and walkers enjoyed getting to know their co-workers in a less formal setting. As typical of most challenge settings, there was plenty of friendly banter between colleagues. Participants were able to write comments on the challenge website, and the comments were almost more fun to follow than the actual steps. 

Weight loss challenge

After the success of the 10,000 steps challenge, we held a weight loss challenge across office locations. Some teams were virtual, others location-based. From March 1 to June 30, participants included on the winning team lost 12.39 per cent of their combined body weight. The winning individual lost 18 per cent. The weight loss challenge was an opportunity for staff members to really support one another in their goals outside of the work setting; people were able to build relationships and truly rely on the encouragement of their team members from across many of Rand Worldwide’s locations.

Connecting your workforce

Recognize that there are almost endless opportunities to create camaraderie across distance. HR can put together a team to focus on your own organization’s morale and wellness, and ask them to generate ideas for new programs. Let the team know that their ideas will be supported and the goal is to ensure connectivity and camaraderie between office locations.

When your workforce feels connected to one another, a corporate culture of helping each other out can really take off.

 

Carole Trask is vice president, Human Resources at Rand Worldwide.