How to Help Remote Workers Find a Community
There's been no shortage of stories about the benefits of remote work, and probably just as much about the things that don’t translate as well when working from home. One of those drawbacks is the lack of a feeling of togetherness that comes from being in a shared office environment. Remote workers often cite loneliness as one of the handicaps of not being physically close to their colleagues.
More than a quarter (27 percent) of individuals working from home reported struggling with not being able to unplug, according to Buffer’s State of Remote 2021 Report, and 16 percent cited feelings of loneliness as a consequence of remote work. Having the support of a team is important for remote employees to excel, so finding ways to create a sense of community is a crucial step to improving the well-being of your remote employees.
Why Remote Workers Need a Community
English poet John Donne said it best, "No man is an island." Sure, he didn't have remote work in mind when he expressed this now famous concept, but it doesn't mean it doesn't apply. Having a shared purpose and camaraderie — even virtually — is critical to the success of the work-from-home environment. It provides the support and fellowship that most humans need to function.
Remote workers also need this sense of community and ability to socialize outside of work to maintain their mental health and help build their professional and personal networks, said Tina Hawk, senior vice president of human resources at GoodHire, a California-based company specializing in background checks.
“Active participation in a community outside of work can also be a vital outlet for remote employees to build a strong sense of self-worth, one that isn’t attached to their job,” Hawk said.
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Building a Remote Community Helps Combat Isolation
In a traditional office setting, such communities are built naturally by seeing people every day, chatting at the water cooler, or having networking events and after-work happy hours. In a remote work environment, companies must intentionally create that community to provide employees with socialization opportunities and an avenue for building relationships.
"Remote workers need a community in order to feel like they truly belong to the company and to instill a sense of pride and ownership in the company as a whole," said Dylan Fox, founder and CEO of automatic speech recognition company AssemblyAI. "It’s too easy to sit at home isolated in front of a computer and feel distant from the work you do."
Arc founder and CEO Weiting Liu says having a sense of belonging can turn coworkers into friends and strengthen existing bonds, even if those communities are digital. In fact, he has created an online community for developers to meet and interact. "In our community, developers expanded their knowledge regardless of their level of experience and made lasting connections with fellow software engineers," he said.
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Tips to Develop a Remote Work Community
It's often difficult for remote workers to find a community on their own, so here are some tips that can help.
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Companies looking to help their remote workforce find a community first need to determine the type of community best suited to the team. Liu starts with a question: What are remote workers looking for in a community?
"By identifying whether their goal is career growth or socialization will help determine how they begin their search,” he said.
Embrace Fears and Nervousness
For many remote workers, this environment is new, so it’s essential to embrace the unknown and the fears that accompany it. "Acknowledging our desire for community can be challenging, but actually taking the steps in joining one can be an anxious experience," Hawk said.
Focusing on the excitement of new experiences and the potential opportunities that joining a community could provide is a great way to get past that hurdle, she noted.
Try It Before You Buy It
Not everyone will seek the same thing out of their communities, so it's important to understand that there's no one-size-fits-all. Whether a company participates in setting up communities for its remote work employees or the employees themselves seek one out, failure is a possibility.
Liu said employees should feel comfortable to browse through a community’s content, interact with members and see if it’s the right fit before committing to it. For in-person events such as meet-ups, this could mean attending one event to get a feel for the environment or trying out a new coworking space for a day. There are many possibilities and while not all will be right, one of them will eventually be.
Find Ways to Participate
Communities only thrive if their members actively participate in them. For online communities, this can be as easy as engaging with a post or starting new discussions on various topics of interest. For in-person communities, mingling with fellow members and asking questions about what they do and what they aspire to do is a great way to start.
In the end, much of this depends on each employee's interest and willingness to engage with a community. Not everyone will seek one out, but companies should strive to forge and strengthen bonds within their ranks in an attempt to recreate the in-office camaraderie that most crave.
About the Author
Kaya Ismail is a business software journalist and commentator with years of experience in the CMS industry.