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Keeping Remote Workers Socially Connected

Helping Remote Workers feel connected, supported and engaged

a remote worker working on his laptop outside in a doorway by a street

One common challenge we face within the NearForm HR team is finding ways to help remote workers in a fully-remote team feel connected, supported and engaged. This can be an easy feat when you have a bunch of people in one building or spaced out over a few. But what if everyone is working from home, alone?

A Remote Story: Physically Distant Teams

As a company, we’re lucky that one of the foundations we were built on was trust. As you may be aware, trust is one of the most important elements of a remote-first culture. This trust must come from leadership and filter down through management for the remote model to truly be effective. From the very beginning, NearForm had a team comprising some remote workers. For us, we didn’t have to second guess hiring remote workers, and it allowed us to bring on board some top talent from around the globe, while also allowing CEO, Cian Ó’Maidín , to stay based in Waterford, where he and his family reside.

Fast forward a few years, and this is now one of our unique selling points. Our remote-model is proven to deliver operational efficiencies and allows us to rapidly build and deliver digital solutions for our clients.  We can serve companies across the globe with access to the best designers and engineers no matter where in the world they are. We’re a company of extraordinary people, spread across 20+ countries, and counting - some NearFormers are the only ones in their country!

A Challenge

Supporting, engaging and connecting a 90% remote workforce can be a tough job, especially with project-based team structures. We’re constantly working with a lot of separate client projects and support functions which means we have to work extra hard to keep that one-team concept and culture alive and well. At our annual company get-together, NearFest, last year we decided to host some workshops and do some brainstorming on areas that we wanted to focus on and improve. In our remote workshop, (ironically, held at a face to face Company get together -  more about this in another post!), we asked groups to discuss some of the most common challenges that they face when working from home.

We brought all this information back with us and appointed a Remote Work - Working Group (That’s a mouthful!). As a group, we’ve been working on ideas and ways to help combat some of the challenges that arose. One of the first challenges we wanted to address was the element of social isolation for remote workers on a day to day basis.

A Solution

Aside from Slack (which deserves its own post), one of the more straightforward, and cost-effective solutions to this was to host a “Remote Water-Cooler”. This idea was suggested during one of our brainstorming sessions - we always find our NearFormers are our best source of inspiration!

So… that's great, but what exactly is a “Remote Water-Cooler” ?

Well, in an office environment, you often end up having random casual chats with colleagues when you stray from your desk or go get a tea, coffee, or snack. These casual chit-chats are called water-cooler chats. So casual small talk… it’s part of the everyday life of an office worker, right?

However, we might not realise how important these social interactions can be, until we don’t have them.

Our mission was to try to bring these casual chats back to life in a remote environment, so we started hosting a monthly video conferencing call, using Zoom .

How it works:

  • Everyone in the company is invited (Calendar invite with Zoom link included)
  • 30-minute time slot
  • 1 host
  • Everyone joins the main room at the scheduled time (we do Friday afternoon)
  • The host gives an introduction and breaks people out into rooms (2-3 people in each, this is a zoom feature)
  • Chats last for approx 15 mins, or for as long as each group decides

We have an internal guide that encourages NearFormers to talk about non-work related topics.

So far, they’ve gone down well with NearFormers, and we find that every month we have different people joining. They’re still a relatively new thing but guarantee that people will leave smiling and feeling good having had a chat to break up the day! Again, Slack is an excellent place to chat, but sometimes that face-to-face chat means so much more, even if it is just over video.

In light of the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19, we have made these chats more regular (once a week) and loosened the format to be more of a group-type discussion.

If you are a fully remote company, or you’ve been given no other choice but to work remotely over the past few weeks, we would highly recommend you give this a go. You never know who might be craving that social interaction in these isolating times. *A special shoutout to all those NearFormers who contributed in terms of ideas and execution of our remote water coolers!* For more tips and or advice on remote work, stay tuned or reach out to the team.

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