At CoSupport, we’re essentially all telecommuters – we work from desktops and coffee shops in Oregon, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Texas, and wherever else we happen to be during working hours. And while we all really enjoy working with each other and the camaraderie of using Slack to keep in touch, sometimes it’s a little difficult to really tap into that feeling of being part of a team when you spend most of your work day in an office by yourself. So how do you work to build community and culture for your company when the majority of your coworkers are over 1,000 miles away from your desk? We’re not positive, but we have a pretty good idea. Here are some strategies we’ve been trying over the past few months, some longer:
1. Talk to people.
Even when we have a rare slow day, we make an effort to chat with each other. We crack jokes, tell each other what’s going on in our daily lives, talk about the weather. Sure, it might all be normal water-cooler workplace conversation, but that doesn’t necessarily come standard for the telecommuter. If you’re not doing this with your team now, you should be, and it’s easy to start. You don’t have to be the most fascinating person on the planet (trust us, our team is almost entirely made up of “introverts”), just start with a joke you know or a story you have to tell, and eventually your “office” will develop a language and a rhythm of its own (likely complete with animated GIFs and requisite inside-jokes). More than once this week I have laughed out loud in my empty office and not felt the slightest bit guilty about it. After all, I’m among friends.
2. “Teams that play together…play together.”
We’re still working out the bugs with this one, but a while back our team got jealous of other people talking about “offsite” team-building excursions, so we decided to do our own – via online games. We started with adding a ZORK channel to Slack, and we still venture into it here and there. Eventually, though, we learned that you can only spend so much quality time together when you’re just dying over and over and over. ZORK can be unforgiving that way.
Next we looked into MMOs to play together online, and we’re still doing research on which ones might be the best for our team. We’re also looking into figuring out how to play Super Mario Kart for Super Nintendo online together. But it doesn’t have to be a game – there are lots of experiences that coworkers can share together, even when they’re apart. Agree as a team to watch a movie and talk about it. Recommend a show that everyone has access to and can gab about. Read a book together and discuss it (even if it’s just that book about Han Solo and Chewbacca’s adventures that you know isn’t actually very good). The goal here is to create a shared experience for your team that can provide a lasting point of connection, just like in a real offsite excursion. It also makes accomplishing step 1 a lot easier if you’re one of those people who finds it difficult to come up with things to talk about at work. Plus, no trust-falls.
3. “Do lunch.”
If you’re a telecommuter working on a team, chances are you have a passably decent computer and a similarly decent internet connection. It also means you can use Skype, Google Hangouts, or any number of other different video-chat programs to “meet up” with your team. Just this past month our team instituted a bi-weekly lunchtime hang-out for no other reason than to say hello and hear each other’s voices for a little while. Our first meet-up wound up being a huge success, and even though most of our meet-up was the same smalltalk we type into some of our Slack channels all day long it was refreshing to see faces, hear voices, and feel that little extra boost of connectedness. We’ve only done it once so far, and I can’t wait for our next.
4. Start a playlist.
I’ll be the first to admit that we’re negligent with this one, but a while back we started a combined Spotify and Rdio playlist so we could share what we were listening to while we worked. If you’re someone who’s “like, really into music, man,” like I am, this is a huge way to connect with your teammates. I’ve heard through the grapevine that certain artists are also playing virtual online concerts, too, so that’s another thing to consider for potential virtual offsites for your team.
Building community with your team of telecommuters can be challenging, but it’s definitely not what I’d call difficult and certainly not what I’d call impossible. At the end of the day, the best advice I’ve ever heard for building a healthy team comes from my background as a highly cultured film student, from one of the most classic and adored films in all of American cinematic history:
I think that just about says it all.
Party on, dudes.
Colin Flanigan and the CoSupport team.