A Remote Community
A comprehensive guide to creating a community as a remote worker: with or without your team
“It must be so nice to get to work from home, stay in your pajamas all day and not deal with an office. I would love it!” This was the conversation I had with many friends and family members after starting my first remote role at appear.in over two years ago. Being the first US based employee for this Norwegian startup was thrilling, but also introduced me to a unique set of challenges that took a lot of practice to overcome.
As an extrovert in the workplace, developing close relationships with my teammates is a major part of who I am. How was I going to do this with my closest teammate thousands of miles away from me and hours ahead? My journey over the last two years has taught me the importance of both community with your work team - a given for remote and co-located companies - and of building a community outside of your team to help drive growth and connectedness.
First things first, your team is the most valuable use of resources and intention when it comes to success in your role. I’ll go ahead and force a little bit of my homegrown Tennessee pride here: Pat Summit once said
“The wonderful thing about being part of a team is that it halves your sorrow and compounds your joys. The amount of success you are capable of enjoying and the pleasure you are capable of feeling, is equal to the number of people you are willing to share it with.”
At appear.in, we have moved away from referring to our colleagues as family, but are dedicated to investing in each other as a team. In a family you stumble around and work through awkwardness, out of love, sometimes obligation…but success is a result of a whole different process as a family. Buffer’s Nicole Miller expands on this topic in her post here. In a team, each person may bring out something in the other that makes you uniquely connected to accomplish a common goal.
I’m a realist, this could be good or bad, but that’s also part of a successful team — working through the differences and the hard stuff. Here’s how we do it at appear.in:
- Intentional time: For a remote company, face to face time over video (especially when you build a tool for it) is incredibly valuable. We make it a point to be intentional with meetings and the time we have set for them. Recurring syncs and one on ones are consistent and only ever rescheduled. They always have an outlined agenda. We are also intentional with time spent socially. Every Friday we meet up for 30 minutes of pure social time in one of our common appear.in rooms. Drinks for our Norwegian colleagues and coffee for our US based remotees, while we spend time sharing stories inspired by a pre-selected topic.
- Face to Face: Company offsites are a staple for our team. It’s a time where we can explore an area of the world with each other, while also making time for some hard discussions through “fireside” type chats with the company’s senior leaders. We’ve started visiting the hometowns of our remote workers, with our most recent offsite being in the Costa Blanca area of Spain where one of our Software Engineers lives.
- Big Events and Appreciation: When not in an office, you can miss those moments of a quick congratulations or notes on your desk for your birthday. It’s hard to recreate this in a virtual sense but we’ve adopted a couple of systems to combat distance for big things like birthdays and small moments of appreciation: For every team member’s birthday, two teammates are assigned as “birthday surprisers” and get a small budget for an item to celebrate that person’s birthday. There’s a big happy birthday sent out in our general channel and pictures from the birthday surprisers. Work doesn’t go unnoticed with our appreciation channel in Slack. Here we put our high fives and kudos to our fellow teammates for their effort in making our product and work environment better.
When I started as the first US based employee, our slack channel got very very quiet at about 10:00 am my time. Talk about feeling isolated. After a week of quiet afternoons at home, I knew this wasn’t a sustainable solution for me. The lack of human interaction was going to drive me nuts (as was my husband, who also works remotely). I had to find solace in other locations to be able to interact with other humans.
- Cue the magic of a coffee shop: I know it’s not for everyone but I find a lot of inspiration and drive by simply being around other people who are working or studying. Not to mention the helpfulness of a caffeine fix. I found that going to a coffee shop one or two days a week for portion of my work day added the variety I needed to keep the isolation at bay. Also, I can’t discount the Cheers vibe of walking into “your” coffee shop and chatting with your best friend, the barista, that knows just how to make your latte
- Co-working: When I’m spending just a little too much money on pastries and coffee I like to split my weeks and enjoy some time at a co-working space. After moving cities recently, I’ve enjoyed experiencing these spaces’ different personalities and meeting some incredibly interesting people. Co-working environments have value not only in the member mixers, comfy chairs, and fast wifi, but in the people who work there. I’ve had the opportunity to hear the stories of people from all different types of professional backgrounds and been able to experience the hurtles of remote work together. If you are struggling with isolation and longing for some community I highly recommend checking out your cities’ co-working options. There are some jewels out there that can provide unique support to a remote worker.
Technology solves fascinating problems. For me, the problem was finding a community of remote workers in support roles. I found my solution in a community called Support Driven. The Support Driven community was a foundational resource as I started working remotely, and continues to be as I’ve grown in my role. Similar to a co-working space, it is full of fascinating people from all walks of life who share a love of support and service from all different industries.
The community has helped me gain some valuable perspectives, especially through its Aspire mentor program. It’s provided connections to other tools and people I may not have found otherwise on my own. As part of our remote support team onboarding, I ask every team member to join this community.
For those that crave the human interaction, Conferences and Meetups are also an incredible place to meet and build community. With platforms now like Meetup.com it’s easy to check out what groups may be gathering in your city that focus on the same things, professional or not, that interest you. At appear.in we support our employees in going to one role related conference a year and encourage exploring any tech meetups they have inside their community.
A search for workplace community and culture will get you hundreds of hits on best selling books, ted talks, and viral blogs. It’s apparent that a community’s role is crucial in building a productive team and effective work environment. For those working remotely, the importance of community is more than just connecting with your teammates. As the appear.in team expands and the product grows, our team will continue to see challenges. However, I’m confident that the systems and focuses we have in place now with our team has set a strong foundation for what’s to come.