Beyond the Office Walls: How to Nurture Human Connection Among Remote Employees

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The employee experience (EX) team at PayScale was established in 2017 to intentionally design how employees experience the physical, social and operational environments of the workplace. We like to say our purpose is connection. We encourage employees to be connected to each other, to our mission, to the resources that they need to succeed and to the purpose of their work. Our goal is to enable our employees to bring their best and be their best at PayScale. 

Why Does Human Connection Matter in the Workplace?

Connection with your colleagues drives engagement and engagement drives business results. Engaged employees are 20 percent more productive than their less engaged peers. 

Through an intentionally designed experience, companies can open the doors to the benefits of an engaged workforce. Studies have shown benefits such as 59 percent less turnover, 41 percent lower absenteeism, 20 percent increase in sales as well as 10 percent higher customer satisfaction. 

Figuring out how to drive engagement can feel like trying to hit a moving target, especially for organizations with a remote work force. This is where EX strategy comes in. 

Where to Start?

When PayScale first gained remote employees and field offices it happened virtually overnight. Suddenly, we had two offices in two separate time zones as well as 45 remote employees, spanning from coast to coast. Without a clue about where or how to start, we began with an open mind and our company values:  

  • We invest in people differently
  • We build and optimize high performing teams
  • Who we are matters

Daniel Coyle said it best in his book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups:

It’s a never-ending process of trying, failing, reflecting and above all learning. High purpose environments don’t descend on groups from high; they are dug out of the ground, over and over, as a group navigates it’s problems together and evolves to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world.

When we looked back at our key lessons learned over the past few years, we noticed they encompassed three main themes:

  • Listening and proactive feedback 
  • Mindfulness
  • Technology

Let’s take a deeper look at those themes. 

Listening Tools Can Turn Conversations Into Solutions

By listening, you can turn issues into conversations and solutions. It builds an environment where employees feel heard and empowered to share their good ideas with you. Establishing a mechanism for two-way communication has been absolutely crucial in engaging not only our remote workforce, but our entire team.

There are many listening tools available in the market. At PayScale we use OfficeVibe. Their pulse survey is system generated and includes questions on topics such as: alignment, relationships with both peers and managers, wellness, happiness and personal growth. 

With those metrics, we’re able to benchmark ourselves against other companies. We can also measure our own performance before, during and after company milestones and program rollouts. This helps keep us up-to-date with our own employees, as well as with the industry as a whole.

That being said, a score obviously doesn’t tell the whole story. So, employees also can also share free-form feedback, choosing to remain anonymous or not, allowing their manager and our leadership and people teams to hold conversations directly in the tool. 

We also use OfficeVibe for custom polls, which has allowed us to gather direct feedback on our many experiments, events, meetings & significant milestones. This allows us to calculate the ROI of specific programs. 

If you have a remote workforce, creating a mechanism to hear from all your employees, regardless of their location, will give you crucial data that you need to drive decisions about programming and resource allocation. 

A Note About Proactive Feedback:

When you’re in a fast-paced company it’s easy to fall into reactive mode, simply waiting to hear from your employees what you’re getting right or wrong. On the other hand, leading with proactively seeking feedback allows you to thoughtfully strategize, uphold accountability and focus on items that actually move the needle within your organization. 

We learned the value of proactively asking for feedback through one of our signature company culture events known as “Third Thursday” (held every other month). It’s a time that we carve out as a space for employee acknowledgement and connection. We introduce new hires, celebrate notable employee milestones and end with a fun, interactive activity, such as pumpkin carving and flower planting.

We also struggled and failed many times, attempting to turn this Seattle-based event into something scalable and impactful for all of our employees. However, we still weren’t hitting the mark with our remote and field office employees. After our bruised egos healed from some raw feedback, we realized that all we had to do was ask them what would resonate. The solution was simple and was staring us in the face the entire time (literally in some cases!). 

Now, we’ve successfully pivoted to a remote Third Thursday, run by one of our remote employees on Zoom, to create their own space for making “face to face” connections. Thus, teams can bond with one another regardless of time zone or location. Remote Third Thursday has been a much larger success, now with zero cost and an activity for them to do together to boot. 

Provide Acknowledgement, Take Action

Once you have put proactive feedback into motion, you need to continually lean in to ensure that your employees continue to feel safe sharing feedback with you in an open and honest fashion. Admittedly. these conversations can be hard. But acknowledging it and taking action, the feedback can lead to a stronger relationship where trust will only continue to build. 

Take the time to reflect thoughtfully and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t quite understand the feedback. Sometimes, you may not agree with the feedback and that’s okay! What is important is that you convey to the employees that you heard them.

When taking action, it’s important to keep the employee in the loop. Make sure there are clear expectations about what you can and will do. If you’re unable to take action right away or within the promised timeline, reach out to let the employee know. You may not always decide to take action. That’s okay, as long as you communicate the full why to the employee. 

Be Mindful of Time Zones

A huge opportunity, regardless of what role you play, is to lead by educating employees on ways to be mindful when you have people working in different states, countries, time-zones. 

Whether you’re the one influencing scheduling, or in the place to provide feedback to those who are, simply acknowledging that there are other time-zones at play on the team can work wonders in making employees feel ‘seen’ and considered. 

It seems simple. But in our organization, it was a new muscle that we needed to teach employees at HQ to exercise. 

Good Communication Technology Tools are Imperative for a Remote Workforce

At PayScale we use Slack for team and individual communication. For those unfamiliar, you can have 1:1, group or channel chats. We love that it allows anyone in the company to create a channel of interest to them, whether it’s a business or personal topic, or for a cross-functional task force or special project team. 

The autonomy of this tool empowers employees to create channels and connections our People team couldn’t make up or dictate on our own. 

Not only does a tool like Slack provide a platform for work & connections across teams but the connection is happening over geo locations where remote employees are able to participate fully as if they were in the exact same lunchroom or water cooler, sharing photos of their cats to whoever would see them ;). 

Video Conferencing Etiquette 

Another area we had an opportunity to skill-up in was video-conferencing etiquette. Again, straightforward but crucial for remote employee connection. 

Shortly after rolling out our new video conferencing system, a small group of employees identified a problem didn’t even know we had. Often times on meetings with video conferencing people would join the call but keep their video turned off. 

It might seem harmless, but when one or more people on a call don’t show their face during the meeting you lose all ability to communicate effectively. It encourages multi-tasking, you miss out on body language and facial expression cues, and it makes chiming in really difficult on the call. 

Shared Experiences Matter More than Identical Experiences

One final idea to keep in mind is that having a shared experience has a greater impact than an identical experience. When we first started working with satellite offices, it was tempting to try and replicate events or programs for our field offices and remote employees that had worked well in Seattle.

Once we recognized that our remote workforce has a different set of challenges and preferences, that unlocked our ability to dissect the heart of every effort, pulling through the threads that were most important. We didn’t need to emphasize how identical an experience was. If you’re making the effort to be mindful, listen, and provide the right tools, your people will feel seen, that they belong, and that their contribution matters. 

These are at the core of a high performing work culture, and we hope we have provided a few ideas today to create meaningful human experiences in your organization! 

About the Authors

Erika Levitsis is the PayScale Employee Experience Lead



Jacqueline Vonk is the PayScale Sr. Manager, Employee Experience



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