Tracy Phillips

Tracy Phillips

CodeSubmit Team

How to Strengthen Inclusion and Belonging in Distributed Teams

Company Culture

Over the past decade, distributed teams have become more common each year in the business world. The Covid-19 pandemic catapulted the need for and prevalence of distributed teams even further. According to Gartner, by the end of 2021, over 50% of employed knowledge workers worldwide were regularly working remotely, either from home or their client's office.

That number will continue to grow!

Distributed teams come with their own set of benefits and challenges. One big challenge is creating a sense of belonging for these employees, primarily when you can no longer rely on proximity to develop into a community.

So, if you're wondering how you can build a sense of belonging and community in your distributed workplace, you came to the right place! Here are five strategies that organizations can use to build an effective distributed team that has a real sense of belonging and inclusion:

1. Involve employees in refining core values

A company's core values should mature, evolve and grow alongside the company. And yet, many startups and even larger companies wrote down their core values when they were founded and hadn't seriously revisited them since. Which begs the question: When it comes to core values, shouldn't employees be included in the process? After all, they are the ones that should be working to embody these values every day.

Setting a time every year or two for revisiting and refining the company's core values can help new employees feel welcome and invested in the company's journey. It also helps to remind and inspire long-time employees to refocus and execute the company's mission in their day-to-day work.

Create an open dialogue with employees. Show them that you value their opinions and insight when refining core values. The process doesn't need to be arduous! For example, include questions regarding core values and how your employees feel about them in the annual engagement survey. You should always have your finger on the pulse of employee sentiment, especially concerning your core values!

The collective ownership of core values can help build a cohesive work environment where everyone believes in their work. By bringing the whole company together, core values become an asset that can strengthen the team's alignment and commitment to achieving the company's larger goals.

colorful signs with inspiring phrases
Your company's core values should be more than a fun sign on the wall! (Image by Charlie Firth on Unsplash)

2. Celebrate teams and share the limelight

The data is clear: teams are generally more innovative, creative, and productive. In groups of up to six, the increase in the number of people working together directly and positively impacts a new idea's chance of success. The power lies in collaboration; we are stronger and more successful together. Yet in most organizations, at least half of team members report not receiving any limelight.

Create a culture of celebrating wins together. If your company works in teams, especially cross-functional teams, make a concerted effort to give each group its time in the limelight. Teams often have their own internal goals that contribute to the broader goals and mission of the company. Allocate time at every all-hands to celebrate a different team's achievements.

Managers should encourage team leaders to rotate their colleagues into the limelight. When the power is in collaboration, it no longer makes sense to spotlight the most outspoken or charismatic team members. Encourage the quiet or modest team members to present the team's accomplishments. Always include the entire team when celebrating wins!

3. Encourage employees to share their passions

Another great way to build community and a sense of belonging in the company is to encourage and celebrate employees' lives outside of work.

You should be encouraging your employees to share their passions with the broader company – even if it's something that doesn't directly relate to its core business. Finding a job that involves your particular passion isn't necessarily easy. It's safe to assume that most of your employees have strong and compelling passions outside of their work for your company.

The first step is creating policies designed to support personal development, including encouraging employees to spend part of their work time pursuing personal interests, volunteerism, and other worthy causes. Just as important: encourage your employees to share their passions with the company by speaking at all-hands meetings, seminars, and conferences, via blogging or social media, and organizing workshops and training sessions on their interests.

Allowing employees to share their unique passions helps them build a community at work, be more productive, and contribute better ideas by honing their creativity. It also may reveal unique synergies that can be leveraged in their day-to-day or uncover opportunities for cross-functional collaboration.

4. Track and grow employee engagement

Employee engagement is a highly researched topic, but there's still much we don't know. One thing that's pretty well established: engaged employees have higher levels of productivity and lower levels of absenteeism, on average than disengaged employees.

Engaged employees are more productive, collaborative, and show more initiative. Fostering engagement should be a focus for all people managers. Having a welcoming, social, and supportive environment for your employees is necessary for the business's success, as these factors play a crucial role in long-term employee happiness and retention.

The annual employee engagement survey is a common but valuable tool in measuring and tracking engagement. There are many tools and frameworks for designing and implementing these surveys, but the most important part is asking the right questions! It is vital to gather employees' sentiments about their day-to-day work, their management, personal growth and ambitions, alignment with company mission and core values, and views on the executive team. Did your company go through a significant change, like a major shift in management, a merger, or another notable event? In that case, it's also great to include questions about those topics in the engagement survey.

Tracking these sentiments over time, especially as the company grows, can reveal a lot about the team's culture. Many employees will only speak out about areas of improvement when they are asked. Sharing the results of these surveys and action items created in response to feedback can reinforce the sense of community and belonging.

a group of colleagues gather for a cookout
In-person events are still important for distributed teams! Nothing can really replace meeting your colleagues face-to-face. (Photo from NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

5. Facilitate in-person team meetups and activities

It's important that employees gather on neutral territory every once in a while, outside of the office. Doing so is an excellent opportunity to shake things up, reconnect with colleagues informally, and get inspired!

These meetups can strengthen bonds and provide an opportunity for new relationships to form within the larger team. They're also an excellent opportunity for upper management to be more accessible to employees and inspire the wider team to strive for more in the upcoming quarter or year.

Well-executed company activities can produce dramatic team performance, creativity, and communication gains. Team building can create deep trust and profound motivation among its members. Bonds built in person can further empower the team to accomplish more than any individual could achieve alone!

Having a mix of events where employees are encouraged to bring their significant other or even their entire family can also profoundly impact their overall sense of community and belonging. While quarterly meetups may be for employees-only, consider opening your holiday party for the whole family.

It's your turn!

There you have it! Now you are armed with strategies to build or strengthen the sense of belonging, community, and inclusivity in your distributed workplace.