Cultivating a sense of community at work is a priority of most organizations, and for good reason. Company culture is one of the most important factors graduating seniors cite when evaluating job offers. That’s why many companies encourage activities like meet-and-greets and team lunches to help entry-level hires get to know each other and build relationships.
Developing community when everyone’s working remotely isn’t as straightforward. How can you get to know your coworkers and maintain relationships when you can’t meet in person? This can be particularly challenging if you’re an intern or entry-level employee and don’t have much experience developing a network. Building relationships in a virtual world requires out-of-the-box thinking and a re-imagination of established practices. Here’s how 13 companies are building community for employees in a virtual world.
When Adobe’s 22,000 employees began working from home in March of 2020, there were challenges, even though the company had already built a digital culture. Certain aspects of remote work were easily handled through their products like Adobe Sign, but maintaining community among employees was more difficult. The company utilized communication tools like BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams, and Slack to facilitate collaboration. They also made sure to have fun with events like “Hat Day,” where employees were encouraged to wear creative hats to a virtual happy hour. One big feat was pulling off their traditional Adobe Field Trip virtually for the first time. The Field Trip brought employees’ families together with fun and inspiring programming for children ages 5-18. Over 5,000 employees from 17 countries participated, much more than had previously been possible when the event was held in-person.
Automattic, the organization behind WordPress, WooCommerce, Tumblr, and more, has been fully distributed since the company was founded in 2005, so it’s no surprise they’re experts at building community remotely. In addition to Zoom and Slack, they utilize internal blogs running their P2 WordPress theme for asynchronous communication. Themed Zoom gatherings for employees and their families are also common, encompassing everything from adult coloring parties, to open mic nights, to group meditation. While they encourage digital conversations by utilizing tools like the Donut app, they also know that not all connections in a virtual world have to be made online. With associates in 79 countries, Automattic encourages employees to send physical postcards from their hometown to coworkers around the world.
As pioneers in the video conferencing industry, Cisco employees have no trouble collaborating with each other through Cisco technology like Webex. To build relationships remotely, they make sure to have fun on video calls with no set agenda. They make a point to recognize their coworkers’ special occasions with virtual birthday parties and baby showers, and have even video conferenced in to weddings. Some teams actually exercise together virtually, utilizing platforms like Peloton to connect with each other all across the United States. During the pandemic, the company also brought in thought leaders to speak during weekly check-ins, including medical experts to support their staff. These efforts led to Cisco being ranked first on the 2020 World’s Best Workplaces list.
Crowdstrike, a leader in cloud-delivered and next generation services for endpoint protection, was proud to seamlessly shift 85 global interns from in-office to at-home in 2020. Thanks to the organization’s remote-first culture, they were well-situated to make the change. One way they made remote interns feel at home in a virtual world was by encouraging full-time employees to celebrate Intern Spirit Week. Utilizing their Instagram, the Crowdstrike team showcased photos of themselves as students and even put out a heartfelt intern appreciation video on National Intern Day. By expressing gratitude and including interns in social media fun, the Crowdstrike team helped students feel like a part of their community remotely.
When forced to switch to remote work, Goldman Sachs employees made sure to connect via regular Zoom meetings and messaging groups, where they could share everything from baking tips to what shows they were binging. Impressively, the company welcomed 2,800 student interns remotely in the summer of 2020 and were able to integrate them into the virtual Goldman Sachs community. To introduce them to each other, Goldman Sachs used their blog to highlight fun facts about the intern class, like that one member was an ordained minister, another a jazz pianist, and another a bodybuilder. They also asked interns to submit an introductory video, allowing interns to get to know each other before officially meeting. Goldman Sachs’ CEO David Soloman also wrote a message addressed to the interns with six bulleted pieces of advice, welcoming them into the program. Through these efforts, Goldman Sachs was able to help interns feel like they were truly a part of something bigger and not just working alone at home.
Hubspot offers a hybrid-remote culture, with some employees working in the office, some working remotely, and some doing a bit of both. To foster community, Hubspot doesn’t just try to copy in-office culture for their remote employees. Instead, they ensure that everything from their benefits to their cultural programming is remote-inclusive. They host frequent virtual water cooler events to allow employees to chat, have invited charity partners to share virtual volunteering opportunities, and always ensure that there are plenty of opportunities to interact beyond Zoom calls.
LinkedIn creates a sense of camaraderie for employees at every step of their career, from undergraduate interns to long term teammates. This didn’t stop when the company went remote during the pandemic. For an organization whose purpose is to build community, certain aspects of staying connected were easy. For example, coworkers were encouraged to form group chats and show appreciation on the LinkedIn platform with “Kudos.” LinkedIn is also proud to have nine employee resource groups (ERGs) that help instill a sense of togetherness in a remote world. Across the globe, LinkedIn’s ERGs connect over 5,000 LinkedIn employees.
Keeping interns connected virtually was a new challenge, but one LinkedIn approached creatively. Since visiting the office is such an exciting part of any internship, LinkedIn’s campus team took a note from Homesick candles and sent each intern a candle that smelled like their team’s office! For new grads looking to grow their skills, LinkedIn provides four rotational programs in which the community is unparalleled. Program apprentices are given mentors, assigned buddies, and end up finishing their programs with a network comparable to that of a small college. One apprentice grad stated that he learned “twice as much in half the time because of my ambitious and supportive peers.”
National Grid, an electricity and clean energy delivery company, shifted 17,000 employees to remote work during the pandemic. Frequent check-ins and activities like virtual cook offs kept employees engaged and connected with each other when working from home. Although moving to remote work was challenging, it didn’t stop National Grid from continuing their decade old in-person internship program virtually. Remote “Gridterns” were provided 30 paid hours to volunteer with charitable organizations in their communities. This helped interns stay connected not only with each other, but with their local communities, and was emblematic of National Grid’s dedication to being a socially responsible organization.
PURE Insurance’s commitment to community building is clear. The purpose-driven insurance carrier proudly puts its people – both members and employees – first. They have worked hard to build an inclusive community where employees can always feel safe and supported. This commitment to community starts even before a candidate is hired. When forced to switch to a virtual recruitment process during the pandemic, the team at PURE strove to make the process as welcoming as possible for candidates. They offered webinars to help candidates at all stages of the hiring process learn more about the company culture, fostered 1-on-1 conversations between candidates and employees, and encouraged candidates to connect with the team on LinkedIn.
Once an entry-level hire officially joins the team, face-to-face communication is emphasized to help build connections right away. To complement the weekly emails they send to help new hires prepare for their training program, PURE also offers virtual office hours to answer questions directly. They created weekly Zoom meetings to allow new hires to ask questions, connect with others in the organization, and get to know their cohort. On top of job-specific sessions, they also offer meetings dedicated solely to community building with icebreaker activities, happy hours, and more. Additionally, PURE employees come from diverse backgrounds and are encouraged to build relationships through employee resource groups, councils, and company-wide initiatives. Through these efforts, entry-level hires can quickly connect with each other, even if they haven’t met in-person.
Verizon has made communication a core component of their shift to remote work. Managers are encouraged to check in frequently with their teams, and executives have made it a point to schedule video calls with lower-level employees to learn more about them personally and to foster positive relationships. The Verizon team also worked hard to create community among their remote interns, holding many interactive events like Virtual Fireside Chats with the executive team, networking events, and Virtual Intern Volunteer Day. The campus team kept everything fun with themed experiences like Throwback Thursday and home office setups. Verizon interns were also encouraged to volunteer, participating in virtual events like BOLD Walk for Racial Injustice, NAF: Walk, Run, Bike, Dance, Exercise for Future Leaders in STEM, and Zooniverse. With these events, Verizon not only built a strong virtual company culture, but also displayed their core value of actively being part of the community at large.
VMware has adopted a distributed-first mindset, ensuring that all processes and practices can work no matter where an employee is based. Remote employees use collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, as well as the company’s own products, to stay in touch and foster communication. VMWare has also worked to create virtual shared experiences to help employees, managers, and executives get to know each other on a personal level. For example, they transformed what was previously a recurring in-person event to a virtual party, hosting a global talent show for employees. Thanks to these efforts and more, VMWare was named to FlexJobs’ “100 Companies for Remote Jobs” 2020 list.
Zapier has been fully remote since their founding in 2011, and are proud of their remote culture. They are heavy users of Slack, encouraging non-work channels to help employees get to know each other on a personal level. Zapier also utilizes the Donut app to facilitate employees meeting regularly in groups of 2-3 just to chat. To connect the entire organization, they post weekly to an internal blog, sharing insight into employees’ home lives. They also make sure to have fun in their team chats, often sharing memes and gifs to keep conversations lighthearted and engaging.
When everyone began to work remotely due to the pandemic, Zillow quickly adapted their in-office processes and culture to enable employees to work effectively from home. Zillow was an early leader in the future of work as one of the first companies to announce an extended work-from-home option for thousands of employees last year. Zillow has since officially launched its Distributed Workforce Model, with most employees able to choose whether they want to work from home, the office, or a combination of the two.
To keep their employee community strong, they have held a number of virtual events ranging from art classes, to music events, to meditation classes, and even virtual yoga for employees’ kids. They also set employees up for virtual coffee chats, and host cultural events, donation drives, and Pride celebrations digitally, allowing employees to connect with each other and their local communities. While video calls allow employees to connect wherever they are located, Zillow has recognized that many employees are struggling with Zoom fatigue, and has experimented with asynchronous working styles such as Slack meetings and core collaboration hours. These efforts made it easy for Zillow to onboard over 1,500 employees remotely this past year, integrating them right into the company’s culture and community without having to meet their coworkers in person.
It’s clear that building community and culture remotely takes some ingenuity and effort. From fun Zoom parties to coffee chat pairings, many companies have been creative in connecting their employees and interns digitally. Building relationships online can be done effectively when organizations don’t simply seek to replicate in-person experiences, but instead tailor their efforts to a virtual world.