Spokes Turning companies into communities

Why Every Remote Company Needs a Culture HQ

Fawzy Abu Seif
Co-founder and CEO
September 7, 2022

Once upon a time, there was more to us than our Zoom cubes. We brought stories about our hobbies, families, and pets with us to the office.  With these stories, we sparked connections at the coffee bar or happy hour.  We formed relationships, friendships and a community that made us feel we belonged.  When we felt seen, our work felt more meaningful. The connection was so effortless that we rarely paused to appreciate its value.  

Deep in pandemic firefighting, many companies lacked the bandwidth to intentionally reimagine their culture and community for remote work.  They lacked the “muscle”, too.  Before, community was a natural byproduct of humans interacting in a shared space - companies expended relatively little effort to create a sense of community that was independent from the office. 

Without that crutch, the community crumbled.   Companies tried out Zoom happy hours and coffee chats, but they fell flat. The result: an emerging crisis of connection at remote and hybrid companies. 

Why Remote Connection Matters

Numerous studies, both pre- and mid-pandemic, have demonstrated that social connection impacts employee engagement, performance, retention, burnout, and psychological safety. 

  • Alienation: Researchers at the Wharton School found that, “resoundingly, loneliness made people less effective at work.”  Why?  According to the study, when employees feel lonely, they’re ‘alienated’ or less emotionally connected to their company and its success.  Because they’re less invested, these employees tend to perform more poorly than employees who feel connected.  
  • Trust and collaboration: When employees have smaller social networks, it also impacts the way that information moves within a company, and how employees collaborate (or don’t) around it.  According to the Wharton study, employees with few social connections are often “left out of the loop” - they miss out on feedback that could improve their performance, or on important information that’s often passed through informal channels.  This can reduce trust and impede collaboration and creative problem-solving, according to the MIT Sloane Management Review. 
  • Turnover: Beyond performance and collaboration, lack of social connection at work leads to higher turnover rates.  A recent study by BetterUp revealed that employees who feel lonely and detached from their companies express a 313% stronger intention to quit than more ‘attached’ counterparts.  For employees with low belonging, action followed intention: they quit their jobs 39% more often from the 2020-2021. 

The inverse of loneliness at work is equally compelling.  According to Gallup, when people have a best friend at work, they’re more engaged in their jobs.  The result?  Increased productivity, happier customers, fewer workplace accidents, and higher profits, to name just a few. 

The crisis of connection couldn’t come at a worse time, especially for tech companies with large populations of remote and hybrid employees.  The market downturn, inflation and pullback in VC funding mean that companies need to evolve quickly and hold onto their best employees.  Agility, trust, resilience and strong performance are more important than ever for leaders and employees.  And those are the qualities most at risk when community and culture breaks down.  

What Doesn’t Work 

Ask any Chief People Officer, and they’ll tell you that they never cracked how to build culture remotely and make employees feel like part of a community while working from home.  

With the sudden move to remote work, communication tools like Slack became crowded with personal and professional pursuits. #Dogs and #hiking channels emerged, only to be muted by employees who feel overwhelmed by Slack’s chaos.  For many employees, it feels strange to share your wedding photo in the same place you share your sales targets. Now, when employees need a break, they need a break from the stress of Slack.  

Companies tried live events, too: Zoom happy hours, Donut coffee chats, online trivia games, virtual group workouts, and more.  Some employees embraced these as a novelty at first, when folks were locked down.  But gradually, interest petered out. 

It’s no mystery why. They were “forced fun”: shoddy reproductions of activities that were designed to happen IRL - not in a virtual medium.  With employees spending hours a day on Zoom for work, no one wants to dedicate their limited synchronous time to awkward virtual mixers. 

Where to Go From Here

Every remote and hybrid company struggles with building culture and community - it’s endemic to this style of work. For the companies that can afford it, offsites are a great way to build human connection on teams.  But no matter your budget, it’s impossible to get people together IRL every week or even every month. 

When we went remote, work didn't stop. But our workplace culture and community did. Companies rushed to embrace tools that made remote collaboration and productivity easy: Zoom, Slack, Miro, Figma, Asana, and more.  But those tools were about getting the work done.  The volume of communication increased with the move to remote work - according to one study, time spent in meetings doubled.  But communication isn’t necessarily connection.  It’s transactional - not personal. 

That’s why companies need a dedicated virtual space where employees can build relationships and feel they belong - a Remote Culture HQ.  To meet the need for authentic connection, it needs to be purposefully separate from transactional platforms like Slack and Zoom.  Instead of ‘forced fun’ that tries (and fails) to reproduce real-life bonding in a virtual space, the Remote Culture HQ should feel native to remote work - asynchronous but still human.  Finally, it needs to be genuinely fun: a place employees want to visit to recharge between meetings or when they need a boost on a hard day.  

We built Spokn to be this Remote Culture HQ: a dedicated place for the stories that make your culture shine.  It’s purpose-built to fit what remote employees want: a flexible, asynchronous connection to the human faces and voices that make them feel they belong. With Spokn, remote employees can share what matters to them, and leaders can show they’re listening. 

Interested in using Spokn as your Remote Culture HQ?  Click here to learn more. 

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