How These Companies Facilitate Real Human Connections in a Remote World

Even with perks like personal pet calendars, lunch clubs and monthly discussions for creating inclusive work environments, it’s difficult to avoid the moments of loneliness and isolation that come with a remote-work lifestyle.
Written by Jeff Kirshman
May 16, 2022Updated: May 16, 2022

Human beings are wired to connect. Aristotle knew it when he said, “Man is by nature a social animal,” and chances are you’ve felt disconnected from your community since the transition to remote work began. 

But did Aristotle have any pets? The Greek philosopher believed that animals, like humans, have purpose, and what greater value can an entity provide than the warm embrace of companionship? There’s a reason, after all, why more than 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic.

The team at transportation and logistics company Flexe certainly understands the sense of community animals can offer. With more than 400 employees spread across 26 states, the fully remote organization employed them to improve the work-from-home experience and reduce feelings of loneliness and disconnection through its “Pets of Flexe” Slack channel, where employees post photos to introduce coworkers to their “new colleagues.” 

But Flexe didn’t stop there. Overwhelmed by the positive reception engendered by everyone’s furry coworkers, HR manager Holly Walker went a step further and compiled her favorite photos into a physical calendar that each new hire receives ahead of their first day. 

“Facilitating authentic connections early provides employees a sense of belonging,” Walker explained. “Our relationship-building initiatives are tangible examples of bringing employees together easily and authentically through shared interests. I’ve enjoyed getting positive feedback about how it made them feel welcome and connected before day one.”

But it’s not just fuzzy friends helping to make these connections. Built In Seattle checked in with three local tech experts to learn about the strategies and initiatives they’ve used to help their employees satisfy the need for interaction while working remotely.

 

Flexe team member's home office workspace with multiple monitors, books and travel posters
Flexe

 

Holly Walker
Manager, HR Programs

 

What’s the key to creating real, human connection in a remote workplace?

The differentiator is whether a company makes building relationships a priority. At Flexe, we consistently find ways to highlight and encourage personal connections. From hosting annual in-person team summits to spotlighting individual employees and teams on weekly Zoom calls, it’s critical to create space for employees to engage with each other formally and informally.

The differentiator is whether a company makes building relationships a priority.”

 

What’s the most successful strategy you’ve employed for facilitating those kinds of connections?

Our executive team hosts an all-company sync every Monday, when our CEO introduces new hires starting that day. We give new hires a moment to say hello to the company on the call and then encourage them to tell us more about themselves via our #newhires Slack channel.

Outside of our more than 100 employee social Slack channels — trivia, karaoke, you name it — we also build employee-led programs for learning and growing together. We currently offer a mentorship program via our “Women @ Flexe” community, as well as book clubs tied to leadership philosophies, sustainability efforts and more.

 

What kind of response have you heard from your team? 

Logistics is a tough business. To succeed, our teams need to be creative, adaptive and resilient. We believe that when we hire great people and create the conditions for them to do their very best work, amazing things will happen. They feel seen, heard and appreciated for the work they do and the impact they have. In fact, 99 percent of new hires respond favorably to “I feel welcome here” on the survey we send them in their first week. 

 

Flexe is an online marketplace for on-demand warehousing solutions. 

 

 

Sendle team members outside with a bear statue
Sendle

 

Nicole Olver
Chief People Officer

 

What’s the key to creating real, human connection in a remote workplace?

The key to creating real, human connection is to have a deep understanding of the group of people you’re working with. Involving them in the process will help you design for success. 

You have to remember that you’re designing a remote workplace for people. As chief people officer at Sendle, I can design something based on my own ideas, but if our people haven’t been involved, they’re not going to champion it, drive it or want to participate in it, so it won’t function. By bringing people along for the journey and encouraging them to share their viewpoints and unique perspectives, you’ll have more success in creating a highly functioning, creative and rewarding remote workplace.

You have to remember that you’re designing a remote workplace for people.”

 

What’s the most successful strategy you’ve employed for facilitating those kinds of connections?

One of my favorite connection moments at Sendle is our Midweek Meal Club. Every Wednesday, the team eats lunch together and watches a presentation from one of our team members on a topic they’re passionate about. So far they’ve ranged from the art of fermentation to card tricks. We also occasionally use the time for our book club.

At the beginning, it started as just a place to eat lunch together. But then we discovered that we’re a bunch of fascinating folks with interesting ideas and hobbies. We wanted to celebrate that. The best part about this time together is that you’re getting to know people outside of their work roles and learning what makes them tick.  

 

What kind of response have you heard from your team? 

One common response we hear is how much people value the flexibility of working in a remote-first company. The traditional model of work, where you come into an office and have to stay for a certain amount of time, doesn’t cater to the whole human. The workforce is made up of all types of people; some work best really early in the morning, while others produce their best work later in the day. 

Working from home allows everybody to create their own bespoke workspace that caters to their individual needs and preferences. Remote-first companies are creating amazing opportunities to broaden diversity in the workplace, and I think that’s an incredible gift to humanity. 

Creating the ideal remote-first workplace is an art, without an exact formula. It’s always evolving. For us, it’s about constantly listening, talking to our people and creating a remote workplace that reflects their feedback. 

 

Sendle is a shipping company that offers flat rates on local, regional and national shipping to small businesses. 

 

 

DreamBox Learning team members hanging out at a park together with a giant inflatable slide
DreamBox Learning

 

Ronit Peled
Chief People Officer

 

What’s the key to creating real, human connection in a remote workplace?

The pandemic helped us realize that real human connection does not always require physical proximity. Human connection is real when people share a common purpose anchored in collective values and aligned to their mission and impact. Real connections help individuals feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, learn about each other and cultivate the empathy needed to flourish together. At DreamBox, we have deliberate conversations about things that matter. These conversations honor the diversity within our company and foster inclusiveness by creating the space for everyone’s voice to be heard.

The pandemic helped us realize that real human connection does not always require physical proximity.”

 

What’s the most successful strategy you’ve employed for actually facilitating those kinds of connections?

Our Proximity and Purpose initiative, which started in June 2020, is a monthly dialogue session that seeks to create a safe space for our team members to have difficult, meaningful conversations about the world we’re living in. 

Regional, national and global events — especially traumatic ones — are things no one can really leave at the workplace door. And when you’re isolated at home because of a pandemic, the workplace door, so to speak, doesn’t even exist. The fact that none of us could process these events in person with friends, family or colleagues meant this initiative had a greater impact on creating real connections as we were all experiencing and processing current events.

 

What impact has this initiative had on your workplace culture? 

Right after our Proximity and Purpose conversations started, our engineering leaders began changing their language for technology tools that have their roots in the terminology of oppression, such as “master” and “slave” servers. Another engineering leader introduced us to AllyBot, which is a Slack plug-in that gently notifies people when they’re using terms that have racist or patriarchal origins, such as “peanut gallery” and “grandfathered.”

These stories show the impact of our Proximity and Purpose work. It’s hard to believe we’ve done it all over the past two years without ever having these essential and difficult conversations in person. The pandemic forced us apart physically but brought us closer together socially and emotionally.

 

DreamBox Learning is an online software provider that focuses on mathematics education at the elementary and middle school level.

 

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