One of the biggest disadvantages of remote work is the loss of the watercooler. Not the actual watercooler. The metaphorical one. The one that stands for the little moments you have with new and old colleagues, where you talk about the things that aren't related to work, where you get a sense that you're all in it together, that you're part of a community.

Merriam-Webster says that the definition of remote is far removed in space, time, or relation. Remote workers often feel left out, particularly if they're working for a company with a hybrid work model. They don't feel part of a community because they don't ever participate in the small social interactions that generate it.

At least, that's if you work for a company that hasn't implemented the right remote work policies. X-Team has been a fully remote company for well over fifteen years. One of the biggest lessons we've learned is that many of the disadvantages of remote work are only disadvantages because you don't have the right processes in place.

Remote work requires you to actively encourage behavior that otherwise happens naturally. When you encourage remote workers to engage with each other in things beyond work, you end up generating a sense of community. Here are a few examples of how X-Team does this:

  • We have a #birthdays channel on Slack and a Happy Birthday Reminder bot that reminds everyone when it's someone's birthday. People congratulate each other on an almost daily basis.
  • Whenever an X-Teamer submits an invoice, we give them the option to thank another X-Teamer. Our Watchman app posts whatever they write in our #appreciation channel on Slack.
Some appreciation taken from our #appreciation channel
  • We have a #learn-about-x-teamers channel where we welcome new X-Teamers and give them the opportunity to introduce themselves.
  • We have dozens of club channels where X-Teamers can discuss their favorite topics. Popular clubs include #club-music, #club-movies, and #club-gaming.

Over the course of 2020 and 2021, many companies realized that remote work isn't just a fad. Much of what you can do in the office, you can do remotely too. This includes generating a strong sense of community. The key word here is generating. It doesn't happen naturally. You need to encourage it actively. If you do, you'll eventually create a remote environment that people love to be a part of.