How to Build Strong Community and Culture in a Virtual Work Environment
Dr. Abigail G. Scheg, People & Culture Manager, VaVa Virtual Assistants
Cultivating a strong virtual organizational culture requires creativity and some extra effort. Be especially mindful of your people and their engagement when rapidly scaling, undergoing significant changes, and transitioning leadership. I’ve found the key to success lies in communities built upon an organization’s mission, vision, and values.
Building community and fostering engagement in the virtual workplace can take many forms. Although virtual work environments typically do not have a shared breakroom, you can still host situational events through happy hours, coffee chats, or lunch-and-learns to bring your team together. These spaces foster great communication and connections, but they can sometimes feel hollow. Taking the time to meaningfully ground community-building events in an organization’s culture is a more effective strategy to build community, emphasize the organization’s mission, vision, and values consistently with the team, and normalize internal jargon.
At VaVa Virtual Assistants, one of our values is:
We love what we do. We feel fulfilled when we can serve Clients to the best of our abilities and seek out opportunities to learn, grow, and develop our skills regularly.
This value provides clear guidance on our philosophy of professional development and continuous improvement: We seek them out! This value gives me a lens through which I can plan community events. I look for opportunities that support learning, growth, and skill development.
And remember, these community opportunities can be of varying sizes. Small or silly ice breakers allow members of the group to learn fun facts about one another that strengthen their work relationships and lead to openings for them to grow together. Those small, informal learning opportunities can be just as meaningful to some members of the team as larger, focused webinars on technology or best practices.
We recently hosted a professional development session about prioritization. At the start of this year, I invited each member of our team to meet with me individually and share their thoughts about development—what they were interested in, what they wanted to learn more about, and where they felt their strengths and weaknesses were. Prioritization was a frequent theme in the 1:1s with the team. Overall, our team members were seeking more insight and practical tips on not only how to prioritize, but how to convey their prioritization to others (otherwise known as the art of saying “no”). To plan this event, I took the following steps:
- Identified a member of our team who I thought would be a confident speaker on this topic and who has demonstrated experience prioritizing multiple tasks.
- Asked this community member if she would be willing to host an event.
- Met with her to plan content.
- Determined an appropriate time and date for the event based on the speaker and team availability.
- Set up a Zoom space and shared the invitation with the team.
- Recorded the session for any team members who were unable to join the call.
- Set up a feedback form for live attendees and those who watched the recording to provide their thoughts and recommendations for future sessions.
- Sent out the recording and feedback form to the whole team.
- Evaluated the feedback to determine requests or recommendations for future development sessions.
In hosting this event, our organization gained several benefits, including:
- Recognition of the speaker for their skills and leadership.
- Encouragement of the current team to increase their skills and confidence in prioritizing.
- Practical steps for the current team to understand how to prioritize their tasks and how to effectively communicate their prioritization to others.
All of these benefits are rooted in the value listed above, particularly seeking out opportunities to learn, grow, and develop our skills regularly.
Following a process like this one ensures that the value-based conversation is ongoing. We’re talking to team members 1:1 about it, they’re considering it for themselves, we’re strategically planning events based on feedback and values, and accepting feedback as a way to feed that process (and value) of continuous improvement. Strategically exercising values-based leadership in this manner will start to feel seamless and a natural part of the organization, which is how you know you are effectively building a workspace rooted in your company values.
Anchoring your events, no matter the size or scope, in company values is an effective way to develop meaningful community building in an organization. This also offers your team a shared space and multiple opportunities to refer back to values, so your values don’t just live on a page or in a handbook. This way, they become infused in your team’s everyday dialogue and execution of daily tasks. They become part of your company culture.
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