How to create a sense of belonging across remote teams
In our research on diversity, equity, and inclusion, we found a single metric consistently and universally tied to a person’s workplace commitment, motivation, pride, and recommendation — a sense of belonging. Regardless of a person’s gender, ethnicity, age group, or sexual orientation, the research suggests that focusing on belonging is the most helpful way to build inclusion in the workplace.
The research found that concepts of diversity and inclusion are experienced differently among people of different backgrounds. This makes it challenging to define what a diverse and inclusive organization is because different people value different things.
At Culture Amp, belonging is about creating a place where people feel respected, connected, and included. We want to create a diverse organization that brings the power of inclusion to the forefront. This is particularly challenging when people are located all around the world, but we’re committed to overcoming this.
Universal experiences help create a sense of belonging
Belonging taps into a fundamental human desire to connect with people around us. We want to form a tribe with people who are similar to us. This is why diversity, equity, and inclusion is so interesting. At work, the things that make us human are often the same things that stop us from building more diverse and inclusive environments. It’s human nature to form closer bonds with people who are similar to us. It’s this familiarity that gives people an innate sense of belonging.
At an organizational level, we have achieved this by focusing on universality. Even though we don’t all look the same or work in the same office, we share a universal experience. This approach doesn’t deny our differences but instead celebrates the similarities. A powerful way to share these universal experiences is through stories. It helps people realize they have things in common and a story that can be shared with others in the organization.
How we build belonging at Culture Amp
At Culture Amp, we focus on creating opportunities for people to share across functions and locations so they can understand each other more deeply. Research has found that you can create social bonds, and a feeling of belonging, by bringing people together in a shared experience that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.
For example, we use a Slack bot called Donut to foster connectedness in the workplace. Donut automatically pairs people up so they can meet and chat, even if they’re not in the same office or in the same timezone.
This random pairing (what we call the Camper Coffee Lottery) allows two people to just talk. They can discuss anything they want – it doesn’t have to be work-related. After they meet, they share a picture of themselves together and write a summary of their chat in the Slack channel. This is public, so everyone can go into the channel and read about each other’s shared experiences.
It’s an incredible way to get people together and creates a rich experience exchange. An engineer in Melbourne might develop a bond with a salesperson in New York over their passion for motorbikes. It creates a relationship that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.
Creating a sense of belonging across multiple time zones
We have teams that work across multiple time zones and may only crossover with another team for just an hour each day, so creating a consistent sense of belonging is hard. It will never be perfect; everyone will have different experiences, but we’ve created some anchor points to bring the experiences closer together.
For example, we have a regular All-Hands meeting, where everybody in the company hears about what’s happening at the company. It’s an essential way that we build a shared purpose and a feeling of belonging.
We initially held our All Hands in Melbourne and changed the time when San Francisco came on board so they could be involved. Then, when New York came on board, we still did it at one time – Melbourne’s morning was San Francisco’s previous afternoon and New York’s evening. But we couldn’t manage all the time zones when we brought London on board. So now we rotate our All Hands through three different times.
This means that one office doesn’t attend the All Hands. Instead, they watch a recording together at an All Hands viewing party the next day. Melbourne is no longer the focal point, that office sits out every third All-Hands as well, so we have a common experience across all offices. We also ensure that our people spend quality time in each office. This helps everyone create bonds and share experiences, regardless of where their home base is.
How to facilitate communication & meetings across time zones
As Culture Amp grows globally, we need tools to keep us in sync. Our People Operations Manager, Stacey Nordwall shares our tips and what we've learned so far.
It’s all part of a journey
Creating an organization where people belong is part of an ongoing journey. Over the past 50 years, we’ve evolved from thinking about workplace "satisfaction" to a more nuanced understanding of engagement. Now the thinking is progressing toward creating an organization that people can belong to. In fact, our research indicates that initiatives centered around cultivating a sense of overall belonging may significantly improve workplace engagement more than traditional engagement initiatives.
We are only scratching the surface regarding understanding how belonging affects people at work. Still, there is immense promise in incorporating belonging as a part of any diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.