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Out Of Office: How To Build A Sense of Belonging in a Remote-First Company

Posted by Devayani Bapat

May 6, 2024

Explore the importance of building a workplace culture that fosters diversity, inclusivity, and a sense of belonging for employees in a remote-first company.

The misconception that senior leadership often falls into is the belief that employees returning to the office is a guaranteed way to boost productivity. However, the reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has had long-lasting effects, bringing the world to a standstill from 2020 to 2022. Today, remote work is not just a temporary adjustment but a permanent reality for many. This shift from in-person to digital, with social interactions now hosted in Zoom breakout rooms, presents new challenges for fostering workplace connections. The days of casual coffee breaks and spontaneous office banter that helped colleagues bond and break the ice are gone.  

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The primary challenge in this new landscape is developing a sense of belonging and team spirit without face-to-face interactions. Lost is the human touch of community. With a workforce that spans diverse cultures and geographical locations, the onus is on leadership and HR departments to implement robust employee engagement initiatives. This is particularly crucial for private equity, finance, banking, and other high-stress sectors where collaboration and team cohesion can directly influence business outcomes.  

In this article, we explore the essence of belonging in the workplace, its significance, and practical ways to cultivate it in a remote-first environment. 

What does ‘belonging in a workplace’ mean?

Picture this: David, a single father working at a remote-first SaaS startup. He must pick up his child from school at 4 PM every day. Typically, his mother helps with this, but there’s a week when she’s unavailable due to travel. During this time, David needs the flexibility to leave his desk and take a 20-minute break at 4 PM to handle the school pick up and drop his child off at after-school care. Companies could implement flexible working policies tailored to support parents and others in similar situations by utilizing HR services for SaaS startups or HR outsourcing. By doing so, the company not only meets the immediate needs of its employees but also fosters a workplace culture that communicates, “We care about you.” This approach enhances employees‘ sense of belonging, making them feel valued and supported.

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As you can tell from the example above, a sense of belonging in a workplace means nothing more than respecting the employees, addressing their needs, and creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. Companies must embrace the unique aspects of an individual’s identity through computer screens, consider essential elements of each team member, such as parenthood, race, or sexual orientation, and acknowledge and respect them. 

Belonging in this context means employees are seen as ‘insiders’ within their team, valued for their uniqueness rather than just their professional output.

4 Ways to build a sense of belonging in the workplace:

Fun-Friday – virtual team-building activities

Team bonding activities in a virtual setup are not just fun, but also essential for fostering connections among remote employees. Designating a specific day of the week, such as ‘Fun Fridays’ or ‘Motivation Mondays,’ a half-hour slot filled with fun and games can significantly enhance team cohesion. Activities might include an online game of charades, trivia quizzes, or ‘Two Truths and a Lie.’ These fun games and interactive activities serve as icebreakers and allow employees to connect on a personal level beyond mundane tasks. The result? A more engaged and connected team, even in a remote-first environment.  

For example, a SaaS startup with a workforce spread across the globe can significantly benefit from integrating these activities into their routine. However, organizing and managing these activities regularly can be challenging for in-house HR departments that already handle multiple responsibilities. This is where HR outsourcing proves advantageous. By outsourcing HR functions, startups can leverage the expertise of third-party agencies specializing in employee engagement and team-building activities. These initiatives enrich the employee experience and allow the internal HR team to focus on core business strategies. Incorporating HR outsourcing for SaaS startups ensures that even the most minor teams, often limited in resources, can maintain a fun, inclusive, and connected work culture, crucial for interpersonal team building, employee retention, and overall company morale.

The time-zone rota

The concept of a ‘time zone rota’ is crucial for remote-first companies with employees across various time zones. It ensures that all-hands meetings rotate their timings to accommodate each time zone at least once every three to four months. This practice demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and respect for all employees’ time, reinforcing a culture of equality and fairness. By not overly favoring the founding country’s time zone, companies show that they value every team member’s contribution, regardless of location.  

For instance, let’s look at a private equity firm with offices in several locations. In this case, adopting a time zone rota could significantly enhance team cohesion and morale. A great way for HR departments to implement employee benefits administration for private equity is by embracing this time zone rota. Suppose the company in question has offices across continents: one in New York, another in London, and one more in Hong Kong. By rotating meeting times, they could schedule the first quarter meeting at a time convenient for the New York office, the second for London, and the third for Hong Kong. This ensures each team feels equally important and respected, fostering a more inclusive workplace environment.  

Such a strategy improves employee satisfaction and enhances global team collaboration. It is a best practice in employee benefits administration for private equity firms looking to support a diverse and widespread workforce.

The HR Newsletter

HR departments are pivotal in fostering inclusivity and engagement, particularly in remote-first companies. A highly effective strategy is distributing a bi-monthly or monthly newsletter that showcases company-wide achievements and celebrates employees’ accomplishments and milestones. For example, the newsletter could highlight David from the London marketing team, who recently won 2nd place in a triathlon, or Alice from the Hong Kong finance team, who conducts weekend cooking classes to share her culinary passion.  

This approach helps employees connect based on shared interests and enhances their knowledge of colleagues’ lives outside work. Furthermore, celebrating work-related milestones, such as Michael’s second anniversary with the company or Jane’s maternity leave, adds a personal touch that makes the company feel more accessible and caring.  

Consider a global tech or banking company that implements this initiative. Each newsletter includes a ‘Spotlight’ section featuring personal achievements and a ‘Milestones’ section for professional anniversaries and life events. This keeps the team connected across different geographies, boosts morale, and promotes a positive work culture. Such newsletters are:

  • A cornerstone of employee engagement initiatives.
  • Help to create a welcoming and inclusive environment that values each employee.
  • Foster a sense of belonging and appreciation that transcends physical office spaces.

Cross-functional networking and communication.

Cross-functional networking and communication are crucial for fostering a productive work environment, especially in remote companies. Creating an environment where employees can engage with and receive mentorship from colleagues in different departments promotes individual growth and facilitates access to diverse skill sets. This enhances employee engagement and fosters a collaborative culture.  

For example, a SaaS company could implement a structured virtual “Cross-Department Mentorship Program” as part of its employee engagement initiatives. In this program, employees from various departments can be paired with mentors in unrelated fields, such as marketing with finance or accounting with tech, fostering new learning opportunities and broadening their professional horizons. This initiative helps bridge gaps between different company areas, encouraging innovation and comprehensive problem-solving skills while enhancing employee satisfaction and retention.  

Such initiatives are instrumental in boosting individual career development and strengthening cohesion and synergy across the company. This approach ensures that all team members feel valued, connected, and cared for, all vital components in a thriving remote work environment.

The Key Takeaway:

HR departments must proactively foster a sense of belonging in remote-first companies. Creating a sense of belonging is essential for employee retention, and engagement is critical for sustaining growth and productivity in a remote setting. Unlike traditional in-person firms, where casual chatter and face-to-face interactions naturally encourage bonding, remote companies face unique challenges in nurturing connections among team members. In such a setup, it’s critical to implement strategies that replicate the interactive dynamics of physical offices. Regular virtual meetups, cross-departmental projects, and digital social events can bridge the physical distance by providing opportunities for personal and professional interactions. Initiatives like these should be tailored to include and celebrate all employees’ diverse backgrounds, fostering an inclusive culture.  

In conclusion, building a sense of belonging in a remote-first company requires a thoughtful, sustained effort from HR departments. Companies can create a supportive remote work environment by prioritizing employee engagement initiatives, fostering regular interactions, and promoting a culture of inclusion. This, in turn, enhances employee satisfaction and loyalty, which are essential for the long-term success of any remote-first organization.

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Want to know more? In addition to HR, benefits, recruiting, and payroll through its PeopleOps, Escalon’s Essential Business Services include FinOps (CFO services, taxes, bookkeeping, and accounting) and Risk (business insurance). Talk to an expert today.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. Escalon and its affiliates are not providing tax, legal, or accounting advice in this article. If you would like to engage with Escalon, please get in touch with us here.


Devayani Bapat
Devayani Bapat

With 6 years of experience in copywriting and social media management across genres, Devayani's heart lies with weaving words into stories and visuals into carefully crafted narratives that’ll keep you wanting more. She carries with her, her pocket notebook, a trusted confidante that goes with her wherever she goes, and scribbles down into it anecdotes on the go. Her secret weapon for keeping all things copy interesting! Apart from writing, Devayani is huge on travelling. You'll find her booking her next adventure while she's on her current one. And while on those adventures, you'll find her devouring true crime books one after the other. Whether it's a low down on a recent case or one that occurred 70 years ago, she can cook up a story narration you'll never forget.

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