On-demand Webinar

How to connect distributed teams through flexible work environments

February 28, 2024

Desana CEO Michael Cockburn took part in an expert webinar hosted by our friends at employee engagement platform Epoch, alongside Courtney O’Halloran, Workplace Experience Manager at Elastic, and Jade Choy, CEO at Epoch. Over 90 minutes they explored the key role that flexible workspace can play in driving employee engagement, and shared their expert advice on how to effectively deliver this.

If you missed it then you can watch the recording online, and we’ve also pulled together some of the key takeaways to help you utilize workspace effectively for your teams.

Flexible  workspaces and employee engagement CTA on demand webinar

The value of connecting dispersed teams

With workforces becoming increasingly dispersed due to remote work and distributed offices, many organizations struggle to build connections and camaraderie across locations. However, establishing a strong culture and enabling collaboration across geographic barriers has become more important than ever. Investing in opportunities that unite employees can lead to greater engagement, inclusion, innovation, and business results.

When teams lack day-to-day interactions and shared experiences, it can negatively impact productivity, morale, and retention. Isolated employees are more likely to feel disconnected from company values and colleagues. Bridging this gap through shared activities and programming tailored for distributed employees demonstrates commitment to an inclusive culture. It also enables the cross-pollination of ideas and relationships that spark creativity.  

While leveraging digital tools is a start, companies need to also create adaptable work situations that give distributed team members opportunities to come together in person. Companies that prioritize bonding employees globally gain a competitive edge in building an engaged, united workforce ready to collaborate and drive results.

Leverage shared and flexible workspaces

Instead of acquiring traditional dedicated office space, consider less expensive options like collaborative office areas and meeting rooms that can be reserved on-demand. These shared workspaces give employees more flexibility and choice when needing a place to meet, collaborate, or just change up their environment. 

The main benefit of utilizing flexible workspace and event venues versus permanent private offices is cost savings from lower overhead and real estate expenses. With routine office presence declining, there's less justification for each employee to have a dedicated space within a fixed office that often goes unused. Shared work areas that can be booked as needed are a smarter way to provide professional spaces while optimizing budgets. 

Ultimately, workspace should be about choice. Elastic is a shining example of how office space can be re-imagined. They now have full modulable offices with everything on wheels. This is true office flexibility as it can be quickly adapted to a town hall, conferences or traditional desk work.  

Giving employees shared areas they can reserve, be it in office or third party workspace, empowers them with options to choose the best space for their work needs. Having space choice caters to different preferences, working styles, and situations - from impromptu team meetings, to heads-down focus work, to informal social connections. The flexibility to pick various spots throughout the office helps prevent feelings of isolation that can happen when dispersed teams always work remote.

Help build connection both IRL and online

Human interaction and collaboration for dispersed teams is just as important as it is for onsite teams. Building in regular in-person programming brings teams together and reinforces company culture. Some programs may feel forced at first, but consistency pays off. Below are some suggestions of how you can start to build connection:

Empower local leaders

Let them organize relevant meetups and social events in the local area. This gives employees ownership and a chance to showcase passion projects related to company values. It also builds leadership skills. Courtney O’Halloran, Workplace Experience Manager at Elastic, explains how they do this by creating “globally consistent, locally relevant” events. This means that some staff might be on a boat in Singapore during an Elastic Camp, which involved 51 separate team events last year, whilst others might celebrate “being Elastic” through an intimate team dinner.  

Fix and communicate your plan

Whether it's a monthly lunch-and-learn, quarterly offsite, or weekly coffee chat, the cadence itself brings people together. Employees can anticipate and plan around it and feel confident that if they miss one session there is another collaboration opportunity open to them.

Build culture through common experiences

Programming based on company values and culture helps unite employees under a shared mission. An event discussing sustainability gets workers thinking about environmental impact. A volunteer event gives back to the community. Shared experiences, even virtually, are powerful.

Keep it optional

While consistency helps, requiring participation breeds resentment. Smart programming builds organic interest and community. Employees naturally want to join once they see peers benefiting from quality events.

Effective internal promotion of engagement events and programming helps generate interest and participation from employees in a positive way. Rather than mandating attendance or participation, the goal should be to create FOMO (fear of missing out) around the opportunities.

Develop templates to scale

Don't reinvent the wheel each time. Build program templates so local leaders can easily replicate. Provide planning checklists, budgets, and tips to minimize work. Make it as easy as possible for leaders to deliver quality events. Desana Events was launched to help organizations do just that. Sourcing venues can distract event organizers from the value add part of their role, which is the activities driving engagement; our concierge offers a single point of contact plus an unified billing center. 

If you'd like to hear more on the market demands behind our launch of Desana Events then catch up on our exclusive webinar: Transforming CRE: Leveraging Event Space For Greater Portfolio Efficiency

Track data to quantify impact

As you implement new initiatives aimed at connecting your dispersed teams, it's important to track data that allows you to quantify the impact of your programming. This data can be used to justify further investment and expansion of successful programs.  Some easy ways to collect data include:

  • Event participation rates
  • Feedback surveys
  • Productivity or other impact metrics

Don't rely on anecdotal feedback alone. Tangible data points make it easier to get stakeholder buy-in on proven programming. The data also helps you spot when an event or initiative isn't having the desired impact so you can reevaluate.

Start small and scale gradually 

When introducing new initiatives to connect dispersed teams, it's important to start small with pilot programs and gradual rollouts rather than trying to launch something at full scale right away. This allows time to gather data, refine the program, and prove success over time.

For example, you could pilot a "virtual lunch bunch" video call with employees in two office locations, gather feedback via surveys, then expand it to additional offices once it's successfully running. Or you could start an ambassador program with just a handful of volunteers before scaling up.  

The key is to set small goals, run controlled experiments, track data on participation and feedback, and use those insights to justify further investment and expansion. Rather than pushing big changes across the whole company right away, take an iterative, agile approach to prove value and allow organic buy-in. Gradual rollouts lead to greater buy-in and enthusiasm across the organization.

Ensure inclusive opportunities

It's important that engagement initiatives and programming extend to all employees, not just those based in the office. This reinforces an inclusive culture across the dispersed workforce. 

As mentioned previously it is important to leverage tools and create templates to scale programming efficiently across locations. Another idea is to build a central calendar for employees to access programming opportunities wherever they are based. With some creativity, it can be possible to also include virtual participants in most initiatives. Consistent inclusion of all employees in programming, communications, and events is key to preventing a divided culture between remote and in-office workers. 

Promote events internally

Leverage communication channels like an internal messaging app, intranet, or email newsletter to provide visibility into upcoming events. Make the events sound fun, valuable, and inclusive. Use images and details that showcase the experience employees can expect. 

When promoting events, focus on piquing interest rather than forcing participation. Avoid language that sounds mandatory. Instead, use phrases like "You won't want to miss..." and "Here's a great opportunity to..." to create natural excitement.

There are other quick wins to increase sign ups such as including registration links or buttons right in the messaging app or internal communication platform. The goal here is to have a frictionless path to participation. 

Post event promotion is equally important for future engagement. Sharing photos, videos, quotes, or recaps that highlight how much fun it was seeds interest for future events. Employees will think "I don't want to miss out next time!"

Gather post-event feedback

It's crucial to gather feedback from local leaders and participants after each event. This allows you to continuously improve programming and demonstrate to employees that their input is heard. There are a few easy ways to collect feedback:

  • Short surveys
  • Virtual and IRL feedback box
  • Roundtable discussion

The key is closing the feedback loop. Share results openly on the company intranet or messaging platform, like Slack. It is so important to thank employees for their feedback and explain how it will be used to improve future events. This shows people their input is valued rather than going into a black hole.

Recognize internal ambassadors

Recognizing internal ambassadors who demonstrate high levels of engagement is an important way to motivate others to get involved. Companies can celebrate employees who frequently participate in programming, volunteer to lead local events, or go above and beyond to connect dispersed teams. 

By calling positive attention to these values evangelists, their natural enthusiasm and commitment becomes contagious. Employees will be inspired to follow their example in building an inclusive and collaborative culture across remote locations. Public recognition also provides positive reinforcement so ambassadors feel valued in their efforts.

Some ideas for recognizing top ambassadors include:

  • Profile them in company newsletters or the intranet. Share their stories and passion for bringing teams together.
  • Give awards or titles like “Community leader of the quarter” to highlight their contributions.
  • Send personalized notes or small rewards from executives congratulating their efforts. 
  • Mention ambassadors positively during company meetings or training sessions.
  • Create leaderboards or friendly competitions related to different engagement metrics.

The right recognition breathes life into company values and makes them tangible. A little appreciation goes a long way in encouraging employees to voluntarily invest in culture and community building. With a group of supported ambassadors blazing the trail, peer-to-peer influence will create excitement around participation in programming.

A connected business

Remote and distributed working patterns continue to unlock opportunity for both people and businesses, but that doesn’t mean that employers should forget the need to support engagement and connection amongst their teams. By building in person connection through events and the use of flexible workspaces it is possible to build engaged and collaborative teams across geographical distance. The human connections made through these efforts can have wide-ranging benefits across the organization, and put the business in the best position to continue to grow and succeed for years to come.

Flexible  workspaces and employee engagement CTA webinar on demand