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Maintaining Employee Engagement In a Virtual Workplace

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Guest post By andrew nguyen | March 21th 2021
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The year 2020 has been truly unprecedented. With the onset of the global pandemic, many businesses and companies have had to challenge themselves in innovative ways to conduct business. Moving online has proven to be challenging even for the most innovative and established organizations. In addition to the technical challenges, there also is an important challenge of keeping employees engaged while being distant from their colleagues. 


For my work, at an up and coming travel tech-start-up, Pilot, that hasn’t been an issue for us. Our team has always been 100% remote right from the beginning at the founding stages. Our team consists of ambitious and passionate individuals who are trying to make a difference in the world by helping travellers live happier lives through shared experiences through a social trip planner. Whether it’s our collaborative video call work session, or supportive Slack threads, sharing our experiences, thoughts, and ideas are key to creating an extraordinary product together. Pilot is a B2C SaaS (Business-to-consumer, Software-as-a-Service) start-up that has started and remains to this day, completely remote. What does this look like? How can we become friends, care for each other’s lives, and make work fun without having a traditional team foundation to build upon? 


First, our founder takes hiring quite seriously and the team has gone through intensive onboarding and training to ensure a culture fit that builds the foundations in how our company will operate. At Pilot, we are 999% a people company before any profits. We believe that if you’re passionate about the work you do, you do it wholeheartedly with people you genuinely like – then, it’s not work at all, it’s just life. We befriend all co-workers, break down formal barriers, and simply become a family even if we’re working from different computers all over the world. It’s an incredible opportunity to be a part of a community with a supportive network that aids our success. So what does our workflow and collaboration look like you may ask? 


While the corporate world wants to tell you to sit down, be quiet, and do your job, we want exactly the opposite. Companies that do not foster innovation and collaboration or let people speak up with their ideas eventually become companies whose people have nothing to say when we need to be innovative and adaptable with the times. Regardless of role titles, anyone can have their ideas not only heard but actually worked on.


The team feels empowered knowing that their work matters to everyone. Unlike other companies, we won’t stop you, but we also can’t force you to be innovative. This is where the height of what your abilities can achieve is revealed. At Pilot, you have the opportunity to be the greatest version of yourself, but you have to choose to take it. So we encourage all members to stand up and start talking, everyone’s ideas have meaning, and everyone wants to listen. 


Although we may be in different physical spaces around the world, setting time blocks of collaborative work has helped us enjoy work during discussion or brainstorming sessions. This gives us an opportunity to really engage everyone with low barriers for participation. We not only work together, but the way we do remote work has been hugely beneficial to the team to facilitate communication that naturally strengthens our personal relationships with one another. 


As a start-up, we move fast. One of our greatest values is moving fast with data. It’s important for us to bounce ideas off each other and make sense of the data that we collect to move forward. We set Zoom collaborative sessions where anyone can join for a fun hangout or simply need some human presence during our work sessions. We have a team meeting scrum at the beginning to understand what we’re working on for the day’s work sprint. Working remotely also requires the team to be flexible and respectful towards everyone’s time zones and personal schedules so there are no obligations as we trust each other on what we need to work on to meet deadlines. We also have weekly all-hands meetings and department-specific meetings to keep everyone in the loop of our company’s projection and how it relates to our tasks. 


A deeply connected team that understands our culture code – that’s the key strategy for us to work efficiently and collectively. We make remote connections meaningful. We recognize the importance of strong relationships between everyone on the team. Not only are we a relationally driven company to our consumers, but these values are magnified even further within our team. While some departments may naturally work closer together than others, we use a Slack application called “Donut” to randomly connect with each employee who we may have never really got to know on a personal level. This gives us a chance to connect in a non-work-related environment through casual conversations and truly get to know the other. This has allowed us to get to know each other on a more personal level which makes work more enjoyable. The chance to connect with diverse and unique experiences is incredibly valuable and helps us feel closer to one another, even though we may be across the globe. 


What I love about working in a tech-startup environment like Pilot is that we love to have fun. We have a collaborative Pilot Spotify playlist that complies with our crazy and diverse musical interests. We use a Slack app called “Jukebox” to listen to some jams to work to. We also have bi-weekly virtual happy hours where we play some remote team games with our favorite beverage. This can include games from “Jackbox”, themed trivia, and team-building games over video chat. They can get silly, but that’s just who we are as a team. And that’s why it works. 


I love my team here at Pilot, and hope this article has given you some inspiration on how you can be creating an impact on your remote teams or having more fun in your work life. Cheers.


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