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How Can We Nurture a Community of Trust that Transcends Virtual Environments and Supports Continuous Development?

By Genentech-Roche Group Manager, CAL Coach, & Co-author of the “The Future of Work: How to Prepare for It”, Daria Istrate (Harvard MBA).

I have built the most trust with my team when we go on business trips and eat dinner together. Time spent outside of the work environment is precious because it allows you to see your co-workers in a different, more human light. You can learn about their spouses, children, hobbies, etc. Ultimately this will help to strengthen your work relationships, and this is why many organizations sponsor team-building activities and offsite trips. In a remote work scenario, however, these may not be easy or even possible to arrange, especially if each team member lives in a different city or country.

One of my good friends co-founded a digital health start-up based out of Boulder, Colorado. The company is growing fast and has been hiring people from all over the country. With fifty employees in many different states and cities, it has become difficult to create a close sense of community for the employees. To remedy this, each person, regardless of position and seniority, is required to spend at least four weeks each year at the company’s headquarters in Boulder. The company’s employees are young, active professionals, and many of them share an interest in skiing.

Taking advantage of this common interest, the company’s leaders organized an offsite to go skiing, and the activity proved to be a great bonding experience.

Once a week, on Tuesday, my team holds staff meetings to discuss business updates. We always start with a round-robin of personal updates, usually talking about what we did over the weekend. Hearing these personal updates is even more important in a virtual context because we no longer have the luxury of sitting down for coffee or running into each other in the hallway, meaning that opportunities for getting to know people on a personal level are much less frequent.

Sometimes, though, WFH can open up new ways to bond. The crying child, the barking dog, or the surfboard in the background can all become topics of discussion in virtual meetings, and these discussions will help to develop empathy and deepen connections within the community. Seeing my colleagues on camera has given me an unexpected window into their personal lives.

Though it may sound intrusive, our virtual meetings showed me a different side of my colleagues, and I now feel that we are closer than before, thanks to my newly acquired knowledge of their personal lives.

Before the pandemic, we used to build our office community in part through after-work happy hours on campus. Recently, to recreate these gatherings, we have scheduled a virtual happy hour on Fridays, enjoying a friendly Google Hangouts chat over a glass of wine. We also maintain an active group chat in which we not only share business updates but also exchange restaurant tips and recipes, tell jokes, and send family pictures. These activities, which are optional but encouraged, bring us closer together as a team. As a supplement to these methods, people who live in close proximity to each other can meet outside the office, assuming it is safe to do so.

One of the managers on our team used to hold weekly working sessions at her house, giving the team a chance to get to know each other better in a new setting.

Most community and trust-building happens organically within teams, but the broader organization should recognize and encourage these initiatives by creating spaces in which they can flourish and by supporting the sharing of best practices, success stories, and challenges.


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