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5 Actionable Tactics To Engage Distributed Teams


Employee engagement is one of the top ingredients of productivity, work quality, and retention. But how do you engage them in our new hybrid work reality?

I come from the physical retail world, where bonding was more straightforward. We often celebrated wins with breakfast and champagne (yes, I'm French!) or simply clapping our hands and making noise of joy.

We would also have lunch together daily, engaging in many informal discussions.

Of course, it bonded us! I knew and felt close to many of my colleagues' dog names and plumber problems.

Employee engagement is one of the primary drivers of productivity, work quality, and talent retention. Additionally, companies prioritizing employee engagement enjoy a substantial increase in profits, with up to  23% higher profit reported. When I joined Gorgias, where we have a globally distributed team, I wondered how you create the sense of belonging that drives that engagement.

The ingredients for employee engagement

Like many companies now, our workforce is distributed. But at Gorgias, it’s a truly global affair: Our team lives in 17 countries, four continents, and many different time zones, which can be challenging.

And yet, I believe Georgia’s culture is unique and even better than the one I used to know. I realize that we achieved that by relying on the critical ingredients of a strong relationship.

Like many companies now, our workforce is distributed. But at Gorgias, it's a truly global affair: Our team lives in 17 countries, four continents, and many different time zones, which can be challenging.

And yet, I believe Georgia's culture is unique and even better than the one I used to know.

I realize that we achieved that by relying on the critical ingredients of a strong relationship.

  • Decisive moments – Simply sharing coffee won't take you very far in getting to know your colleagues. But creating some great moments together will bring you one step further.
  • Repetition – If you don't nourish the relationship consistently, it may unravel with time. You won't feel as connected as before.

By repeating these intense moments, you can also strengthen the connection between people—the more substantial the relationship, the stronger the engagement.

Speaking of a decisive engagement, Gorgias' eNPS (employee Net Promoter Score) is 50. How is this possible? Well, what's always quoted as one of our main strengths is the company culture and how it connects our employees.

Let's take it further by exploring five actionable steps we have taken to make that happen.

Organize virtual summits (quarterly) 

While some would push back against events like these falling under the purview of the People team, they are essential for building a solid culture, team cohesion, and employee happiness — all areas that are part of our directive.

You need to know to bring these summits to your organization.

What is the virtual summit?

As the name states, it's a virtual event where the whole company connects.

It's not mandatory, but attending is highly recommended because it's fun and you learn many things.

It mixes company updates, fun moments, and inspiring sessions. Each session is short to let everyone have the opportunity to breathe.

Typically we have three kinds of sessions:

  • Company updates range from intro sessions with the CEO and team lead presentations to founder Q&As. During these sessions, we have a short retro on the quarter to share strategic vision, which also provides an opportunity for the whole team to challenge the company leadership.
  • Fun moments include scavenger hunts, quizzes, online escape games, and musical activities.
  • Inspiring sessions covered the benefits of a morning routine and recruiting tips. These sessions help us to learn and grow, a top priority for our teammates.

Due to time zones, some sessions don't include every country.

What are the key elements to make it work?

  • Teamwork: Pretty obvious, right? But a great team is key to making the virtual summit a success. Identify who can be the owner of this whole event. In our case, it was someone from the People team, our Office, and the Happiness manager.
  • Delegation: Get help from other teams to build the summit content. Having your team build that all alone would be overwhelming. Delegate! The customer success team can help you make the quiz: “How well do you know our customers?” for instance. The recruiting team can share how to be a good recruiter. And external vendors can help with specific games — we used virtual event contractors for the ones that would've been too cumbersome to build.
  • Tools: Look for a solid platform to rely on. We used to rely on Google Meet, but since we have a growing number of employees, we use Bevy to cater to our virtual event needs.
  • Content: A nice video at the beginning of the session as an icebreaker is always a good idea; plus, it sets up the mood. The same goes for engaging slides. Even though we rarely use slide decks, dynamic slides are more effective than boring written docs for engaging 200 people for half-hour blocks. We share slides to present the company updates and the learning sessions.
  • Anticipation: We can all agree that last-minute organization doesn't work. The more you anticipate, the less stressful it will be. And the bigger your company is, the more things you need to expect.

How much does it cost?

Our last virtual summit cost us roughly $13,000, which means $65 per head. Here's the breakdown:

  • Content: $4,000
  • Speakers for learning sessions: $2,000
  • Games/animations: $5,000
  • Food: $2,000

What are the challenges?

The first thing you might already have in mind is: It takes time! And you're right.

The more we grow, the more challenging it becomes to organize these events.

I believe we'll eventually need to have a dedicated event manager for all of our physical and virtual events. I want to have them within my team, and I 100% believe it's worth it.

Another challenge can be technical difficulties with your event software choice, so make sure you find a reliable platform that suits your needs.

Allow person gathering at the nearest hub (quarterly) 

Our team is a mix of hybrid and full-remote workers.

Since we don't want the full-remote people to become disconnected, we highly encourage them to join the nearest hub once a quarter.

And when they do, we organize happy hours, games, or movie nights. Those face-to-face activities help create bonds between employees. It's simple and doesn't require a lot of organization, but it makes an incredible moment every time the remote teams join. We call them Gorgias Weeks.

Organize a company offsite (annually). Of course, with the pandemic, that's not an easy one.

We were fortunate to organize our company offsite and gather a massive part of the crew together in October 2021.

The pandemic created doubt and additional stress points, but looking back, I'm so glad we made an opportunity for everyone to meet in person.

We asked everyone to bring a health pass — complete vaccination or PCR test — and we picked a location that allowed many outdoor activities.

We made sure the agenda for the two days was not too busy. As with our virtual summit, it was a balance of company alignment, learning, and fun. We made sure people had enough free time to relax, talk to each other, play games, or play sports.

This company offsite is undoubtedly an important and robust moment for us, and it helps create strong bonds and great memories.

Encourage team offsites (annually)

We encourage every team to organize its own offsite for team-building purposes. Since people don't meet a lot physically, having these once a year is great!

We let each team lead own it. They pick up the location and the agenda. Then, we provide guidelines with the budget.

It helps build stronger bonds and great memories.

Have informal fun moments (weekly) 

In my experience, creating those moments internally with the team was pretty tough. That's why we decided to start our team meeting with a fun activity of 10-15 minutes, where we can share more than work.

Every week, a different meeting owner has to come up with new fun activities and games. Starting the meeting with this kind of ice-breaking activity brings powerful energy, and people are more engaged and effective in the sessions. I would recommend it to everyone, especially those who think, “We already have so many things to review in those weekly meetings; we don't have time for that.” Try it once; you'll see how the energy and productivity are different afterward.

On top of that, I also believe tools that encourage colleagues to meet together randomly are great. On our side, we use Donut. It gives a weekly reminder that encourages employees to make it to their meeting with a colleague.

Team cohesion and employee happiness are worthwhile investments

We’ve weaved six virtual summits, four company retreats, three Gorgias weeks, and hundreds of virtual coffee and fun meetings.

In the beginning, there were only 30 people in the company — now there are 200. As I mentioned, organizing these meetups is becoming more challenging, but it’s also the most exciting part: making sure the next summit is better than the previous one!

Of course, employI'mfulfillment and connection are not the only ingredients for retention. But they are vital ingredients and shouldn’t be forgotteshouldn'tally as we all become more remote.

Organizing these event's allocating resources to them is a worthy investment because it makes everyone at Gorgias feel included and connected. And I do not doubt that it's part of our responsibilities in People Ops.

Special thanks to our friends at Gorgias for their insights on this topic.
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