It’s been several years since many of us have been in an office. What started out as a momentary shift for most of the world in the spring of 2020 has remained a permanent way of working for many companies who found that people appreciated the flexibility of working remotely and were just as (if not more) productive than when they commuted to an office each day.
But for all the benefits of remote work, the distance between teams changes a lot too. Once common celebrations – like birthday lunches and bell-ringing when the sales team closes new deals – have become distant memories.
Workplace celebrations are important for recognition, but they’re also a great way to create community. Coming together for birthdays, work anniversaries, and moments of achievement is a way for coworkers to step outside of day-to-day work and connect with one another on a personal level.
In the office, celebrations come in the form of a physical gathering. A team assembles in the kitchen to share a cake. A manager and a direct report share a meal at a favorite lunch spot. The whole company goes to a happy hour.
Maintaining culture becomes trickier when a team isn’t physically together. Yet, in a remote setting, these cultural norms are even more important. Remote work can be isolating, so any moment where employees can connect with each other is even more impactful.
Companies who find themselves working in a remote context must make an extra effort to adapt common in-office norms to make them work virtually.
Luckily, teams have developed lots of virtual-friendly rituals for celebrating important milestones over the past several years. Here are a few of our favorites:
A personal message from people that matter can go a long way. When the employees at Hilsoft Inc. celebrate work anniversaries, they open their online workspace to find a collection of thoughtful notes from their closest colleagues in their feed. The message is scheduled in advance to ensure that it’s the first thing the team member sees in the morning.
Instead of gathering for an in-office celebration, many remote teams choose a specific time to jump on a video call together. They spend this time going around the circle and sharing favorite memories of the birthday person. It’s a great way to make sure remote employees get lots of love during their special day.
At Awesome Company, every department has a unique subculture. Rather than decide everything from the top, the organization chooses to let teams determine how to celebrate. Teammates coordinate birthdays in a temporary Slack channel (with everyone except the birthday person) and receive a budget from People Operations for whatever celebration they choose.
At some companies, employees receive a $500 stipend toward an online personal development course on their birthday. In the spirit of celebrating the person and not the job, the team member chooses a learning opportunity unrelated to their day-to-day job.
At growing companies, there are few chances for top leadership to reflect on the individual contributions of individual employees. At TenantBase, the management team uses birthdays as a recurring opportunity to foster a more in-depth personal appreciation. As the day approaches, the CEO, COO, or CTO writes a thoughtful card to thank the birthday person and remind them how important they are to the company. This approach also works well for other milestones like work anniversaries.
Bluebird goes the extra mile with their birthday cards. In advance of the special day, dedicated “culture crews” run around and collect submissions for a Kudoboard— a tool that allows employees to post notes, videos, photos, and gifs all on a shared card. The card is presented to the birthday person during a team-wide celebration. For a no-budget alternative, try using a collaboration tool your team already uses for other purposes to make an interactive digital card. Maybe Figma, Mural, or even Google Slides.
When your team starts growing, channels become crowded. If you want to recognize birthdays publicly across the workspace but need to make sure the messages don’t become lost in #general or #random, consider creating a #celebrations channel as the primary location for sharing the love. You can even task the manager of the employee having a birthday or anniversary with posting in the channel on the morning of the special day.
Building celebrations for remote work isn’t always quite as easy or natural as those that happen in person. But these moments of community are important to keep people engaged and connected while they work away from the rest of the team.
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