Facilitating Happiness: Building a Cross-Border Community at Work

By Annie Andre | Updated: 26 Aug, 2013

This is the fifth article in Prialto's Managing Happiness in a Global Workplace series, in which we aim to describe how and why to manage employees so that they are happy, motivated and engaged from a distance.

A community - and the meaning that takes place within it - is central to creating a sense of higher purpose. That, in turn, keeps employees happier and more productive at work. But what goes into crafting a community culture at work? Is it some sort of chemical reaction, or can we take real, measurable steps towards success?

As we see it, the term “community” in a professional sense encompasses support structures, common values, and trust across offices, time zones and departments. These are “soft” benefits that can be put into place to facilitate community-building. A successful community helps workers capture an office vision greater than just individual desks and silos of work. Instead, employees see themselves as part of a larger purpose or, in this case, a global village of sorts.

As companies become distributed globally, there are some neat things you can do to build community among people who aren't sitting next to each other in an office. Here are some examples of what we do to foster that sense at Prialto.

Strategies For Building Cross-Border Communities

  • Internal Company Newsletters: We use this to informally spread the word about company activities ranging from soccer matches to grill-offs to staff visiting other offices. We take the opportunity to introduce our new hires, announce new parents and include graduation pictures. We also use the newsletter to recognize our employees for their commitment to our company values. The great thing about this medium is that it goes out across the company and sends consistent messages about our values and our people.
  • Member Feedback Listserv: When a customer compliments one of our assistants on their service or professionalism, we forward the compliment to our global “Voice of the member” listserv. What ensues is the equivalent of a long-distance bear hug. Assistants in the Philippines send out congratulatory emails to their colleagues in the US and Guatemala. The assistants learn what matters when dealing with Prialto members. Everyone sees the difference individual team members can make to the company’s overall reputation.
  • Strong customer culture: Though we have little control over our customers’ actions, our company’s attitude is what sets the tone for these relationships. At Prialto, for example, we purposely refer to our customers as members – a term intended to suggest both privileges and responsibilities. We balance a “customer is always right” mentality with the need to maintain a highly respectful culture, where we have our employees’ backs. That’s why we maintain standards for behavior for our members as well as our PAs. Internal community and camaraderie is enhanced by the fact that our PAs have seen us terminate members due to their swearing or being dishonest.
  • Interactive, Self-Paced Training: All out introductory training materials are contained in an online employee handbook, which new hires are encouraged to attack at their own pace. When they have questions, they can turn to their colleagues in the same room or via instant message to get help. This gives our people both a sense of autonomy and a strong support structure that’s based on the knowledge of the group. Parts of the handbook even require new hires to call people in different offices to, for example, learn how to use the telephone system.
  • Personal Beginnings: An open, informal community starts with how employees are introduced to each other. Instead of formal bios or website announcements, our supervisors send out three interesting facts about the new hire to an entire team. Including details like a love of anime or a penchant for grilling paninis allows employees to feel safe expressing their personal selves at work.
  • Cross-cultural Sharing: Though we strive to build a consistent company culture, there are obviously nuances in each office that are particular to doing business in that area. Our PAs are encouraged to share that sort of information across offices. We've explained the local Guatemalan office kitties (or cuchubales) and the Manila office’s obsession with rice at lunchtime. These sorts of conversations create a safe, open space for our assistants to learn about our diverse staff.
  • Cross-office Visits: Of course, there’s nothing to cement a sense of community like in-person interactions. Our managers visit offsite offices regularly each quarter. When assistants from Guatemala or the Philippines visit the US, Prialto goes out of its way to arrange meetings between the assistants and the member that they work with. That’s how one Guatemalan employee ended up meeting Apprentice winner Kelly Perdew in Los Angeles last year.

In all, communities include elements of friendships, stability and respect. Establishing such a culture is almost more important than keeping employees well paid or busy. Though no one happiness factor alone can push the needle into employee bliss, this one comes closest to making the rest of your employee engagement efforts meaningful.

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