Supporting our remote colleagues – a cuppa and catch up, virtually

07 January 2020 by Isla Lightfoot

Remote working has a huge array of benefits, particularly for working parents or those who live geographically remote. However, companies who introduce this style of working have to be prepared to support remote workers in a slightly different way, to ensure they are not isolated and overly-rely on email, because they don’t feel confident enough to pick up the phone and speak to a colleague that they may not have met before.

At Corndel, 80% of our colleagues work remotely so we have introduced a series of bespoke initiatives to support their needs. One of these is our Virtual coffee and networking programme , set up by Sarah Parry, one of the Delivery Directors at Corndel. Sarah co-ordinates these monthly meet ups by pairing together different people at the start of each month: ‘Corndel is growing so quickly and so many of our colleagues are based remotely. I wanted to set up an initiative that people can opt-into, so that we all continue to get to know each other, not just as colleagues that we can ask to help us in relation to our day jobs, but also as friends.’

‘Each month, I pair people together randomly – whilst ensuring that people are paired with someone they may not know well or work together with regularly. Then it’s over to the pairs to co-ordinate when/where/how they meet. Most people use Teams or Skype to meet remotely, but if it so happens that colleagues are paired with someone in the same location, they often meet up face-to-face. The only ask is that they put on the kettle before-hand. There is no onus to talk about work, this is about breaking down barriers, getting to know our colleagues and having fun.’

Feedback on this initiative has been extremely positive. Participants report that they have had constructive and enjoyable conversations. Kamini Sanghani in the Business Development Team recently met up with Helen Dyer, Skills for Business Tutor: ‘It was so wonderful to meet Helen properly and get to know her beyond a transactional update on some learner progress! It’s a great idea.’

For new joiners, this has been a great way to introduce themselves to other colleagues across the organisation and forge new relationships. Fiona Robertson, a new Professional Development Expert explains: ‘It is a great initiative and particularly for us newbies.  My first conversation was with Neil Thorpe and it was great to pick his brains and discover more about his background.’

The numbers opting-in to this initiative continue to grow each month. In fact it has been such a popular initiative, that it has been adopted by one of our learner's who runs a remote team across two (soon to be three) sites. Historically, our learner found that there was a lack of team cohesion across the sites and a ‘blame game’ culture. Our learner discussed with her Corndel PDE the need to find a cost-effective way to try and foster relationships across the geographical divide and increase productivity and morale. Her PDE suggested virtual coffee networking events, whereby a member in each geographical location would meet via phone or Zoom and have a coffee and catch up. The idea was to have no agenda, just to get to know each other.

They have had incredibly positive feedback, both from the team members, other managers and also senior management. Bonds have been strengthened and there have been comments from team members that they wish they could move locations to work more closely. This is something that would have been unheard of before this idea was championed.

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