Holiday parties and remote employees

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We are entering the time of year when the lines between the workplace, social activities and personal lives blur. Holiday parties, year-end planning sessions and home-baked cookies in the breakroom make for a festive - and sometimes chaotic - change of atmosphere. Or it does if you're there in the office.

If you're working remotely it can seem like just another day at work – except that everyone else seems to be having fun except you.

So how can managers ensure that the remote members of their team share in the celebration, camaraderie, and collaboration that seems to happen organically when you're sharing cubespace at the office?

Jeff Diana is the Chief People Officer for SuccessFactors, a creator of HR software and solutions in the US. Not only does he advise some of the world's biggest companies on how to engage their people, he's responsible for making sure his own company walks the talk.

Jeff, what challenges does this time of year pose for remote teams and their leaders?
Holidays are a time for companies to reward and thank their employees for the year gone by, as well as motivate and align them with company objectives for the year ahead. Companies need to take extra steps to include remote workers as much as possible, since they typically are integral to a team's success. This season can represent a time of togetherness for teams that do or do not work together frequently.

If you can't afford to fly in or buy hotel rooms for remote workers, whether that's for a holiday party or planning session for the year ahead, companies should consider including remote workers in team celebrations via social media, video, or other group (or individual) acknowledgement of their contributions.

So what can smart, concerned leaders realistically do about these problems? Time zone differences, for example?
Time zones are clearly a factor in group celebrations that include global workers. Take the time to consider various time zones, and conduct several "live" sessions in order to include all team members. If possible, the leadership team should attend as many of the regional events as possible. But the international flavor of some teams is also an opportunity.

Take advantage of the international holidays throughout the year to educate local and remote employees about holiday customs in other regions. For example: Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Kwanzaa, Day of the Dead, and many other holidays throughout the year provide excellent opportunities for employees worldwide to share personal anecdotes and professional insights about life in their "neighborhoods."

Smart use of technology can help. Social collaboration tools can also help to foster cultural awareness and bonding across remote and global teams. Team members around the world can share photos, videos and comments about regional celebrations and events.

For example, in our San Mateo office we recently had an employee-organized celebration for Diwali. A few of our team members organized the event by starting a group on Jam and inviting everyone in the company to join. They used the group to share information about the holiday and its customs, organize and plan the specifics of the event, and post photos and recap after it was over.

The differences and distances that separate the members of your team can also, if you think about it carefully, can also be used to build bridges and bring them all together.

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