Engaging Our Global Team Part I: White Elephant Gift Exchange

Multilingual Connections is dedicated to helping our clients create meaningful connections with their global audience. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about what this mission means for us as a company – and wondering how we can more effectively apply that mission internally.  

Engaging Our Remote Global Team

Once upon a time, our team was all based in the same office in Chicago. When we moved to Evanston, which was not as convenient for some, we started offering the option of working remotely one day a week. Aside from an easier commute, who doesn’t love a shower-optional weekday, or the ability to throw in a load of laundry between conference calls? Video chat and VOIP phones made this a near-seamless process, and we all embraced our work-from-home day. Despite the ease of collaboration that technology facilitates, however, we made sure to have all team members in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays for informal collaboration – the kind that happens when you overhear a conversation and can jump in to add value – and the team-building that happens as you chat in the kitchen while microwaving your lunch or discovering a year-old yogurt in the back of the fridge.

Fast-forward a few years, and we now have more people working permanently remote than local.  And they’re not just remote, a majority are globally remote: Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, South Korea, Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico. They represent a variety of languages, cultures, religions, time zones – and also workplace cultural expectations.  How do we make sure we understand their expectations and unique experiences? How do we engage our remote team and ensure they feel connected to our company and to each other? And how do we support their growth?

I think we’re doing a good job with this, but I’m always looking for things we can be doing better.  At this point, we have more questions than answers, but I wanted to take a few minutes to share one thing we’ve done two years in a row now – and in future posts, I’ll share some more general tips.  

Global White Elephant Gift Exchange

Engaging Our Global Team White with a Global Elephant Gift Exchange
We set up a “gift cam” so all remote staff can see the pile of wrapped gifts, as well as three other laptops around the area so they can see us and see the gift unwrapping process

We always enjoy an end-of-year lunch and gift exchange, and while our international folks can’t join in our food, they can join in the gifts! We have 25 full-time team members, and 14 of them are remote (3 in the US and the rest in other countries).

How do you do a global holiday gift exchange? Here’s what we did:

  1. Everyone based in the office buys a $10 gift
  2. The CEO and COO, who happen to be married, run to Home Goods on a Sunday evening and pick up a whole bunch of random gifts from the stocking stuffer section
  3. Their 13-year old son siphons off his favorite few (note: this step not required)
  4. The day of the party, each person in the company “picks” a number (our Operations Manager picked a number out of a bowl for them via individual Google Chat)
  5. We then set up a “gift cam” so all remote staff can see the pile of wrapped gifts, as well as three other laptops around the area so they can see us and see the gift unwrapping process
  6. The gift exchange works as it would in person, complete with laughter and stealing (most stolen gifts were “This Meeting Was Bullsh#t” socks and a turquoise fake leather domino set)
  7. You then spend a silly amount of money shipping cat mugs, MC Escher jigsaw puzzles and LED llama clip lights across the globe (but you use the opportunity to ship company swag and other items at the same time)

Including your remote team for an activity like this adds time and cost, but spending the time and a few extra dollars on gifts and international shipping to make your people feel like they’re a part of things? Totally worth it.

In my next blog, I’ll talk about some of our ongoing efforts to keep our global employees connected, and perhaps they can spark some ideas and conversations with others in similar situations.  And in the meantime, wishing you happy and meaningful connections in 2020!

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