Some people think working remotely means you’re working alone. Not so. Our virtual receptionists and other staff live and work in seven U.S. states (and counting). With technologies like chat, video calls, and good old email, our teams stay in touch with each other and collaborate every day.
We believe remote work model is better for people, planet, and profit. Still, we know that spending time in person, face to face, has benefits as well. That’s why we’ve started organizing meetups—a chance for people in one geographic area to get together for fun and other activities.
In November, we decided to use our meetups to give back to some of the communities where our people live and work. In Houston, Texas, Wilmington, North Carolina, and Boise, Idaho, AnswerConnect team members put down their headsets and went out into the world to try to do some good by participating in a volunteer project in the local area.
Community involvement and empathy
Besides being a rewarding experience for our teams, we think community involvement makes us a better provider of customer service for you, our clients. Team members who have a chance to get out into their communities and help people in need work out their empathy muscles.
Giving back makes you feel good! And when our virtual receptionists feel good and practice compassion by volunteering, that helps them become more empathetic virtual receptionists. Listening and caring are core customer service skills. So we’re happy we can give our teams a chance to develop those abilities while also supporting the communities where we live and work.
Houston: House of Tiny Treasures
We reached out to SEARCH, a Houston organization with a mission of providing hope, creating opportunity, and transforming lives. One of SEARCH’s program, the House of Tiny Treasures preschool, invited our team to come by to share some activities with the children.
House of Tiny Treasures is a nationally accredited early childhood education program. Most of the families of the preschool’s kids live in Houston-area shelters or other housing programs. While the parents attend classes or work to break the cycle of homelessness, House of Tiny Treasures aims to equip the children with important cognitive skills and prepare them for kindergarten.
“Most of the children don’t have a regular home, or regular meals,” says Aimee, one of our client services leads. “They don’t sit at the table with their family. So the school tries to replace some of that.” The school also displays photographs of each child with his or her parents—an important touch since not all the children currently live with their parents. “It’s a comforting thing for them to get to see their parents while at school,” Aimee says.
Led by Tabitha, AnswerConnect’s Connections Director, we put together a set of activities to do with the tiny treasures in Houston. To share our love of the earth with the kids, we included the books I Can Save the Earth! and Michael Recycle, which our team read out loud.
There was a comparison of clean and dirty water, with orange peels, coffee grounds, and a little bit of dirt making the contrast. “Somehow the clean water stayed clean the whole time,” Aimee says.
The kids used modeling clay in an investigation of “things you find on the ground,” pressing leaves, pine cones, and twigs into the clay to see the impressions left behind.
We also did a demonstration of recycling, sorting plastic and other materials into buckets. Some planet earth cookies rounded out the visit.
“I would never have know about House of Tiny Treasures and the wonderful things it does for the community if it was not for the meetup,” says Tamara, a customer experience associate who lives and works in Houston. “I would love to do it again anytime.” We left behind the extra supplies, so the kids can do some the activities again in the future.
Volunteering at House of Tiny Treasures gave our Houston-area employees a chance to give back and also to make stronger connections with one another. Aimee noted that she and Robert, a team lead from Idaho, had started with the company at the same time and worked together for four years without ever meeting in person. For many team members, the meetup was their first time being in a room with any of their coworkers, since they normally work remotely from their home offices.
“It was a nice, different thing to do,” Aimee says. “I think everyone liked that we were there helping.” The experience, she says, made her want to look for more volunteer opportunities to do with her son. “I want my kid to appreciate what he has,” she says. “You don’t understand what other people suffer with until you experience it.”
Wilmington: Wrightsville Beach
Our team in the Wilmington, North Carolina area met up at Wrightsville Beach. Tela, who is on our apprentice sales team, helped organize the meetup with the aim of cleaning up some of the litter on the beach.
“I go to that beach almost every day,” she says. “That’s why I realized there was so much trash built up.”
About 14 team members from around the local area gathered at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier to get some gloves and trash bags and start hunting.
Taking care of the planet is important to us. A beautiful place like Wrightsville Beach is a great asset to the community. “This is our environment, and this is where I live,” Tela says. “It’s an issue worldwide. People don’t think about the environment.”
Besides helping to keep the beach clean, the meetup gave our team in the area a chance to get together. Since our virtual receptionists, client account managers and others all work from their individual home offices, meetups offer an opportunity for some face-to-face time with colleagues.
“I love meetups,” Tela says. “I’ve never worked remote before, so it’s really hard. I’m a people person, and I get lonely.”
Along with cigarette butts, bottles, and other garbage, the team found an injured bird on the beach. Danielle, one of our virtual receptionists, took it to the local wildlife rescue organization.
Since she “Now I’m doing it just with an open Facebook event for biweekly trash pickup. It’s getting bad, and it’s not necessary.”
Boise: Ronald McDonald House
In Boise, our team headed to the local Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit that gives families of seriously ill children a place to stay near the hospital. Robert, one of our team leads, gathered a group of AnswerConnect employees for an activity called Baking From the Heart.
The group baked 6 dozen cupcakes to give the Ronald McDonald House families a treat.
They also knocked off the nonprofit’s wish list of chores, such as raking leaves, vacuuming, and cleaning windows.
Robert says he originally started thinking about organizing a meetup to help the Ronald McDonald House when he met a coworker and her special needs child at a past meetup. “That kiddo was so happy and had such a strong spirit,” Robert says, “that touched me.”
For Robert, who leads a team of people who live and work all over the country, meetups have an extra benefit. “One of the biggest values for me,” he says, “other than the main thing of helping a good organization, is that I had people on my team that I’d never met. To actually get to meet face to face is pretty awesome.”
And as long as we’re getting together, we might as well help those in need. “It makes everyone feel good to have a purpose to shoot for,” Robert says. “Our company says ‘change how the world works.’ Each person we touch, it really makes a difference. It’s just amazing to be a part of something like that.”