For a remote team, company culture is critical. A common misconception (that I’m here to challenge!) is that it’s more challenging to build a company culture in remote teams than in co-located teams.
It’s true that in co-located teams, there are more naturally occurring opportunities for relationships to develop, such as going for lunch or conversations in passing. However, co-located teams tend to take it for granted that a positive culture will develop, instead of making a concerted effort to foster a sense of teamwork. With remote teams, you know it’s not just going to happen automatically, so you go in with intent. With the right focus, both remote and co-located teams can benefit from this renewed focus on positive company culture.
Culture is an ongoing process. Employees should feel happy in their jobs, and the atmosphere shouldn’t provoke stress. A great culture should alleviate stress from difficult tasks. For remote employees, it’s easy to feel isolated, which is where tools like Slack have come in to create virtual hangout spaces and a sense of connection. Instead of team members seeing each other every day and spending time together in meetings or over lunch hours, companies can create bonds by utilizing technology to allow employees to spend time with each other, creating virtual hangout opportunities.
Let’s start with the basics. What are the building blocks of great culture amongst remote workers?
1. Hire the right people
It’s safe to say remote work isn’t for everyone. Despite the allure of the ‘Instagram lifestyle,’ remote work can be challenging and lonely. Ensure you hire people with emotional intelligence to remain productive and sane. Hire people who fit the positive company culture you have, or are working towards. People who don’t fit can have a significant impact on the morale and productivity of other employees.
2. Trust is the foundation
When you work in a remote team, you need to trust each other to deliver. There’s simply no way around the fact that when you all work from different locations, you can’t monitor productivity or input. Work should be measured on an output basis, and employees should be encouraged to be dependable and consistent. Generally, people want to do good work that provides them with a sense of accomplishment, and a culture of trust can create huge rewards.
Feeling trusted is a critical stepping stone in the journey to a healthy culture in a remote-based company. High-trust organizations are those with more empathy, collaboration, recognition of employees, vulnerability, and personal growth for everyone around. Low-trust organizations, on the other hand, tend to have toxic cultures that people wouldn’t recommend a friend work at, and themselves plan on leaving.
It’s essential to create a sense of accountability where each team member understands where their work fits into the overall company strategy and goals. In the age of remote workers, we need new technologies that bridge the communication gap, automate routine check-ins, and create platforms for recognition and reward. These new tools have the power to produce more efficient teams with higher accountability than has ever been seen in the physical office. Getting to know each other helps drive a connection to a common purpose and knowledge of how each other fits in.
Ask three specific questions:
- Do you know what you’re meant to be doing in your role?
- Do you (and have you or your boss communicated) the value of your role as it contributes to your department and company?
- Do you understand the direction of the company as a whole?
Communication is complex. Almost all issues in companies can be improved or resolved by changes in communication. It’s not the responsibility of management to initiate conversations, but they can foster an environment of openness and provide tools, platforms, and touchpoints to support employees. Employees should have a say on how they want to communicate with each other, and regularly provide feedback on this. Tools like Slack revolutionize communication in remote workforces.
5. Employee engagement
In job interviews, it’s common practice to ask a potential employee: “Why do you want to work here?” A robust answer is a good way of gauging whether or not the interviewee is on board with the company’s mission and values.
Each employee should feel engaged and motivated to be part of the company. When the employee is on board with the mission, they’re engaged in the job and want to help the company succeed. As well as observing employee behavior, there are many best practices to keep employees in the loop, welcomed and onboard- connected to the previous point about communication. Remember, happy employees, are more productive, act as talent acquisition tools, improve the brand of your company, and reduce costs.
Culture is about how the team works together as one cohesive unit that seamlessly drives towards the same goal while being happy in the process. The vast majority of our hours are spent at work, so work itself needs to be rewarding. Team members need to feel like they are contributing to a goal more significant than themselves. Building culture around deep practices, metrics, and values has more longevity and a sense of sincerity than free lunch and ping pong tables (nothing against these things- just not in isolation).