Statistic after statistic extols the virtues of remote work – it’s a boon to productivity, it boosts morale and lowers stress for the majority of workers, and it reduces operating costs. As the practice grows in popularity, many have called it the future of work, and the new normal.
And yet, businesses often take their remote teams for granted. Many, unwittingly, take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach. As a result, loneliness is the biggest challenge that remote workers face, according to the State of Remote Work 2018.
While nothing can replace the power of in-person communication, businesses can nurture their company culture to include remote workers and keep them connected to the larger team.
Whether your business is all remote-based, or just one segment of your team works off-site, here’s how to build a great company culture.
1. Define and refine
Before thinking about how to extend your company culture to remote workers, you have to tackle the obvious question: What is your company culture, anyway?
Everyone that you bring aboard will add to and alter your culture – hopefully for the better. But the leadership of the company sets the cultural foundation, meaning you decide which values are important. Are they transparency? A willingness to fail? Work-life balance?
Whatever you decide, define and codify your values. Place them in a virtual handbook that new employees and existing ones can access at any time. In moments of uncertainty – for individuals as they deal with customers, or for the leadership team as they decide the path forward – being able to refer to these values will be important.
2. Hire with culture in mind
You can’t cut corners when hiring for your remote team. Put your remote workers through the same rigorous hiring standards you would anyone else. Hire a balanced team consisting of people of different upbringings, experiences, and ages, in order to bring a wide array of viewpoints to the table.
Finally, onboard a remote worker as you would anyone else. Give them a rundown of the entire company and its mission, introduce them to everyone, and make every tool and resource available for their use or review. Don’t stumble at this stage by assuming you won’t need to include your remote workers the same way you would an in-person employee.
3. Communicate across a variety of tools, apps, and media
When it comes to communication with and among a remote team, more is always better.
Luckily, the rise in telecommuting and remote work is due in no small part to the proliferation of digital tools that make talking, working, and collaborating easier than ever. You’ll have your pick of ways to stay in touch with your team, but focus on these core areas:
Text communication quietly underpins everything your remote team can accomplish. By keeping in touch with chat apps like Slack, your team can quickly and accurately stay up-to-speed – not just with work, but with each other’s lives.
The beauty of these apps is that they create a sort of virtual water cooler for your team to gather around. You can just as easily chat about interests, big life events, and breaking news as you can workflow and status updates.
You can, and should, encourage remote workers to let their personalities shine through in these communications. Have fun and use gifs or emojis to build up excitement, and create channels specifically dedicated to discussing TV shows or travel recommendations – giving employees a safe space to be themselves, while keeping the main channels clear to discuss work.
When it comes to getting work done, a bevy of collaboration tools are now available to help you stay on top of what everyone is working on. Trello and Confluence, for example, are two project management and content creation tools made by Atlassian that help remote teams work together, track project progress, and meet deadlines.
Collaborative tools are some of the building blocks of company culture, because they create transparency and accountability without managers having to micromanage. They give remote workers autonomy without leaving them on an island – and studies show that autonomy leads to higher work satisfaction.
Text-based communication will be your go-to, but be sure to make time to meet with your team face-to-face – even if it’s just by video.
Tools like Skype and Zoom make it easy to schedule regular video check-ins. Weekly or bi-weekly meetings to assess the status of your team (or an individual employee) in their work and in their life is how you keep people close and engaged.
4. Measure engagement regularly
Measuring engagement and happiness is an important part of defining and maintaining culture in a company, and remote teams are no exception.
Although company leadership sets the tone for culture, your team is responsible for living and working by those values – and if those values (which can be expressed as work routines, communication styles, and/or expectations about job performance) get muddled along the way, it’s your job to get them back on track.
Measure engagement with tools that can garner feedback anonymously, such as TINYPulse, so employees feel empowered to truly speak their minds. You can also invite feedback in a public setting, such as an all-hands meeting, and encourage honest feedback on the direction of the company or how work gets done.
Getting a remote team perspective on how your company runs, especially if you are not 100% remote, will be very productive to how you continue running your business.
5. Build healthy, rewarding habits
For example, encourage interaction early on in a new remote hire’s time with the company. Let them know that if they have questions, they can and should ask them freely, without fear of looking foolish or of repercussions. Reward people with shoutouts and positive messaging to reinforce the habit.
Another way to think of good habits is directing people to use certain modes of communication depending on their needs. Have a question for the team that isn’t pressing? Put it in a Slack channel. Have you identified a possible customer service issue, safety issue, or other flaw? Make sure to escalate that appropriately.
Also encourage remote workers to work without distractions for blocks of time each day – even if that means turning off certain communication channels – and to take breaks as needed. Workers that can get into a “flow state” with their work, and take their scheduled breaks, will be much more effective than those who are constantly connected.
6. Invest in your people
Finally, above all, be willing to invest in your team.
The money that you save by not spending on office space and utilities for your employees? Put that aside and use it to sponsor in-person meet-ups at least once a year. Be willing to spend to bring everyone together for team-building, whether to attend a conference or a company getaway.
Basically, don’t build a remote team just to save a few bucks and fatten the bottom line. Treat your remote team like you would an in-office team, and your company culture will benefit long term.
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