Even though there were companies such as Google, Salesforce, Zillow, and others that thrived with remote teams before COVID-19, many companies still resisted telecommuting until the pandemic forced the majority of companies to shift to that reality basically overnight. Now that more companies experienced remote workforces first-hand, there are signs that remote working will remain even when the pandemic subsides, and stay-at-home orders are lifted. Companies that are successful with remote workforces are very intentional about creating a company culture in support of their remote teams. Here are the top tips for how to build organizational culture when you have a remote team.
Company Culture and Why It’s Important
Your company culture—whether in the office or remote—is the experience your employees have working on your team. It includes the "rules of engagement" your team operates from, such as the mission and values, but also communication, "office hours," and productivity expectations. The culture you create is essential to not only effective day-to-day operations but also the potential for your company’s long-term success.
Plus, contrary to popular belief, a distributed team can often lead to better results. The concern that remote workforces would be less productive than in-person teams isn’t the case for 85% of businesses that confirmed productivity had increased in a recent study. Other benefits of telecommuting include improved employee satisfaction and retention, an appealing offer to recruit top talent, and that is saves employers money, among others.
According to a recent Gartner survey of chief financial officers, 74% do plan to shift some positions to permanently remote that were only on-site before the pandemic. Now that there are more companies with employees distributed across the world, it’s important to be intentional with your company culture.
So, here are some top tips for building culture in remote teams.
Onboard New Employees to the Entire Team
When your team is distributed, you must be thoughtful about how you introduce new teammates to the group and how you ensure they feel welcomed. Make sure everyone has the new team member's contact info. Consider clever ways of sharing fun facts about the new person, so the team has a way of connecting. Setting up one-on-one video meetings with various people in the organization representing a variety of functions, and the new person is another good way of helping a new person feel welcomed. Connecting the new hire to others in their geographic area or with similar interests is another way to build comradery.
Refine and Communicate Vision, Values, Goals, and Culture
A clear vision and set of values can really help ground your company and drive momentum when everyone is operating from the same playbook. This isn't a one-and-done process, but goals, culture, and values should be reinforced consistently. When this effort is inconsistent, the group can stray and develop fissures.
Develop Communication Strategies
There are many communication tools that aid remote teams in being efficient as well as re-creating the "water cooler" atmosphere of in-office interactions, such as a "random" channel on Slack, a channel-based messaging platform. However, the team should understand when and how to use the communication tools you adopt—when to use messaging, email, call a meeting, or pick up a phone to discuss or transfer info. For example, your organization might prefer to have all project info updated in a project management tool such as Asana and only GIFs and memes shared on the “water cooler” channel in your messaging app. Clearly outline those expectations to all employees.
Trust Must Be Inherent
Leadership and teammates that don’t trust each other will fail when trying to implement a remote culture. Assume positive intent, work to rectify miscommunication and errors, and step in to manage when the work isn’t getting done. If your screening and hiring process is successful, most people on your team will want to be a productive member. Along with trust is always being transparent by posting your values and culture publicly and encouraging the team to "let down their guard" and talk about the less critical but more interesting aspects of their life. This happens quite naturally when you share office space, but can be seen as trivial for remote teams, but it’s actually quite essential when building culture.
Annual or Biannual In-Person Events
There is incredible value for a remote team to come together once or twice a year for training, collaboration, fun, and connection. Successful events mix business and play with activities to foster culture.
Encourage Shared Leadership
Allow your team to generate ideas and contribute leadership rather than just expect them to complete a list of tasks each week. Members of successful remote teams are allowed the chance to show initiative. Consider ways to encourage mentorship and leadership among the members of your remote team.
Remote teams must be more intentional than in-person teams about the way they celebrate wins and recognize one another for a job well done. Some companies use corporate social media channels to recognize teammates, and others have specific programs such as an employee of the month. Other organizations have ways for individuals to recognize each other in group meetings so that their accomplishments don’t fly under the radar.
Check-in Regularly with Individuals
What might be surprising, introverts can sometimes struggle more with isolation when working remotely than extroverts. This reality is a good reminder that when it comes to building organizational culture, you can’t assume anything. It’s important that your group has a way to touch base with each member regularly to ensure they are doing well and don’t need other support from the team. Introverts might be less likely to reach out and ask for help. This can be accomplished in myriad ways and can be a responsibility of all from management to colleagues to human resources.
Collect Feedback and Adapt
Your employees living the remote experience are the best ones to help you build a successful culture for your organization. Be sure there are ample opportunities for them to share their thoughts and suggestions on ways to improve the culture. Those who help plan the battle won't battle the plan.
Ultimately, when you build an organizational culture for a remote team, you want to be sure all teammates have a deep sense of belonging. How you do that for your organization will depend on your unique circumstances.
Tell us, what has helped your organization build culture for a remote team?
Where to go from here
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Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the field of business and technology. He is the author of 18 best-selling books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations. He has 2 million social media followers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.