Freya is a personal finance expert and founder of the CollectingCents website that teaches readers how to grow their passive income, save money, improve their credit score, and manage debt. She has been featured in publications like Business Insider, Fox Business, the Huffington Post, and GoBankingRates.
Pub: May 9 2022
Upd: January 23 2023
Work is rapidly changing. Much of it centers on where work is done. When the pandemic hit in 2020, companies were forced to pivot quickly and relocate their employees to their own home offices–or bedrooms or kitchens or garages. Of course, many tech companies have been prioritizing remote work for a while. Now, remote work is the new normal for an increasing number of Americans.
According to a Gallup study from last year, 91% of people who worked remotely hope that trend will continue after the pandemic. The same study showed nearly two-thirds of employees believe remote work will have a neutral or positive effect on company culture.
Most leaders navigating this cultural shift are forced to deal with that critical question: how do you grow a positive remote work culture in your company? Is it even possible?
It takes time and intentional effort, but, yes, it is possible.
Let’s talk about how to make it happen.
What Is Culture, Anyway?
According to Merriam-Webster, culture is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”
But culture is one of those things that’s hard to describe when you start thinking about it.
You can list out all of your shared values on a website. Every business does that. Dig deeper into the experience of your people, however, and you’ll find out your team’s culture is a lot more nebulous than the dictionary definition.
That’s because culture is not something you say or write down. It answers the question, “Are we living out our beliefs and values every day?” To put it another way, culture is how your team does what it does.
Why Is Remote Work Culture Important?
A positive culture can breathe fresh life into your business. It will fuel connection for your team, increase employee retention, attract new talent (because people will tell their friends), bring in new customers, and grow the bottom line.
A negative, unhealthy culture can do the exact opposite. Some of the warning signs of a poor culture are low productivity, complaining, gossip, videos turned off during meetings, and people who never step away from work activities.
In other words, your company is only as good as the culture you seek to cultivate.
You probably don’t need to be convinced of that. That’s why you’re here.
Let’s look at how to develop it.
10 Ways to Grow a Positive Remote Work Culture
If your company is fully remote, it will be easier to build or change your culture because everyone experiences the same thing. With a hybrid company, you may have to deal with conflicting expectations and perspectives between remote and in-office employees.
Regardless of your situation, these ten tips will help you grow a positive company culture with remote workers.
Know Your Company’s Story and Share It Often
You should eat, sleep, and breathe your company’s story–your vision, mission, and values. It’s what gets you up in the morning and reminds every employee that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
As a leader, it’s your privilege and responsibility to share that vision every chance you get. Remember that the company’s vision is not the culture (culture = how work is done), but it does impact and inform the culture. People are more likely to behave in a positive, productive way when they believe they’re contributing to something worthwhile.
Have a Written Remote Work Policy
There shouldn’t be any unwritten rules in your remote work guidelines. Document your desired vision for remote employees but also what things will look like in practice. This doesn’t mean you are telling them how or where to do their work. Simply, it’s a policy on expectations that help them and the company to thrive.
You’ll want to include things like expectations on communication, life/work balance, availability during the workday, reframing metrics for success (i.e. work produced vs. hours worked), and so on.
This may be more straightforward if you’re designing your business to be remote from the start. If you aren’t, ask your team for input as you produce this. You also need to make sure you distinguish between freelancers, contract workers, and full-time employees as this will come into play when you are providing health insurance or retirement plan options.
Provide What’s Needed to Work Remotely
This should be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning: those who choose to work remotely aren’t on their own to acquire the technology, supplies, and resources they need to do their job. Whether it’s a computer, a desk/chair, a printer, or even paperclips, you’ll need to build that into your budget. At the very least, this communicates care to your remote workers.
Use the Right Tools
Since remote workers aren’t physically in an office together, they need dependable and efficient ways to communicate. It could be using the top remote sales tools to increase quotas or the best free screen recorder so developers can easily get feedback on their projects. Whatever it is, the important thing is to find the tools that are intuitive and increase productivity.
Build a Foundation of Trust and Safety
Your remote workers need to have confidence that they can speak their minds and not be rejected or shamed by others. When people sense that they are safe with their team, they’re more likely to be vulnerable. That means they will share their ideas and opinions freely. This extends to their personal lives, too. Trust and safety will lead to significant connections that foster true community.
This starts with you, the leader. Regularly ask for feedback. Set the expectation that failure and disagreement are not only okay but expected. Teach teams to give feedback in ways that are not shaming and receive feedback in ways that refuse to make it personal. Most importantly, be an example of how to do all this well.
A lot of employees may not come to you directly with feedback so asking for it on a regular basis is a good practice. You can use a simple email template and send out a monthly feedback survey where employees can share their thoughts honesty and openly.
Prioritize Overall Well-Being and Mental Health
This is a catch-all category that boils down to one, big idea: people over tasks. Productivity is important, but if it leads to burnout, your culture will end up walking out the revolving door.
You can prioritize employee well-being and mental health by openly discussing the issue and giving mental health days that don’t count against PTO. You can encourage people to unplug briefly during the workday by running an errand, getting in a workout, or taking a walk.
Remember that it’s easy for remote workers to feel like they are always “on.” This can take a huge toll on your team. Encourage them to turn off their notifications and not respond to messages when they aren’t working and emphasize that it’s healthy to not always be available.
Practice Recognition Regularly
Have you ever met someone who doesn’t love being celebrated? That doesn’t stop when we get to work. Often that desire increases on the job.
The goal of recognizing your people is not just to acknowledge great work (it is that), but to celebrate how the work is done. You want to promote your company’s values and align everyone’s behavior with them. When someone is rewarded for doing something consistent with your values, they will keep doing it and others will, too. This means a more fulfilling place to work, better employee retention, and a bigger bottom line. It’s a win for everyone.
Keep in mind that research has shown recognition is most effective when it comes from a peer, not a boss. Learn how to launch your peer-to-peer recognition program and watch your employee happiness skyrocket.
Here is a good example from the Law Offices of Attorney Brian White where they celebrated great work by giving an employee a pat on the back on their Facebook page. By celebrating Josh Hilbe’s great achievement, the firm shows that it cares about pushing its employees forward and encouraging them to grow within the company.
Establish Collective Rhythms
Each of your remote teams (or “team” if you’re a small company or startup), should have recurring meetings scheduled. Whether it’s your regular team meeting, department meeting, or one-on-ones, a collective rhythm will help everyone gain a sense of connection to the bigger picture. It will also remind people what others are working on and allows the chance for questions, feedback, and collaboration.
At the same time, pay close attention to the number of meetings you have. Your employees didn’t choose to work remotely so they can be in meetings all day long. During the pandemic, “Zoom fatigue” became a real thing, and it can still rear its ugly head. Encourage your managers to schedule meetings wisely, always prepare an agenda, and never end a meeting without a decision made or action steps assigned.
Create Opportunities for Meaningful Connection
People who work remotely typically love the flexibility and freedom it brings. But remote work can also feel like an island without the beautiful scenery. One way to combat this is to provide creative opportunities for people to learn from their peers. Consider starting a mentoring program, ask an experienced employee to host a workshop or discussion, host weekly lunch and learns on topics related to your industry, or host open forums on important issues like diversity and inclusion, work-life balance, mental health, etc.
Ask for Feedback Often
We mentioned above that you should regularly ask for feedback to build trust and safety. Here, we’re talking about getting feedback from your team on the culture itself.
You can accomplish this through an anonymous survey, but it doesn’t have to be so formal or private. It can be as simple as hopping on a video call and asking, “How are you really doing? How are you experiencing working here while you are in another time zone?” Encourage them to be honest. If you’ve done the work to build a foundation of trust and safety, they will be.
How’s Your Remote Culture?
Now’s your chance to assess how you’re doing and get things headed in the right direction. Give yourself an honest evaluation and get ready to do the hard work of change. Growing a positive company culture with remote teams can be difficult because of all the obstacles remote work presents. But if you lead the way with humble confidence, clear communication, and get buy-in from all levels of leadership, you will see change for the better.
Photo credit - DCStudio