Prioritizing company culture is important, especially as more employees work from home. Here's how to address and grow company culture with remote teams.
Building a company culture takes a lot of work, even with the benefits of having all of your employees in a shared place. Now, as many businesses have had to shift to remote working amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some are finding that the thriving in-office culture they've established hasn't seamlessly transitioned to a distributed workforce. After all, it's tough to get employees bonding without swapping stories in the kitchen or going out on team community-service trips.
However, it is possible to build a remote-work culture that keeps employees excited to work with your company, even while they're on their own at home. It's a matter of defining what's important to you and your workers—and making efforts to rise to the occasion.
Defining Company Culture
Before you take strides to set up a remote company culture, you need to make sure you understand what company culture is. (Importantly, it's not stocking a fridge with snacks or setting up a ping-pong table.) Company culture is the sum of the values and attributes of your organization, and the actions you take to reflect them.
Strong company culture—whether for remote workers or in-office employees—is built on the answers to these questions:
- What's important to your business? For instance, are you impact-based, or are you driven by your bottom line? There's no right answer—but companies that measure their worth through their influence versus their revenues will have very different company cultures.
- How do you want to present yourself to both the outside world and internal stakeholders? Do you want to come off as strong and competitive or friendly and open, for example? The impression that you'd like to make on the world will determine what kind of company culture you have.
- How does your business make decisions? Some businesses are more democratic, while others are more bureaucratic. Again, there's no right or wrong, but if transparency is important to you, for instance, then your company culture must embody it.
- What's your leadership and team-building style? Both the types of messages you send to your employees as well as the tasks you ask them to do—both parts of company culture – should reflect what how you want your leaders and teams to act.
- What are your ethics and values? Your company culture is underpinned by the things you value and the ethics under which you operate. Companies that are consistent with the values they espouse create the best company cultures.
Together, these factors combine to create the environment in which your company operates—in other words, your company culture—regardless of where your employees are working.
No matter whether you're an in-person or remote company, values underpin company culture. Without them, your employees have no North Star. They won't know what they're working for or why they're working for your company in particular.
So, part of establishing company culture with a remote team is making sure your values are clear and visible, and the actions you take are consistent with these principles. In a remote-work world, it's more important than ever that your team understands why they're "coming" to work every day, especially when they don't have colleagues next to them to remind them.
Companies with strong remote-work cultures remind workers of their foundational values often. This can be done in explicit ways—for instance, creating exercises in which employees demonstrate their embodiment of your values—or in subtler ways, simply by consistently conducting business in line with your principles. As employees on remote teams are distributed, it may take more explicit effort to keep values top of mind. In this case, you should lean on your team leaders to keep up the conversation about your values, and explain why unifying behind these principles is especially important now.
With a remote team, managers should particularly be cognizant of leading by example. For instance, if transparency is a value for your company, team leaders should create a remote-communication framework that encourages openness, and visibly practice the value themselves. The more your organization can provide examples for how both leadership and workers can commit to and demonstrate your values while working from home, the more likely you'll be to create a strong remote-work culture.
No matter what are your values are, open yourself to feedback on these governing principles and ethics. The company you may be evolving into as you transition to remote work may be different than the one you were in office—which may mean your values have changed, too.
Updating Water-Cooler Chat
A significant number of friendships in one's life originate at the workplace—and many of these close ties are atrophying as employees work on their own. Providing a virtual forum for social interactions is a vital piece of creating a successful company culture with a remote team, to help your workforce feel included and lift morale.
To begin, adopt or more strongly integrate technology that encourages employee interaction, such as real-time chat and video conferencing. Understand that your employees aren't just using your technology platforms to transact on work assignments now, but as their main social hubs, too.
Scheduling meetings is also important to keep team members engaged with each other and social culture thriving. Mix up meetings among the larger organization, small teams and one-to-ones. You may also want to think about implementing mentorship programs, which create structured relationships that can breed both personal and professional connections.
You'll also want to consider dedicating on-the-clock time for employees to discuss personal passions that they pursue outside of work. It's a big ask for people to spend more time at their computers for after-work events with colleagues, especially when the borders between personal and professional life are blurring more than ever. Employees may be more socially engaged and happy to participate if you're able to provide a social respite during their workdays.
Building a Group Feeling
It's easy to lose that team feeling when employees are distributed—it's why many companies that were remote pre-pandemic rely on annual whole-company retreats for some face time. Since that's not possible at the present moment, it's important to foster group connectivity in other ways.
As a company leader, schedule regular all-hands meetings. This will help remote employees still feel connected to the full organization, its happenings and its values, while also breaking up the isolated workday.
Additionally, consider starting company-wide initiatives, such as virtual volunteer work or competitions. If you have many employees with families, consider including them, too. A companywide "hack day" (in which employees put forward innovative ideas to improve standard ways of working) may also be a good idea. That can help break up daily routines while simultaneously enabling your employees to contribute to the organization in an innovative way.
Tuning Into Fatigue and Feedback
It's important to remember that some can find remote work exhausting, and asking employees to engage in different ways than they're used to—such as spending lots of time on video calls—can create fatigue. Since part of a strong remote company culture is making sure everyone is invigorated and not burned out, be mindful of the type of requests you're making, and be sensitive to individual needs and situations. As you're building your remote company culture, encourage feedback and suggestions.