With COVID-19 suddenly forcing people to stay at home and self-isolate, remote work has become more prevalent than ever. In fact, in this pandemic it has essentially become the only way to run a business. Unless your business already operates remotely to some degree, chances are that the coronavirus crisis has left you scrambling to adjust your systems and processes to facilitate your now-virtual workforce. Regardless, simply having a team that works remotely is not enough to move your company forward effectively. Building and sustaining a thriving virtual office means truly addressing remote work culture on a deeper level.
Prefer video? Watch our webinar, How to Effectively Lead in Remote Work, via Facebook. In 90-minutes, it touches upon all the themes addressed in this article, plus a Q&A.
Organizational culture exists whether we acknowledge it or ignore it. But does it drive productivity, loyalty, and employee satisfaction? If you allow your remote work culture to grow from happenstance, rather than bloom with intention, it may prime your employees to inch one foot out the door.
With a little intention and following the five steps below, you can establish a positive remote work culture to increase employee engagement and boost morale. Another big win--in the process, it will increase your business’s chance of success.
If you’ve made the decision to incorporate a work-from-home option into your organizational strategy, it is essential to be 100% committed to this choice. Having a distributed team means honoring the makeup of that team and giving equal time and attention to all employees regardless of whether they are physically clocking in at the office each day. You must view remote workers as an equal part of your company.
This is especially true when it comes to aspects such as rewards, incentives, compensation, and decision-making. Remote employees should have equivalent opportunities for connection and team celebration as their in-office colleagues, and their perspectives and feedback should be considered on par. Similarly, guidelines for time off should be the same for in-person and virtual workers. Trust and respect are harder to build virtually, but these qualities will infuse your work culture when you create an even playing field for all employees.
Create a foundation: Define behaviors
Make the foundation of your work culture concrete by identifying aspects of your brand that you want to cultivate. For a successful start, pick no more than 8-10 behaviors to promote and nourish.
If you’re not sure where to start, look at the behaviors your model employees exhibit. Here at Reconciled, we have several “family rules” that guide our workplace culture: showing up on time, being present, and embracing a learning mindset. Defining and emphasizing the central values of your company’s culture brings a clarity that streamlines everything you do and gives remote employees a clear target to aim for.
Model culture from the top
Leadership must model the culture’s defined behaviors—what those at the top demonstrate is what will be repeated and amplified by your team as a whole. This lesson is one I’ve learned from my life experiences. Go beyond defined, codified behaviors to truly exemplify the workplace culture you want to create. At times this will mean holding team members accountable to modeling the culture and practicing what they preach.
Intentionally praise positive behavior. When you see a team member demonstrating something you’d like to see more of in your workplace culture, tell them! What may feel like just a few words in that moment, over time become the building blocks for your company’s culture.
Use effective tools for internal communication
To build a strong virtual work culture, use every digital tool available to you to establish an internal communication strategy that reflects the culture you are building. This includes email, video, text message, phone and video conferences, project management, and more. At Reconciled, we rely on tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom & Google Meetings to drive our communication. There are many other programs and platforms that bring teams together to make communication seamless both inside and outside offices.
Within these tools, it’s essential to establish clear guidelines and etiquette for each medium. The level of professionalism or familiarity should be outlined and modeled for both internal and external (client-facing) communication. Clearly define what the expectations are for response time, and which channels are intended to be used synchronously (e.g. Slack, where immediate conversation-style dynamics are the norm) vs. asynchronously (e.g. email, where responding the next day is often standard).
Digital tools are at the heart of building team relationships between virtual team members, and you can help cultivate these connections by establishing some “fun” communication channels—some virtual watercooler chit-chat, if you will—where team members can connect personally if they wish. This allows remote team members to nurture work-life balance and remember that they don’t have to “turn off” their life when they are working.
Establish team rhythms
Finally, use team rhythms to your advantage to build a positive remote work culture. Providing team members with clarity on their work schedules and opportunities for communication with colleagues and supervisors increases engagement and reduces isolation. Establishing regular virtual team meetings and ways for employees to interact through one of your company’s established communication channels keeps your virtual team members informed and working together.
Any team member who feels like an island, cut off from communication and participation in something larger than themself, is at risk of floating away—to a new job or, even worse, becoming a disconnected entity that paralyzes the rest of their team. Creating a positive remote work culture is critical to maximizing the potential of any single employee and the team as a whole.