Cast an eye around a modern office and you might see as many empty desks as occupied ones. But the workforce hasn’t decreased and there haven’t been mass layoffs. Instead, there has been a rise in remote working.
Remote working is proving popular among employers and employees alike. There are numerous perks to going remote such as feeling more motivated and efficient. Remote workers scored themselves as more productive than their office counterparts, with more than half stating that working remotely would improve their motivation levels.
But there are also challenges, notably around growing and maintaining a good office culture when some of your team work remotely. It’s something to be mindful of because, at some point or another, you’re likely to have some remote employees.
Understand the value of remote working
The first step in creating a positive culture around remote working is to understand its value to your organisation. Global Workplace Analytics lists some of these perks as increasing productivity, cutting down on wasted meetings, improving employee satisfaction, reducing unscheduled absences and expanding the talent pool.
Ensure that the rest of your workforce understand this value as well. Office-based employees need to be on-board with your remote workers, otherwise, your culture will suffer as a result. It can help if office employees are given the same freedom to work remotely if they choose to.
Streamline your comms
Communication is a recurring challenge for a remote workforce. In an open plan office, employees can mingle and have watercooler chat. With a distributed workforce this is more tricky - but not impossible.
Setting up dedicated communication channels is a must when dealing with remote workers. This rising trend - and business need - is one of the reasons why we're busy building Guild, as a super-private, ad-free, next-gen professional messaging app.
Like many other companies, we also use Slack for workplace collaboration and comms. With Slack, you can set up individual channels for different topics, including a watercooler section for people to share their day-to-day personal news, musings and cat GIFs.
Make sure that everyone understands what different communication channels are for, to help set the tone and encourage people to use them. For example, you might decide that legal documentation is always shared via email, whilst one-on-one chats should always be done through Slack. Rules about language and humour should also be communicated, to avoid offending people.
Employees should also remain logged into any communication tools to help facilitate interactions between the team. Some companies use video, having a screen always on in the office to imitate the feeling of people being in the same room.
Co-founder of Nomo FOMO Adelaida Sofia Diaz-Roa explains how the company uses Slack to create a strong culture: “We have a #kudos channel on Slack and a #failwall channel, in addition to fun ones such as #photos and #music. These channels help us keep the team informed when anyone does something that enforces the culture.”
Set your company values
Your company values set the direction for your company culture. It’s important to share these values with your team, especially when some of them work remotely.
Having a distributed team makes it more challenging for new employees to understand your culture, so clearly setting out your values will help them get up-to-speed quickly.
Welcome new employees in front of everyone
Speaking of new team members, it’s a good idea to introduce any new employees to the entire team. Having a remote team isn’t an excuse to not do this... in fact, it is even more reason to do so.
One way to welcome new joiners is via email, asking them five questions about themselves as a quick intro. For example, they could describe themselves in one sentence, talk about their favourite book or movie, and describe their perfect holiday. Anything that might help people get to know each other better and strike up a conversation.
Individual meetings between new employees and the rest of your team can also be arranged as another way to help them grasp your culture.
Make sure there are well-defined roles
Having clear roles defined will make everyone, whether remote or in-office, feel like a close-knit team. That way, people understand who to turn to for certain tasks and projects.
For instance, an in-office person could meet with a new client before passing on information and tasks to a remote graphic designer. The completed work could then go to an in-house person who prints and assembles it and then passes it onto the first person to meet with the client and review.
With this kind of system in place, everyone is dependent on one another to get the job done.
Hold regular (in-person) events
Dedicated team-building events can offer another way to bring a remote team together. If budget allows, it’s worth paying for everyone to travel to one location to meet in person (at least once a year). Having a company retreat can create memories and camaraderie that lasts for years.
Zapier holds a company retreat twice a year with a focus on team-building activities. These include pairing up to cook team dinners and hiking as a group. The company states that the events have "helped us learn more about each other and our families—it’s knowledge we wouldn't have gained in a normal week".
A good culture is created over time
Creating any company culture is a work-in-progress, and there isn’t an exception for a distributed workforce. As your business grows and develops, your company culture will evolve and change.
That means it needs to be reviewed regularly to check that it’s still working well for your company and employees. Checking in with your whole team, remote and in-house, is fundamental to a healthy company culture. Their feedback can refine your culture or forewarn about toxic elements.
Having a remote workforce does pose some additional challenges to building a strong culture. Notably around communication and collaboration. But if you get those elements right for a remote team, then it’ll likely hold muster in every other scenario.
In any case, every business will be impacted in some way by a remote workforce. So it’s worth building a culture around remote work now - to prepare for the employees of the future.
Photo by Paige Muller on Unsplash.