What goes into building a successful remote culture?

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As more and more companies are allowing employees to work remotely, these employers are finding that maintaining a company culture with a remote workforce is challenging. For organizations looking to hire more remote workers while retaining their existing employees and helping their teams stay productive and happy, cultivating a remote culture is essential.

In this article, we'll look at how you can develop a remote culture at your company that makes your employees feel empowered and part of the team, even if separated by physical distance.

What's a remote culture?

Put simply, a remote culture is an extension of your overall company culture but specifically defines how your team works remotely. This could cover anything from communication styles to the sort of hours employees are expected to be available and more. When everyone is working in the same office, some of these are set by default, but in an all-remote or mostly remote environment, it's a good idea to be very specific about these sorts of principles so that everyone is on the same page.

You'll find that one of the greatest difficulties with remote culture is that, because it can mean something different to everyone, unspoken differences in opinion or interpretations of vague policies can often lead members of the team to feel excluded or at odds with the rest of the group. This can lead to employee turnover, low morale, or just difficulty working together, all of which you probably want to avoid.

By being deliberate about setting your remote culture, you can ensure everyone is on the same page and works together to make remote work the best experience it can be.

Why a healthy remote culture is vital

Healthy company culture is important in general in order to make everyone feel as comfortable as they can at work, increase employee retention, and make your employees the most productive versions of themselves. However, with a remote culture, a few specific factors become even more important, including engagement and work-life balance.

Engage your employees

When a company is mostly or even entirely remote, it can be easy for employees to feel disconnected and not a part of the team. In order to contribute effectively and bring their own talents to the team, employees need to feel engaged. And engaging your employees by seeking out specific feedback on processes and the overall health of the company is one of the best ways to improve team health. When employees know that their feedback matters, they're more likely to be engaged and invested in the success of the team.

This is usually easier when you can see your coworkers every day and are in the same space; however, when all your meetings are over Zoom and there's much less casual chitchat around the office, it's easier for employees to become disengaged. This hurts both their personal morale as well as the morale and productivity of the team. If it feels like everyone is just going through the motions, and it takes longer to get things done, it can turn into a cycle of everyone feeling more disengaged.

By crafting your remote culture with engagement in mind, you can avoid employees checking out and feeling like their opinions don't matter. Try scheduling things like in-person meetups a couple of times a year for specific teams, encouraging unstructured time together if that's something the team is interested in, or even just checking in with the team as a whole and individually to see how they're doing and how they feel about the organization as a whole. This will help you keep track of your employees without physically having to be together.

Help with work-life balance

One of the biggest challenges with teams shifting to remote work is work-life balance. When work largely happens in an office, there's a clear separation between work and life. When you leave the office, in most cases, you're done with your work for the day and are not expected to check in after hours.

However, when you work remotely, and especially when you work from home, this line can get a bit blurry. During COVID-19 quarantines and lock-downs that were implemented across much of the world, employees moved to working from home and started working longer hours than they did before. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that when you work from home, there's no clear disconnect from work, especially if there's not much else going on outside your home.

By talking to your employees about work-life balance and setting expectations around when certain employees and teams need to be online, you can impress the importance of shutting down your work to focus on other priorities. In addition, by checking in with the team and getting a sense of whether the team is too busy and taking this information into account during planning meetings, you can hopefully avoid the burnout that comes with not respecting work-life balance for too long.

Enhance productivity and accountability

One of the main goals of building a remote team is to be able to hire the best talent from anywhere and put all that talent together in a productive, effective team that all aligns with the same goals. However, when your team is working remotely, there are an infinite number of possible distractions or reasons for each of your team members not to be accountable, especially when that accountability is not in person.

For that reason, it's important to set your remote culture up for success by defining frequent check-ins while not overloading your team with pointless meetings, ensuring that everyone's on the same page with regard to what's expected of them and what they can rely on other members of the team for.

How you can implement a healthy remote culture

Now that you know why a healthy remote culture is important, it's time to focus on how you can implement one. Following are a few ideas:

Set clear goals and deadlines

One of the key components of maintaining a remote team is to make sure everyone is clear on what their goals are and the deadlines that go with them. Especially when working remotely, it's important to make sure everyone's on the same page with regard to both what the team needs to accomplish and how they can help, as well as what they personally want to accomplish and how the team can come alongside them in that goal.

Prioritize clear communication

Because nonverbal communication is such a large part of how people communicate, when employees transition to remote work and primarily communicate over text-based mediums, such as email or chat, communicating effectively can become more difficult. By emphasizing how you want your employees to communicate and putting principles in place to make sure everyone is communicating effectively with the various remote tools that you're using, you can ensure that nothing gets lost in translation.

One of these principles might be scheduling frequent one-on-one meetings with supervisors and employees. By ensuring that this sort of communication is frequently scheduled and providing guidance on how you want each person in your team to prepare for these sorts of meetings, you can show that clear communication is a priority within your organization. In addition to helping with clear communication, regular and clear feedback has been shown to improve employee retention.

Find easy-to-use communication and collaboration tools

One thing that goes hand in hand with striving for effective communication is having tools that make communicating remotely as easy as possible. By using a combination of real-time tools (like live chat, Google Docs, and Figma) and more asynchronous tools for when everyone doesn't need to be working in real time (like email, Basecamp, and Jira), you can make sure everyone is on the same page, able to work effectively, and stay coordinated, no matter where they are in the world.

Set up your remote culture to work asynchronously

To enable your team to effectively work in a remote environment (even if you're working in mostly the same time zones), it's important to set up your remote culture to operate more asynchronously than synchronously. If everyone needs to be online at the same time or in the same real-time meetings, you lose much of the benefit of having a remote workforce.

However, if you're able to structure your tools and your work to take advantage of the fact that your team is able to work effectively at different times of day, you'll be able to get the most out of remote work. Practically, this means relying on asynchronous tools like email, Trello, or Basecamp to manage projects versus live chat tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. You want to make sure that just because a team member may be offline at a particular time, they're not missing anything crucial by going back and updating themselves later.

Have clear login/logout times

As previously discussed, when employees are working from home, especially those that are used to working in an office, dictating specific hours as to when they're expected to be available helps make work-life balance a bit more pronounced and, in turn, reduces the likelihood of burnout. By making clear working hours a cornerstone of your remote culture, you can ensure that everyone is comfortable with their schedule and can work in the most efficient way possible.

In addition to helping set clear working boundaries during the day, it's important to encourage your employees to use their time off. Oftentimes, working remotely and in different time zones gets easier, but it also gets easier to be always on and to feel the pressure like you should be working all the time. When supervisors encourage their employees to use their vacation time, you can ensure employees feel supported and can come back ready to be an even better part of the team.

Wrapping up

As more and more work is done remotely, it's important to make sure you have a company culture that not only supports remote work but also helps your employees and teams thrive. By setting clear boundaries and expectations, keeping your team engaged, and making sure everyone has the tools in place that they need to work remotely, you can make sure your team is as comfortable and productive as possible.

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