How to Build a Strong Remote Work Culture
by Apekshita Varshney
Numerous studies announce that nothing rivals working from home, that remote work is the future of work, and that more and more individuals are eager to try it; yet many companies are unconvinced. Here’s how you can work remotely and still create a culture that keeps your teams engaged and inspired.
A recent Stanford experiment studied 500 people who worked remotely and in a traditional office setting and found that those who worked remotely were more productive in one day than those who worked in a traditional setting all week. Companies like Basecamp, InVision, Zapier, Buffer (and Anyplace) know this. And they run successful teams distributed across time zones, around the world.
Out of these, Buffer, a software application to manage social networks, is perhaps the most vocal about the benefits of remote work and has consistently noted lesser overhead costs, more productivity, and more engagement. But many wonder how is it even possible: how do teams remain focused or engaged, how do they build a friendly work environment, and what about work culture? Just like any other team, a successful remote team is a team seeped in culture and here are a few tenets they should follow:
My culture is not your culture.
Companies can’t impose culture on individuals. It’s introduced by the people, shared among each other, and then nurtured to create a cohesive style of working. You don’t have to be physically in one room to build or share this culture. It reflects in virtual team meetings on Zoom or Skype, at yearly retreats, or even in chats or emails.
The leader plays as much a role as any other person.
If you’re a team leader, you might be tempted to establish core values but it’s always beneficial for the values to emerge bottom-up and then get solidified into a core set that fits the organizational goals. When people see that their team members are willing to talk, listen, and discuss behaviors, strategies or plans, it creates an environment of shared learning and success.
So, how do you create a remote culture?
There is a risk of remote teams being disengaged and disempowered and this is where the following values on building culture will help:
1. Hire Right
The number one rule is to hire right. Scanning profiles, fixing interviews, and evaluating each candidate can be difficult. But on the other side, scanning job boards and perfecting cover letters is equally painful. Both sides can get complacent and here’s where refrain comes in. If you “settle” into hiring, it’s possible that you’ve missed the perfect candidate for the job. If you only hire those people who fit the job description perfectly, you will make the process of forming a naturally engaged, driven and motivated team easier. Once you’ve hired effectively, it’s now important to be transparent, to collaborate, and to adapt.
2. Transparency is Key
Leaders must go out of their way to ensure that employees are included in conversations about where the business is going—from immediate goals to long-term plans through weekly calls or emails. Many remote teams miss this. But even before that, each individual must know (and feel) that they play a crucial role in meeting that vision. Not only should their tasks and roles be clear, they should also believe that they contribute to the larger purpose of the organization. This is what will encourage them to perform better. More and more companies are now realizing that employees are not merely cogs in the wheel but active participants who can make or break a business—complete transparency, then, of goals, values, and rewards is crucial.
3. Communication – Maybe Even Over-communicate
The importance of communication cannot be overstated for a remote team. In this case, particularly, it may be beneficial to also over-communicate. Remote companies believe in weekly calls where the CEO might update everyone with the latest developments and then people are free to ask questions. But apart from the larger company communication, team communication (and not just professional chatter) is important. Many companies are toying with ideas of fun chats where they create “channels” or “chat rooms” to discuss stuff aside from professional conversations.
Office spaces have traditions—celebrating birthdays or playing pool every Friday. But just because a team is remote doesn’t mean it can’t have its own traditions. One-on-one chats among team members other than group meetings is one way to build relationships. Another is to pair buddies who can take stock of the other’s achievements, challenges and support each other throughout.
4. Create An Open Environment
Remote work is not for everyone. And it’s not just what employers say. People, themselves, don’t think they can do it for fears of slacking all day or simply wasting time. This self-assessment is often bang on. So those who are choosing—and thriving—at remote work are the most committed, self-motivated people. They deserve an open environment where they can air their views, ideas, and engage in meaningful discussions. The best way is to create an open environment where each person is accessible. Use the calendar or email to keep others informed of when you’re available or not. Side note: Startups like Focusmate are already experimenting with work video dates where they pair you with strangers who will watch you work. The claim? Less procrastination. Remote teams can try this easily.
5. Enforcing Accountability
Remote work can often stagger when the connections, or inter-dependence, between the work of different individuals or teams is not clearly established. Here’s where the team leader’s job is crucial: It’s important to emphasize and highlight individual roles and how it ties into some other team’s work. It’s not uncommon for large companies to breed inefficient bureaucracy that will shirk responsibility, and remote work (which offers convenient and flexibility) challenges that. People opt for remote work because they are passionate and excited about what they do—and not because they have to. They might still need a nudge and so, enforcing accountability and empowering them can help create an irreplaceable work environment.
Collaboration is more than just hopping on meetings or using tools like Slack or Google docs. Collaboration in a company that has created a robust and welcoming culture is about initiation, participation, and support. It’s easy for remote work to become isolating and, here’s where the work team can help. The best example of collaboration is a social network—people around the world interact with each other on social networking websites. Companies with their internally shared documents, spreadsheets, and chat channels can be similar—with team members generous with their comments and feedback, constantly engaging with each other and helping each other work better.
Finally, remote work, like other forms of work, is about adaptation, and team members must work hard to develop the muscle of adaptation and resilience early on the job. Once again, existing team members can offer help. If team building in a shared office space is difficult, virtual team building is perhaps even more challenging. But companies can create a culture where existing team members share their experiences and honest advice with others. Instead of talking merely about what the job entails, they can share how they adapted, stories of their growth, and also the mistakes they made and how they learned from them.
Remote work brings in comfort and flexibility and can be beneficial for both the employee and the employer. And with a smidge more attention to the team’s engagement and culture, it can create a cohesive team that collaborates online (and offline).
Where to next? Find flexible month-to-month rentals across the globe on Anyplace.
Apekshita is a journalist, creative writer and content strategist. She is passionate about cities, urban life and remote work. On the move since 2018, Apekshita has explored 15+ cities in India while working as a digital nomad.