Working Remotely happens, by definition, apart from the rest of the team. Although it’s a flexible working arrangement, it can be a tremendously isolating one.
Don’t let the physical and emotional distance of remote work throw a wrench in your company culture. When a company’s culture unravels, its quality of work often does as well. If you want to keep your culture tight no matter the distance, follow these key steps:
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Reinforce Your Values
Your company’s culture is its identity. You’re not a software company; to your team, you’re a courageous, innovation-oriented company that just happens to develop software.
Identify a tangle action or artifact you can use to reinforce those values remotely. If you pride yourself on supporting underdogs, can you put together a mentorship program for the underprivileged? If grit is important to you, what about sponsoring a marathon for charity?
Give each member of the team ownership in one of those projects. For example, who’s going to put together fliers for the marathon? Who’s going to hand out water? Who’ll mark off the course?
For tasks that will require more than one person, choose team members who don’t typically work together. Match salespeople with HR staff. Pair people with freelance jobs with employees. Bonding over shared values is the essence of building culture.
Open Your Office Working Remotely
Even with people working remotely, your company likely has a home base. Unless you need to cut your overhead costs, keep this space open to your workers.
If some people work in the office and others don’t, be sure to invite remote workers to real-world events you host. Nobody wants to feel left out of the fun.
Keep work areas separate from fun-oriented ones. Team members should be able to bond or buckle down, regardless of what others at the office are up to.
Find Time for Fun on Working Remotely
As important as providing a space for fun is making time for it. Remote teams need to unwind just as much as in-person ones do.
Don’t get so focused on productivity that you destroy morale. Throw a video call on the calendar at least once a week with no goal beyond enjoying each other’s company. Play trivia. Enjoy a happy hour. Screen-share a movie so everyone can watch it together.
Want to go the extra mile? Send a box of popcorn and a bottle of wine to each remote worker’s house. Even when consumed separately, nothing brings teams together like shared snacks and drinks.
Rethink Your Hiring Priorities
Filling remote roles is a different beast than hiring for in-office ones. To keep your culture strong, look for people who have a knack for connecting with anyone from anywhere.
Remote communications, especially over media like email and SMS, are read without the help of body language. Prioritize people with high emotional intelligence, who will express themselves better remotely and give others the benefit of the doubt.
Make Messaging Easy on Working Remotely
Most communication either can’t wait for a virtual meeting or doesn’t call for one. Make it easy for team members to communicate in bite-sized ways.
There are numerous software options to choose from. Simple messaging apps are great for watercooler talk. Many project management platforms have chat functions baked right in.
Decide what’s most important to your team. If your goal is simply to recreate the break room, a tool like Slack should be fine. If it’s to reduce miscommunications on projects, your chat system should be available in whatever platform you use to get work done.
Check in With Each Member Individually
Don’t let out of sight be out of mind. Make a point of checking in with each team member individually. They may have comments or concerns that they don’t want to bring up in group chats or conference calls.
Not every check-in needs to be performed via video. If you don’t need to have an in-depth discussion, a simple “How are you doing?” message can go a long way. If you do, set aside more than enough time for the session. Nobody wants to feel like they’re less important than whatever’s next on their manager’s calendar.
More important than the check-in itself is what you do after the conversation. Be sensitive to each employee’s concerns. Make sure they know their feedback is valued. Either take action on their recommendations, or explain why you can’t.
Don’t make every interaction a formal check-in. Be available in Slack. Encourage team members to put time on your calendar whenever they need to. Recreate those random catch-ups as best you can from afar.
Set Core Hours
One of the best parts of remote work is the ability to work whenever it works best for you. But if team members take that to the extreme, communication gaps result.
One solution you can implement is mandatory core hours. Perhaps you expect everyone to be online from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but beyond that, they can log their hours anywhere else in the week.
Make sure team members know that those core hours are for asking questions and collaborating. Encourage them to do solo tasks beforehand or afterward. Communication needs that arise during solo hours should either be emailed or saved for the next core period.
Managing a remote team is more difficult than it looks. Maintaining your culture is chief among those challenges. Don’t let the distance prevent your team from working as one, cohesive unit.