Remember when Monday mornings were all about turning off the alarm, taking showers, getting dressed, grabbing a cup of coffee, and commuting to work?
They’re certainly much different now.
The global pandemic has forced a sudden and mostly successful pivot to working away from the office, giving birth to a new era of remote team culture. More and more, we have seen people remote working from lots of different locations. There has been a hesitancy to encourage remote team culture perhaps because the managers or team leaders see it as a loss of control. It can be quite difficult to manage people who we don’t necessarily see on a day to day basis. There might be concerns around efficiency or productivity where in fact, productivity can actually be improved as a result of remote team culture.
There doesn’t have to be any negative impact upon the business, if managed effectively. There are clear benefits, such as the opportunity for workers to have more freedom over their scheduling, over when they work and where they work. When people have that degree of freedom, it leads to a workforce that is happier. There are also benefits for employers. Leaders that are able to manage remote work effectively will have a motivated and effective team.
Before we dig deeper into practical ways to build and grow positive company culture with remote teams, let’s have a congruent understanding about company culture. Based on EntreLeadership, a winning company culture has a tree-like structure that consists of the roots, the trunk, the branches and the fruits.
The Roots are the core values, beliefs and mission of the company. Who is the company and why does the company exist?
The Trunk is the operating principle. How does the company do things?
The Branches is the culture. The collective behaviours of the team.
The Fruit is the result. The measure of the company’s mission.
So, what can you implement as a manager or team leader to build a positive company culture within a remote team?
Understanding the Company’s Values and Mission
To grow a positive company culture with a remote team, we have to dig down from the most fundamental aspects of company culture which are the roots that represent the core values, beliefs and mission of the company. In other words, a winning company culture has to be built based on a strong core values and mission that sustain the team. Therefore, communicating and clarifying your company values is one of the most important things you can do to grow a positive remote team culture.
If your team has never been working remotely before, you can attach your company values in your employee handbook or remote work policy. Remind your employees to go back and read those values whenever they are unsure about how to act or execute on their work. Sharing your company values and aligning your thought patterns, belief system, emotions, and actions with your goals consistently will help you and your remote team avoid issues as well as quickly address the things that are not working for your team.
Set a Clear Process for Communication and Collaboration
A healthy root will yield a strong trunk. A winning company culture has a strong trunk that represents the company’s operating principles. As a team leader or manager, it is critical and important to define how your team works together remotely. Different people across the organization may have different ideas about what a remote working situation encompasses. In this case, a clear process for communication and collaboration is the key.
Communicate with your remote team to assess needs, expectations and what’s reasonable. Effective and successful collaboration cannot take place without the support of good communication. It goes beyond simply dividing up tasks and assembling a finished product. It’s more about fostering a positive energy to reach a common intention by sharing knowledge, insights and learning to build a harmony.
Build an Environment of Trust
Trust in any organization works on three levels:
- At company level in terms of culture,
- Team level concerning the relationship among the members, and
- Interpersonal level between two people.
You can’t always control your organization’s level of trust, but you can certainly influence it by building trust in your immediate work environment. In order to build a healthy remote team culture, it’s important to communicate higher-level decisions with your team during one-on-one and weekly team virtual meetings. Be sure that your team knows than you trust them to do their work even when they’re working remotely. Building an environment of trust in your remote team culture can be implemented by focusing on your team’s output. If somebody on your team is not working based on the team’s expectations, check in with them and ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
Psychological Safety is a Key to Great Teamwork
One of the five key dynamics developed by Google that make a great team successful is psychological safety which should be one of the branches of company culture. Amy Edmondson, a professor of Harvard Business School explained that,
“Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”Amy Edmonson
Both Google and Amy Edmonson found in different case studies that teams that made more mistakes were actually more successful than others. Cultivating an environment in which people feel comfortable to take risks is essential to stimulate innovation in the workplace. A solid remote team should have a great sense of psychological safety to bounce ideas off each other, strengthen action plans, help solve issues and provide support to each other.
Improve Employee Engagement
The most successful companies develop culture and measure the impact of culture through business results and employee engagement. Understanding employee engagement as the branches of company culture is hugely important but team leaders also need to understand the culture before the engagement.
“Culture comes from people connecting with each other beyond the context of work”Lea Jovy, founder of Location Independent
Studies have shown that teams that are more emotionally connected and engaged, work more effectively together. Employee engagement affects just about every important aspect of your company, including profitability, revenue, customer experience, employee turnover and more. Research from Harvard Business Review shows that 92% of business executives believe that engaged employees perform better, boosting the success of their teams and the outcomes of their company.
As a team leader, keeping a remote team engaged over time is a great way to foster a positive culture. There are many creative ways to keep your remote team engaged:
- Create well-planned virtual team building events.
- Establish a regular ritual that is team-oriented. Encourage a ‘no work talk policy’ to connect the teams and have that swivel chair type of conversations.
- Host a virtual happy hour or a breakfast session once a week/ month.
- Incorporate some of the team building games into your team’s regular virtual meetings.
- Schedule a team-off site, meeting face to face is important for relationship building.
- Create mentorship programs to help people grow and learn from their peers.
- Remind your team that they are valued and appreciated, take a time to learn about everyone in your team.
Be sure to acknowledge the differences in the way people learn and work. Try taking the MBTI personality test and writing personal manifestos to promote understand within the team.
Maintaining a Work Life Balance, Self Care is Important!
In the very beginning, when ‘working from home’ started, it made the employees feel more exhausted. There’s no place for rest because it makes them feel that they need to work anywhere, wherever they go, their mind is always on work. The struggle of adapting to this new working style is real employees need time to adjust from work mode to rest mode. Losing the journey to work saves time, but research claims that the commute can also provide the employees with a means to separate personal and professional lives. In a world of ten seconds of bed to laptop commutes, the commute was a chance for some ‘me time’.
According to Buffer, remote working is not always as Instagram-worthy as it may seem. In fact, many remote workers struggle with unplugging from their work, loneliness and communicating. This is why setting boundaries is more important than ever before.
“Work-life balance involves a mixture of time management, commitment, and (most importantly) prioritization.”
These are some steps to set healthy boundaries to get work-life balance for remote workers:
- Create a dedicated workspace and declutter it for a better focus and productivity.
- Set your routine and stick to it.
- Self-care is important, schedule some ‘me’ time.
- Communicate with your team and family, communication is the key!
- Take your days off seriously, make plans for after work hours or weekend.
Measure Your Remote Team Engagement
There’s a saying that goes:
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure”Peter F. Drucker
Measuring employee engagement remotely is a relatively new concept. This is the fruit of company culture. It has become necessary for managers or team leaders to find remote or socially distant ways to keep employees engaged, which will lead to personal and professional success. Otherwise, disengaged remote employees will do more harm than good to the team and company. There are various ways that managers or team leaders can take up to measure employee engagement for a remote team:
- Use ‘third party’ tools for employee engagement surveys to produce honest answers.
- Get an overview of the day-to-day activities, progress, and level of engagement of employees.
- Connect through various video call platforms or through calls for conducting one-on-one meetings.
- Conduct a stay/exit interview to discover the reality of the existing company culture.
- Monthly/annually OKR (Objective & Key Results) check in to measure the rate of success and how the employees are engaging in their work.
- Set the expectation of regular feedback. Ask for it often, reflect on your efforts, listen to your employees, and make adjustments as needed.
Working remotely has its benefits and the best thing about it is that you have the autonomy to manage your time. The benefits of remote working can be fully experienced if it’s managed effectively upon a winning remote team culture and engagement. Communication is key: you’ll need a workflow management app like Asana or Monday to keep track of tasks and apps like Slack where the team can sync.
We hope that these tips helped you understand what it takes to foster a healthy and positive remote culture.