For People Leaders


7 Ways to Build a Remote Work Culture

You can often sense a company's culture as soon as you walk into the office, but what does that mean for an increasingly remote workforce?


How do you define a company's culture?

It's the feel of a company and what it means to work there. Culture is the company's values, expectations, habits, attitude, and purpose. 

Simply put, culture is how things get done in the workplace. 

You can often sense a company's culture as soon as you walk into the office, but what does that mean for an increasingly remote workforce? 

Culture doesn't disappear in a remote setting. It becomes more crucial than ever. Without a physical space to rally around or the ability to collaborate in person, remote employees rely on culture to feel the company's attitude and get engaged in the work.

But remote work brings new challenges. CEOs and CHROs agree that maintaining the culture is the biggest talent management challenge posed by remote work. The top two concerns for remote employees are not being able to unplug from work and feeling lonely. A solid remote culture can address both of these concerns. 

Here are seven ways to build a remote workplace culture:

  1. Share your story

It may seem basic, but the first step to building a remote culture is defining it. What does your company stand for? What does it mean to be a member of your team? How do you hope employees feel when they sign on and connect with colleagues and clients?

Leaders set the tone and direct the culture. If leadership is unclear about the remote culture or is passive in setting the tone, it can lead to a lack of purpose or clear direction.

As more companies shift to remote or hybrid schedules, now is the time to evaluate the current culture, decide what is and isn’t working, and define the remote culture. With that vision, leaders and managers can set an example and prioritize the culture they want in their workforce.

When defining your culture, consider your mission statement, values, and purpose. Many companies distill their culture down to a few words, such as agile, challenging, collaborative, friendly, or inclusive, and use them as benchmarks to ensure their efforts match the goal. 

Once you’ve defined the culture, share it! Send the vision to employees in an email, discuss it in a meeting, and most importantly, live the culture you want to create. Make it a hallmark of your communication so everyone knows the environment you are trying to achieve. Tap into your company’s history and share your story so that employees feel part of something bigger than themselves.

  1. Set Clear Expectations

One of the biggest roadblocks to an effective culture is misaligned expectations. Employees can’t read minds. Especially without meeting in person and catching physical cues, leaders need to be extremely clear on the expectations for behavior and job performance.

Walk yourself through work processes from the perspective of a new employee. What process questions might they have about schedules, deadlines, and communication channels? What are potential bottlenecks in the processes? Then make those expectations clear and check in on them regularly.

One example comes from IBM’s grassroots “Work from Home Pledge” that specified how employees should support each other in balancing work and life while working remotely. The simple document communicated expectations and each employee’s role in creating a cohesive remote culture.

Expectations go both ways — employees should be clear on what is expected of them and how things work, but they should also understand what is expected of their leaders and managers.

Along with expectations comes the need for boundaries, especially as remote work and life blur together. Boundaries have a profound impact on a company’s culture. If employees regularly receive emails late at night or are expected to be constantly available during work hours, it impacts how they view their work experience and the company as a whole. Create and communicate boundaries to balance work and life.

  1. Set the Communication Standard

The remote work boom has led to huge growth in collaboration tools and communication channels. That’s great news for remote teams until the sheer volume of options becomes overwhelming. As a manager, you set the communication example. 

What communication methods are most effective and efficient for your team? If a leader communicates a certain way, employees naturally follow suit. 

That requires determining if meetings are necessary and perhaps even limiting communication options. Using multiple channels, such as discussing the same project via Slack, email, instant message, and phone increases the chances of confusion or something falling between the cracks.

Your virtual communication culture can include guidelines on how and when to communicate. The goal is to create balanced communication that invites teamwork and collaboration while fostering productivity. If employees feel they have to instantly respond to every Slack message or answer every Zoom call, they have less time to focus on their core responsibilities. A streamlined communication plan gives employees more time to collaborate and work and less time managing a barrage of messages.

  1. Systemize Feedback

Managers set the tone for the culture, but employees still have a role to play. Creating opportunities for feedback involves employees in the processes and keeps them engaged. You may think a system is working, but the employees on the ground may have different ideas.

A remote employee can’t just drop into their manager’s office with a suggestion, so create digital channels that foster and invite feedback. This can range from an anonymous feedback form on the company’s intranet to regular employee surveys or a manager holding “open office hours.” The key is to create an environment that welcomes and simplifies feedback instead of making it difficult for employees to make suggestions.

Likewise, facilitate regular feedback with employees. Real-time feedback and regular check-ins build relationships between leaders and employees and add to a culture of continual improvement.

  1. Show Up For Moments that Matter

Although your team might not be together physically, you can still create a culture that celebrates and shows up for the moments that matter for your employees, both in their personal and professional lives.

These moments are experiences that have the biggest potential impact on employees and include career milestones, from the first day on the job to a big promotion, and personal moments like marriage, the birth of a child, or buying a home. These moments matter to employees, so make them matter in your culture. When the company and its leaders show up in those moments, it builds a connection and adds to a culture where people are valued and supported. 

Put yourself in your employees’ shoes to think through the moments that matter to them, and then find ways to connect and show up in those moments. It could be sending a note or a gift, recognizing them publicly, or providing them with resources to make the most of the moment. Showing up at the moments that matter builds a culture where employees are people, not just workers.

  1. Celebrate Accomplishments

One of the biggest challenges of remote work is a disconnect between the effort and the final results. But when employees can see the direct impact of their work, they are more likely to stay connected to the company and be motivated to provide high-quality work. Researchers from the Wharton School found that employees who see that their work matters to someone else improve their effort and motivation.

Recognize your company’s wins and share them with the entire team. When you get good feedback from a client or customer, share it. Highlight the group when a project goes well or is done before a big deadline. Celebrating wins makes everyone feel part of something bigger and creates momentum to move the company forward. 

Recognize an employee’s efforts with a thank you email or phone call, or publicly share the wins through a company-wide email or collaboration post. Employee recognition should also happen inside a team and be facilitated with regular prompts or time in a meeting to express gratitude and appreciation for a job well done. When leaders take time to recognize wins, employees follow suit.

  1. Practice Radical Transparency

When co-workers are behind screens and not sharing a physical space, it can be difficult to see the whole person. You may only communicate with them about work issues and only know a fraction of their life. That also means it can be easier to only share part of yourself and not the entire story.

But a culture can’t thrive without transparency and authenticity from employees and managers. Kim Huffman, CIO of TripActions, calls it radical transparency and says it is a leader’s responsibility to provide a safe space for diverse thoughts and ideas.

Transparency comes through with honest communication, including updates from leaders and a willingness to be vulnerable and share struggles. Instead of sugar-coating challenges you face individually and as a company, be open, ask for help, and build human connections. 

Culture is more crucial in a remote setting than ever before. Intentionally developing a solid culture sets your company up for long-term success, no matter where your employees are in the world.

Just as important as COMPANY culture is TEAM culture. Team culture is established and built under the direction of the manager. The best managers set the tone for their teams in all of the areas mentioned above. If you or your company's managers want to learn more about creating winning team culture, sign up to attend a free Campfire session or schedule a meeting with us to talk about implementing Campfire for your managers.

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