Everybody wants their work team to have a positive, supportive culture. Unfortunately, you can’t simply cross your fingers and hope a great team culture will materialize out of thin air. You have to create it, nurture it, and be willing to adapt it to suit your employees’ needs.
Improving your team culture can be particularly challenging when you’re managing remote employees. After all, you can’t just round everybody up for a fun Happy Hour bonding event. Don’t despair, though! A great remote team culture is still possible! You can build a positive, productive, and supportive remote team culture that foster positive relationships, seamless collaboration, and mutual accountability. Here are some ways to get started:
1. Rethink Your Team Values
Building a team culture before you’ve established core company or team values is like building the roof of a house before you’ve laid the initial foundation. That’s because your team’s culture should grow naturally from a set of carefully chosen team values, according to Miles Burke, the founder of 6Q , an employee feedback app. As you start your journey of revamping your team’s culture, it’s time to take a closer look at your team values, and possibly revise them.
When you have a remote team, important values to consider are communication, collaboration, independence, trust, and recognition. These are the sorts of values that will keep workers from feeling like they’re just a home-office drone at a computer. Consider fielding suggestions from all your employees, or holding a team-wide brainstorming session. If you involve your employees in the process, they’ll feel more ownership over the final product.
2. Actually Implement Your Team Values
Once you’re confident in your revised set of values, it’s time to turn them from a goal into a reality. The first step is making them visible: Splash them over your website, send them out in an email announcement, or even print them on coffee mugs for all your employees. (They’ll spend their coffee breaks thinking about how lucky they are to have such a great team leader!)
Then, implement your values into the team workflow by instituting employee performance reviews, requiring all new employees to complete a introduction seminar, and holding regular team meetings to assess whether you’re living up to its goals. Once you have your values in place, you’ll have a solid basis for building up a positive, healthy remote team culture.
3. Communicate (Smartly!)
According to a recent survey of forty digital-marketing companies, communication was the number one challenge faced by remote workers. That may seem surprising, as modern technology has brought us video chat, dozens of different messaging apps, and more ways to collaborate than ever before. Unfortunately, remote team workers often find it difficult to juggle the information they receive from so many different outlets. The vast number of ways to instantly chat can overwhelm and distract your employees. Basically, try to use these methods in moderation.
According to Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s book, Remote: No Office Required, most remote office managers eventually will realize that 80% of all questions are not hyper-time sensitive, and can best be answered by email. They’ll discover that the next 15% of slightly-urgent questions are best dealt with in a chat or messaging app, where employees can get straight to the point. Then, they’ll see that the remaining 5% of questions require a phone call or video chat.
To create a positive culture where employees can work without distraction, consider instituting company-wide protocols for the ways you use each method of communication. Then, make sure that your employees are all on the same page. That way, your workers won’t be fielding instant messages all day.
4. But, Have Fun With It!
Internet company Zapier stresses the importance of letting your employees express their personalities in team-wide communication. You’d be surprised what a cute gif of a kitten playing in a cardboard box can do for morale! These sillier aspects of communication help your team develop its own language, and creates a sense of comfort and belonging. This approach also fosters closer teammate relationships, and can take the edge off a hard day’s work.
Online communication can feel quite impersonal. When you encourage creative forms of self-expression, you help your employees bond. Zapier also recommends finding other, fun ways to connect your teammates throughout the day. They use an employee perk app, which provides all their workers with premium Spotify accounts. Not only would your teammates love the freebie, but they’ll be able to see what their teammates are listening to during a long day of reviewing marketing analytics. Employees with similar taste in music can share their favorite new tracks, or bond over guilty pleasures.
4. Take Things Offline
Did you know what the number one complaint of remote workers has been? Alienation and the feeling of disconnect, according to a study done by Premiere Global Services. Hey, sitting alone at the computer all day will do that to you!
While surveyed workers gushed about the numerous benefits of remote working, such increased productivity and reduced commute time, they admitted to feelings of isolation. Combat the lonely blues by organizing in-person events that can connect remote workers with on-site workers to foster friendships, build staff cohesion, and make remote workers feel more included. Additionally, consider establishing weekly in-person meet-ups in major cities to help remote employees make friends with the employees geographically nearest to them.
Another option is to create a “buddy system,” and pair workers with common interests. Encourage them to spend time talking and connecting. These strategies help remote employees see one another as more than just a “voice on the phone,” and makes them more likely to collaborate once they’re back in their home office. Most importantly, it reminds remote workers that their company values them as people.
5. Give Your Employees The Resources They Need to Succeed
Don’t think of remote employees as “out of sight, out of mind!” Remember that they need ongoing support. For example, when information-technology company Dell decided to make half of its employees be remote workers by 2020, many employees expressed anxiety that they would be punished or valued less if they started working remotely. So Dell created an employee resource group called Conexus that is expressly dedicated to helping remote workers.
Conexus offers a forum for workers to share productivity tips and technical advice. The group also holds virtual career development “webinars.” These kinds of initiatives are crucial to helping remote employees feel included. Even if you’re working with a much smaller team, you can follow Dell’s lead. Create a private Facebook forum where employees can share resources or ask for advice. Or institute monthly “webinars,” in which you teach your team how to use new software.
7. Rethink Your Infrastructure
One of the benefits of having a remote team is saving costs on physical office infrastructure. That said, you need to be willing to accommodate the realities of working remotely, and establish a team infrastructure that makes sense. Consider investing in a cloud-based project management software, which can help you achieve a consistent, streamlined workflow. Also, make sure you’re providing your employees with easy access to your preferred modes of communication. For example, Dell supplies all its employees with computers that have cameras and videoconferencing software. While this may seem like a big investment, it ultimately saves a lot of time and hassle. Making sure your employees’ computers all have the same messaging app, video-chat app, and project management software is crucial to managing an organized, efficient team.
8. Use Project Management Software to Make Information Accessible
Researchers have identified the “Mutual Knowledge” problem as the single greatest issue faced by teams working remotely, particularly across time zones. The “Mutual Knowledge” problem boils down to poor communication and failure to distribute information across the team in a mutually efficient way. The end result of a breakdown in mutual knowledge? Wasted time, repeated work amongst team members, and a lot of face-palms.
You can curb these problems by using project management software, which makes overseeing team-wide projects an absolute breeze. You and your team can use this software to share files, track to-do lists, and create group calendars. Additionally this programming gives all your employees equal access to big-picture information about your projects, deadlines, and the team’s overall progress.
9. Don’t Micromanage
One of the biggest benefits of working from home is that your employees don’t have to deal with the distractions of office chitchat, or unnecessary meetings about that office Halloween party. However, your employees can’t enjoy the benefits of focused remote working if they’re constantly being barraged with questions from their micro-managing team leaders.
As a boss, you need to stress to your managers the importance of individual oversight, and encourage a workflow that reduces distraction. This means making sure that your employees aren’t being overwhelmed by constant check-ins, or wasting precious time drafting email updates about their progress. This kind of micro-managing makes employees frustrated, stressed, and ultimately less productive. By emphasizing individual autonomy, your company can create a culture that fosters trust, accountability, and respect for each employee’s unique work process.
10. Use Incentives To Motivate Employees
To build a positive team culture, you need the enthusiasm, commitment and support of every member of your team. The best way to achieve that? Make your employees feels valued, and provide them with incentives to improve their performance. Start by instituting monthly check-ins for every employee.
During these check-ins, you should ask your employees to share their greatest achievements, their greatest struggle, and their goals for the upcoming month. Then, create a system of rewards. That’s Zapier did when it instituted a “Weekly Update” on its internal blog, in which employees can report their greatest accomplishment of the week. Zapier noticed an instant hike in motivation, simply because everybody wanted to have a brag-worthy victory to report to the team!
Additionally, instituting an “Employee Recognition System” can do wonders for motivation. This can include friendly competitions with enticing rewards, or a monthly email spotlighting employees who have reached their monthly goals.
11. Keep It Personal
When you spend all day behind a screen, it’s easy to forget that the avatars on your Slack message board are actual, real-life people. But that’s the single most important thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to build a healthy culture for your remote team. Giving people a chance to express their personality is vital to ensuring that they feel included, appreciated, and seen.
That’s why Apple customized its training courses for remote workers to include plenty of time for ice-breakers, team-building, and plain, old chitchat. For instance, the Apple trainer regularly pauses class to make small-talk, asking workers what they did over the weekend. Or, the trainer will create just-for-fun assignments, like having everybody send in a photo of their lunch or pet. The courses also have absolutely-silly events baked in, like a “Goofy Hat Day,” during which everybody shows up on video chat wearing…you guessed it! Goofy hats. These practices help change a boring webinar into a fun, lively experience, in which employees can connect on a personal level.
As you can see, managing a remote team requires both discipline and compassion. On the one hand, you need to maintain a standardized workflow, a viable infrastructure and a strict communication protocol. Think of this rigid structure as the spine of your team culture.
On the other hand, you also need to create inspiring team values and positive incentives that boost motivation. Most importantly, you need to institute policies that emphasize personal connection. With creativity, persistence, and positive communication, you can build a flourishing remote team culture.
In your experience, what has been the most successful way to improve the culture of a remote team?