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How to Create a Workplace Culture that Remote Employees Love

Remote employee smiling at laptop screen

Remote Work had been the fastest growing sector of employment, even before COVID-19 made its presence and millions around the world were sent to work from home. Many companies have had to think about how they are going to make sure that distributed team members understand and take on board their workplace culture.

Company culture has been one of the big buzzwords of recent years, as first Millennials and then Generation Z entered the workplace and wanted more than just a paycheck; they wanted to work for companies that reflected their values and aspirations. The result was that companies who had a clear understanding of their company culture and were able to communicate that to candidates found the right people. That leads to quicker recruitment, lower costs and increased productivity.

But how do you build a great company culture when you’re working remotely? Here’s how:

Be Prepared

With start-ups and small companies, culture happens organically. But as they start to grow and new people come on board, that can lead to unplanned changes. It’s important to take some time to decide what the values are that are important to your company, and what your expectations are for employees.

  • What are the defining characteristics of your company?
  • Is it a commitment to customer service, or a certain sense of humor?
  • Do you all work long hours, or do you prefer to focus on work/life balance?
  • Do you always want professionalism, or are workplace pranks acceptable?

If you don’t have a clear idea of your culture, and the things that you want to preserve, then now is the time to brainstorm and come up with a clear idea of what you value. Once you have that, it will be easier to communicate that to other people as they join your organization.

Here is a video with strategies for building your company’s culture remotely:

Onboarding

For such a vital stage in someone’s career, it’s amazing how many times onboarding is done badly. Who hasn’t turned up for their first day to find they don’t have a desk, a log-in, or anything to do? This wastes everyone’s time, so when you have a new hire make sure that everything is ready for them to hit the ground running.

Onboarding can easily be done via webinar or video call rather than in-person, whether it’s watching the obligatory health & safety video, or chatting one-on-one with new colleagues and managers. Shadowing can be done remotely too, using the screen-sharing facilities that many video conferencing tools offer.

What’s key to successful onboarding is setting expectations. As part of the hiring process, you should have made your employees aware of your remote work policy and what they need to do to comply with that. If you’re new to remote work and don’t have a policy yet, make it a priority to create one. A good remote work policy should cover things like core hours, expectations in terms of work product, health & safety when working from home, the details of any stipend to support home working, and behavioral expectations around colleagues, in line with your workplace culture.

Communication

We often say that communication is the lifeblood of remote working; it’s something that you have to get right if you’re going to have a great remote work culture. Too much communication can be a distraction, and make your team feel that they aren’t trusted to do their jobs. Too little, and you risk leaving people out of the loop or worse, going lone wolf.

To get communication right, you’ll need a few different tools. As a minimum, we’d recommend:

  • Email
  • A chat solution such as Slack with project-specific channels.
  • Video/voice/screen sharing software like Zoom
  • A task management tool like Trello or Basecamp.

You should also have a communication policy that explains when these tools should be used, to avoid important messages getting missed. For example, you don’t need a Zoom call every time a task is completed – that’s what Basecamp is for, but if one of your team is roadblocked? A call might be a good idea.

And don’t just focus on communication for work; if you want to bring your remote team together, then you’ll want to make time for socializing too. Add some time to the beginning and end of video calls to just shoot the breeze, and have a dedicated #watercooler channel to discuss sports results, the latest video game, or memes.

Team Bonding

Building a remote team culture is a little trickier than creating culture in an office-based team. If you all live and work within a certain area, you’re likely to have a lot in common; you might support the same sports team, your kids go to the same schools, or you hang out at the same bars. When your team is spread across continents, it can feel like you’re a lot more different than you are the same.

But embracing diversity brings with it many benefits, like improved creativity and more robust product solutions. The more viewpoints you get on an idea, the better it will be. So how do you break down the perfectly natural barriers between people of different cultures?

The core idea is that you spend time talking to each other, getting to understand more about each other’s countries, cultures, and beliefs. You could ask a team member to do a house tour each week or ask someone to pull together a short presentation about their area. Making sure to talk about families, and other social issues make sure that your team sees that you have more in common than not, and that allows your team to bond.

Another way to help your team see what they have in common is a mission statement. Brainstorm ideas with the team, to decide what it is you want to achieve. This isn’t a matter of deliverables, it’s an ethos. For example, Google doesn’t set a target of x billion searches per day; their mission statement is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. What’s important is that your team all feel like they can take ownership of that mission, and deliver it through their work.

Lastly, the team that plays together, stays together. Start a team ritual, whether that’s logging into a Zoom call with a beer at 5 pm on Friday (office time) or sharing your lunch break to get you through hump day. When a project gets delivered, maybe you all meet up on a Quake server and blast some stuff, or visit each other’s islands on Animal Crossing.

It’s All About the People

Hire the best IT talent

Of course, the biggest way you can influence your workplace culture is in the people you hire. At DistantJob, we spend our days finding remote-ready developers and other technical staff who are the perfect cultural fit for your company. If you’re looking to add a remote developer to your team, get in touch today.

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Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon is a remote work advocate and thought leader and a specialist in persuasive writing. She has an MA in Creative Fiction, is a children's author, and a writer of award-winning short stories.

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