Building A Remote Work Culture

It is your role as a Business Leader to set the tone and vibe of the workplace, how your employees work together as a cohesive unit. Unfortunately, simply ordering it to be so won’t work as you can’t force your employees to respond accordingly, especially in a remote workplace. Remote working has long been eyed with suspicion, feared for its potential loss of control and visibility over employees’ productivity and performance. However, there are benefits of having remote working as an option to give your employees. A recent study by the International Workplace Group saw 85% of businesses confirm that productivity had increased as a result due to having greater flexibility, with 63% reporting a minimum 21% improvement in productivity. 

To bridge the gap between your employees working from remote locations all over the globe, business leaders need to approach cultivating a healthy workplace culture with intent and purpose. Keep in mind, that it is important you don’t over-orchestrate or even try to emulate another company, each business should have its own unique work culture based on the business’ vision, mission, and values. In Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019 report, remote workers said their greatest hurdle was loneliness (19%), followed by collaborating or communicating (17%) and staying motivated (8%). These findings indicate issues with teamwork and a lack of cohesive company culture for remote teams. You should be explicit with values and norms and be prepared to repeat and embed them in a multitude of processes. That means actively fostering certain values through clear communication, performance, goals, and employee recognition.

What Is Culture?

In its 2018 “Culture Factor” issue, The Harvard Business Review identified four common attributes of culture — that it is shared, enduring, pervasive, and implicit — noting that unlike strategy, which is set at the executive level, culture blends the direction of leaders with the knowledge and experiences of frontline employees. Culture is, at its core, how the vast majority of people within an organization, behave the vast majority of the time. Creating a healthy work culture is ultimately the responsibility of the business leaders who create and model the conditions for employee engagement.

Know what a Healthy Work Culture looks like

While each organisation boasts its own unique workplace culture, in essence, could you tell the difference between a functional but ailing culture and a healthy and vibrant culture? You must be able to spot a good (or bad) cultural trend happening within your business, so you can take corrective measures against it. A healthy culture is one wherein a leader has defined the culture and values of the company clearly and employees actively want to engage in said culture.

Take the time to assess your own company’s remote culture, observe your team’s response to the existing culture you have in place. Do they show appreciation to you and one another? Do light-hearted fun and causal positivity spill over into non-work-related communication channels? Are you getting a glimpse of their true personality? Are you and they encouraging one another freely? These are signs to watch out for when building a remote culture that will result in a team becoming unified.

Communicate Your Company Values Clearly

Building a healthy remote work culture starts from day one of the onboarding and induction processes. Make sure you clearly outline the values of your business and the standard to which you hold your employees up to. It could help to create a customer-facing presentation deck that outlines your values and company culture. Make that accessible on your company website and invite new hires to check it out before starting their first day and ask value-centric questions during the hiring process. Internal resources aren’t always subject to the same scrutiny as customer resources, so this will help you produce a clearly defined vision.

Build a foundation of trust & psychological safety

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a great workplace culture born overnight just by wishing it so. Business Leaders have to remember that establishing a solid foundation of mutual trust between their employees and themselves will help their teams become more emotionally connected and foster a stronger bond of trust and security. This will make them more willing to share that crazy idea that could take your business to new heights or push back when they see something that they don’t agree with. Business leaders must show they are capable of humility, curiosity, interest, and fallibility. Leaders set the expectation that making a mistake is not the end of their world as they know it and should be proactive when promoting employee participation.

Track Productivity of Your Employee Working Remotely

To build a culture of mutual trust, focus on your team’s output – not the number of hours that they are working. In the case of somebody on your team not productive as expected, check-in with them and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Trust goes both ways, and you should do all you can to prove to your employees that you trust them to get the job done right. Establish a three-point system to keep track of assigned tasks and evaluate employees work from home.

Project and task management. 

There are online tools, where you can assign tasks and projects, manage them, and check the progress. (Such as Jira, Asana, Trello) It will help the manager assign, control, and measure the performance of the employee even more than being physically next to him/her.

Track Work Hours

Use online tools such as Hubstaff, TimeCamp, or Toggl to track time of work on different projects, check the performance and efficiency of your team members working from home. The integration with the project and task management tool will show a clear picture of employee performance.

Remote Communication Tools

Slack is the primary tool for internal communication used by the majority of businesses. It allows the efficient sharing of files and solving problems quickly and effectively. Wrike is excellent for sharing sensitive information, which needs a high-security level. Microsoft Teams and Zoom for video conferencing and virtual meetings with clients and team members. 

Know When to Communicate

Knowing when not to communicate is just as important as making contact. Trust your team to get the work done in their way and give them the space to do so. Don’t clog up their calendar with unnecessary meetings or catch-ups. If you need to message your team outside their work hours, include a note clarifying that they can reply when they’re back the next day.

Break down communication silos

Business leaders are greatly advised to share as much information as possible in your public communication channels. Sharing information, such as a team decision or feedback from your customers, publicly will help you avoid misunderstandings and communication silos.

Strategies to improve communication 

  • Issue Internal Newsletters: Shares the happenings, goals, and achievements of different departments to bring the entire organization together. 
  • Get feedback: Allow employees to share what they do and don’t like about the current culture and ways to improve it.
  • Leverage the right technology: Equip employees with appropriate hardware, project management software, and real-time chat applications to make communication a breeze. Use software such as carrot.io to share shout-outs to team members, birthday announcements, and company news.
  • Start a weekly round-up: Create a weekly email for employees to share how they integrated the company values into their workflow. 
  • Build community through subgroups; One way to prevent employees from becoming like two passing ships in the night is to help them form subgroups within the team. Start geographically. Make sure employees working out of the same area know about each other and encourage them to meet up now and then to foster a connection. When geography isn’t on your side, take advantage of technology, like video meetups. Find out what remote employees’ interests and goals are, and create virtual meetups with teammates with the same interests.
  • Try ‘Donut’ Meetings; ‘Donut’, is a Slack App which randomly pairs people in an organization together for 30-minute meetings. Meetings occur every few weeks so that each person within the organization gets to spend time with someone else. These meetings can and should have no other purpose than personal connection. These kinds of meetings can be an alternative to in-person happy hours and other social events companies would traditionally schedule throughout the year.
  • Pair Buddies Chat; Similar to Donut, it is a weekly random pairing with 2-3 people on the team that allows them to catch up on work, life, or anything else. Pair buddy chats help keep some semblance of the office social life as part of work and encourage people who work in different departments to get to know each other better.
  • Walk the Virtual Floor; Your team members may not all be physically present in one place, but as their leader, you should make your presence known every day. A simple ‘Hi, how’s your day going?’ may be enough checking in on your team members.

In conclusion, disruptions due to Covid-19 has forced many organisations to embrace remote working and in some climes, it is no longer a choice but a necessity for business continuity. Embracing and making it work may be just what your Organisation need at such a time as this.

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