Remote working allows employees to complete their hours outside a traditional office — be that on their couch at home or on a beach in Bali. There is a growing number of employees who expect this benefit and an increasing number of companies that offer it. According to the State of the Remote Job Marketplace report from Flexjobs in 2018, 2.9% of the US workforce (3.9 million people) worked at least half their hours from home. The number of companies that operate entirely virtually, with no permanent office space and all staff working remotely jumped 100% between 2014 from 26 companies to 170 companies in 2018.
But how can you build a culture in remote teams? Employees tend to enjoy work and be more productive if their needs and values align with the company. If your team is dispersed around the globe, how can you foster team spirit, establish company loyalty, and generally unite your workforce in pursuit of common goals?
Implement an Effective Communication System
Maintaining open lines of communication between team members, managers and key personnel such as Human Resources (HR) is the cornerstone of building a positive work culture — be that in an office or a remote team. Everyone must understand the company processes and expectations for different types of communication.
You should have equipment and procedures in place to facilitate business communication and social interaction. People working remotely can feel isolated. They can’t pop to Bob’s desk for a cup of coffee and a chat about the Yankee game when they need a break.
Software such as Slack and a professional business phone system are crucial for team building and morale. Slack supports effective project management. But it can also be used to give remote workers a forum for chatting to colleagues via various “channels,” which you can set up as you see fit. A business virtual phone system allows you to direct calls to your remote workers and manage business on-the-go. This type of phone system maintains excellent call quality but also helps teams work together more effectively.
Get a line for everyone on your team and foster a culture of communication. We’ve all suffered death-by-email. With a virtual phone number, it’s easy and cost-effective for your remote workers to contact you or each other directly and talk one-to-one. You can even schedule regular team conference calls to build team spirit, share company values, and make sure everybody is on board with the company culture and vision.
Make Time for “Real” Meetups
Having a remote team doesn’t mean you should bypass in-person meetings and meetups. Meetings can be a logistical challenge and a significant financial outlay if your team is widely dispersed. However, if it is possible, it’s a great idea to get together occasionally — even if only once a year on a company retreat.
Meeting face-to-face will help people learn more about one another and to understand each others’ values, as well as those of the company. Team building activities and group brainstorming sessions can create stronger bonds between co-workers, leading to more effective working practices. If a company invests in such activities, it also sends the message to employees that they are valued. So, team building can ultimately boost the company’s reputation and make it easier to attract and retain the best workers.
Share Progress and Communicate Expectations
Part of building a company culture is setting clear expectations and regularly providing updates of the team’s progress towards a unified goal. Make sure you share a vision statement and a written set of company values with your remote workers, so they understand and feel part of the company culture.
Most companies will have at least one value that relates to achieving excellence, success, or goals. If not effectively managed, remote workers can fall into the trap of operating in silos, with no idea how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture. Provide regular updates on the progress of projects, teams, and where appropriate, individuals. Praise outstanding achievements and implement a reward system, even if the “reward” is simply recognition— for example, “Employee of the Month.”
Sharing progress and expectations sets a culture of teamworking, achievement, and success. It also helps individuals working remotely to learn more about their colleagues and understand who to approach for different kinds of help. All of this will make your business more efficient and productive.
It’s not hard to build a positive company culture if many or all of your team work remotely. Make sure you have a clear set of values and expectations and conveyed them to your team. Put effective communication systems in place, such as business virtual phone systems and software that support team working.
“Workplace” culture can often be better in remote teams because the company has to take deliberate action to foster it. In a “traditional” office environment, many management teams assume a great working culture will develop as if by magic because employees share the same physical space. If you have a remote team, there’s a golden opportunity to make your virtual office the coolest place to be.