You found our guide to creating a strong remote work culture.
Healthy remote work cultures are virtual office environments where employees feel safe and valued. Team members in these kinds of organizations support fellow coworkers, champion the company mission, and engage fully in work. Signs of a strong virtual work culture include consistent productivity and peer to peer praise.
Methods for building work culture remotely include doing virtual employee engagement activities, planning culture building activities, and reading books on company culture. You can gain further insights by referencing remote work statistics and this guide to toxic workplaces.
Here is everything you need to know.
How to build strong virtual work cultures
The minds behind TeamBuilding have run a fun remote work environment since 2015. Here are essential steps for an awesome virtual culture we’ve learned during that time.
Step 1: Start new employees with a solid online onboarding program
Employee onboarding is your new teammates’ first experience with the company, and making a good impression is important. When you start strong with a solid onboarding program, you equip staff with the tools needed to excel. A well-designed virtual onboarding gives employees confidence in the company and confidence in their own ability to perform.
An effective online onboarding program should include:
- IT setup, including usernames, passwords, and access to any necessary programs on day one
- Completion of required HR documentation, preferably via online portal
- Virtual tour of the company, including demonstrations of software, location of important resources, and navigation of internal platforms
- Statement of the organization’s mission, values, and goals
- Overview of the training program and expectations for the first weeks of works
- Assessment of abilities, if necessary
- Training for any immediate responsibilities
- Summary of the employee handbook, company rules and policies, job responsibilities, with the opportunity for the employee to ask questions
- Concise, organized, and easily accessible guides and supplemental resources
- Face to face time with whatever personal runs the orientation: an immediate supervisor, human resources professional, or organizational leader
- Introduction to the rest of the team
We made a virtual new hire checklist template you can use to organize your program.
Extra touches such as hosting team socials and icebreaker activities, mailing a welcome care package, and adding the new employee bio to the website can also create a lasting positive impression.
For more tips, check out our list of virtual onboarding ideas.
Step 2: Communicate clear expectations for behavior and performance
Communicating expectations is one of the most important steps to creating a strong remote work culture. Virtual offices offer fewer opportunities for direct supervision or course correction, so it is important for staff and employers understanding to align.
To ensure employees meet or exceed expectations, discuss the desired workload and pace, and set a timeframe for follow-up and evaluation. Explain how you will monitor results. Then, provide teammates with resources such as checklists, weekly self-evaluation forms, and project management boards so that employees can track their own progress, too.
When discussing standards, also outline behavior. For instance, if you want employees to respond to all messages within 24 hours or be online during a specific window every day, then make it known. Clarifying expectations upfront saves time and avoids conflict and potential friction later on. Providing guidelines also gives employees directions, and lays the foundation for trust within both parties.
Expectations may evolve with time and employee growth, and conversations may need to reoccur. Managers should clarify expectations when a new hire enters a role, and then periodically revisit those goalposts throughout the employee lifecycle. The launch of new projects is a prime opportunity to review or revise standards, as is the addition of new colleagues to the team.
Step 3: Exhibit trust in your teams and grant individuals autonomy
Because virtual supervisors cannot directly observe employees a greater level of trust is necessary. While some managers’ instincts may be to check in constantly or install employee monitoring software, cyber micromanagement shows a lack of confidence and trust, undermines employees’ abilities, and can lead to disengagement.
Leaders should touch base and check work occasionally but not to the extent that team members suspect doubt. Showing faith in remote workers empowers employees to do their best work. Better to focus on results over process.
Working from home requires self-direction and self-determination, so grant your remote staff autonomy. If your workers need to wait for further instructions, then your team may lose time and motivation. Yet when your staff feels empowered to make decisions, they will grow confident and find more meaning in the work.
Step 4: Embrace flexible working arrangements
Part of the allure of working from home is the freedom to work whenever and wherever. Telecommuters can run errands or perform chores in between meetings, or can log on during early mornings or late evenings. When operating remotely, work times are not dependent on the hours an office building is open, enabling employees to design both the ideal workday and the optimal work environment.
Despite the popularity of flexible working conditions, some organizations cling to the rigidity of the 9-5 work model, either because “this is the way things have always been done,” or because managers fear facing slowdowns or losing control of staff as a result of loosening restrictions.
However, studies like this analysis from the American Sociological Association show that employees with flexible work schedules exhibit more job satisfaction, feel more supported by leaders, and experience less probability of burnout. While adjustable hours are not achievable for every industry, role, or project, the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated that working from home and flexible hours were a possibility for a much greater subsection of the workforce than previously estimated.
To impose or reintroduce restrictions seems counterintuitive, especially if elasticity can lead to boosted productivity and higher morale. Not to mention, if employers cannot justify reasons for constraints, more open-minded and amenable organizations may lure away top talent.
Rather than enforcing stringent rules, distribute a work from home policy that outlines guidelines. This approach provides remote employees with both structure and freedom, laying down laws while simultaneously allowing for improved work-life balance.
Learn more about achieving work-life balance for remote teams.
Step 5: Fully utilize communication platforms
Effective communication is vital to virtual work. To collaborate successfully from a distance, employees must have access to messaging platforms and know how to use them. For best results, provide a communication guide that outlines:
- Preferred channels
- Appropriate tone
- Expected response time
- Contact information and instructions for who to reach out to in certain situations
Feel free to fine-tune your messaging policies and add other standards for efficiency. For example, TeamBuilding asks employees to respond to Slack comments with emojis when possible to avoid cluttering the stream, and to tag appropriate colleagues with direct mentions.
Also, if you use more than one platform, it is important to distinguish a primary channel so employees know where to focus attention or search for answers.
The art of internet conversation is not “common sense,” and laying out best practices standardizes communication and positions team members for positive, fruitful interactions. Not to mention, the proper use of communication tools improves the team building process, and eases anxiety amidst remote workers. When assurance of a timely and respectful response, teammates feel at ease to perform at full capacity and reach out when necessary.
Here are remote work platforms that can help your team communicate.
Step 6: Be an available and accessible manager
Though remote workers tend to be independent, they will, from time to time, need to reach out to management. An available and accessible leadership culture makes virtual employees feel supported. Knowing that a manager is only a message away makes employees feel safer and closer to leaders.
While you do not need to be on-call 24/7, make a point to be online and reachable at least a couple of hours a day. Designate regular “office hours,” or updating your status on platforms like Slack. Consider tag-teaming with other leaders so that there is always a manager online, and establish a chain of command so staff have a backup option if one party is unreachable.
To instill employees with the confidence to communicate with managers, validate questions and contributions so that staff does not hesitate to come forward in the future. Leaders taking the initiative to check in or simply say hello emboldens teammates to communicate regularly.
Also, make appearances in virtual team building events, meetings, instant messaging threads, as well as one-on-one social activities such as virtual coffee breaks. Leader attendance and involvement encourages other staff to participate. Plus, cultivating a consistent online presence builds a stronger connection between you and employees, and breeds a sense of loyalty.
Step 7: Initiate ongoing virtual team building activities
Remote workers report feeling lonely and isolated more often, partly due to a lack of interaction. Planning ongoing virtual team building activities can remedy this disconnect.
Booking virtual team building events gives employees the chance for face-to-face time with coworkers, allowing opportunities to bond and socialize online outside of working hours.
However, remote team building does not always need to take the form of an online event. By launching ongoing, informal team building activities, you enable your team to build rapport as their leisure and schedules allow.
Here are some suggestions for regular online team building opportunities:
- Virtual water cooler chat threads
- Social media groups
- Team building emails
- Gaming groups
- Slack channels for different interests
- Virtual coffee breaks and Mr. Rogers Calls
- Online stretches and workout sessions
Holding a mix of structured and unstructured activities varying between large groups and small groups suits the needs of a wide range of employees. Introverts may prefer intimate, one-on-one interactions, while extroverts crave the energy of a big turnout. Some employees may prefer to focus during the day and socialize off the clock, while those with more delicate work life balances are grateful for workday interactions. Also, mixing up the program and catering to different interests attracts a larger audience.
Most importantly, team building should be an ongoing effort. To keep momentum, set a schedule for events, for instance, on a monthly basis. Stoke day-to-day team building channels too, for instance, by posting a challenge or icebreaker question on team chats when channels go quiet.
Virtual team building gives coworkers a chance to socialize, meet new people in other areas of the organization, and form shared experiences that serve as the foundations for future relationships
Step 8: Familiarize teammates with other areas of the organization
When teammates work from home, conceptualizing the company as a whole can be a challenge. In traditional offices, employees cross paths with colleagues from different departments and receive constant reminders of other teams’ existence. In virtual offices, interactions are few and far between.
To impart a more holistic view of the organization:
- cross train employees
- provide virtual shadowing opportunities
- grant access to other departments’ Slack channels
- introduce new hires to the whole organization
- regularly equip all teammates with updated organizational charts
As mentioned, virtual team building efforts also bridge gaps between remote workers. To optimize organizational bonding, split the group into teams that mix departments and build in time for discussion and close interaction. To save time during gatherings, use a team generator to randomize employees and pre-assign staff in breakout rooms.
Cross pollination between departments encourages new viewpoints and perspectives, leading to more efficient and innovative solutions. Familiarity with distant colleagues and access to other departments’ tools enables staff to pool resources and use existing assets instead of reinventing the wheel.
Step 9: Connect workers meaningfully with the leader’s mission
When employees cannot connect as immediately with each other, connecting with a strong, positive company culture can unite an organization. Company culture begins with a leader and a mission. Although a CEO or president may not be able to reach out individually to every employee with a personally-tailored message, employing a sincere and genuine approach will reach far more folks than settling for a generic tone. Leaders should craft a distinct voice and communicate a clear vision in all company correspondence. Crafting an internal communication strategy that sounds conversational and consistent fosters familiarity and sense of inclusion. Communicating values and reasonings behind decisions engages employees more than doling out updates or orders.
Beyond using an intentional writing style, organizational heads should ensure that all company leaders and managers understand and properly express the company’s aims, conveying the message in both words and actions. Starting a company culture committee can help.
Step 10: Hold periodic virtual one-to-one meetings
Even the most self-sufficient remote employees need occasional guidance and face-to-face time with managers. Holding regular virtual one on one meetings enables immediate communication between supervisors and reports. These meetings also allow both parties the ability to talk through goals and break down steps in processes.
Periodic meetings ensure that employees stay on task and managers stay informed. For more advice on how to carry out individual conferences, check out our article on virtual one on one tips.
Step 11: Prioritize employee recognition
Employee recognition is an important element of employee engagement in any workplace, but especially in virtual offices. Without visible body language or immediate reassurance from teammates and managers, doubt can set in and remote workers second guess themselves. However, shouting out a job well done assures team members of a satisfactory performance and the team’s regard.
Here are a few methods of recognizing employees online:
- Host a virtual awards ceremony during a team call
- Announce an employee of the month on the company website, social media page, and email newsletter
- Launch #small-wins and #you-are-awesome channels on Slack for peer-to-peer recognition and acknowledgement of jobs well done
For example, check out our list of employee of the month ideas.
Step 12: Incorporate tactile elements
A lack of centralized headquarters can lead remote workers to feel more like contractors or freelancers than normal employees. Though remote companies cannot provide uniform environments, they can still incorporate tactile elements that make employees feel more connected to the company and each other.
These approached may include:
- Providing equipment or work from home furniture and technology stipends
- Mailing care packages, presents, and handwritten notes
- Offering discount programs redeemable at local retailers
- Scheduling on-site trainings, retreats or meetups
- Sending company swag
Even comping dinner or drinks during online outings can create a more tangible experience. In-person experiences or physical gifts can dispel the fear of missing out on the perks of a more traditional office setting.
For more tips, check out our list of hybrid activities.
Shared experiences form the basis of culture, but it can be a challenge to form a consistent culture in virtual offices when environments and working hours can vary greatly. Not to mention, cultivating a sense of togetherness is tricky when team members are so far apart. However, it is possible to create a strong remote work culture in 2020.
While it can seem like a challenge to introduce and reinforce company culture throughout a dispersed workforce, building a strong remote work culture is not difficult. If you adopt a servant leadership style, prioritize the employee experience, and adopt an intentional approach to virtual team building, then you position your company to foster an inclusive, engaging, healthy culture.