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SMALL BUSINESS | The Six Cornerstones Of Building A Great Remote Work Culture

Do you have a great remote work culture? This is a topic that’s top of mind for many leaders today as they work to respond to the coronavirus, and rightfully so. But is it simply a trend that will pass when the world goes “back to normal?”

I don’t believe so. From my perspective as the founder of a subscription staffing company, I think it’s possible that some businesses will retain a remote-work structure in the future. Whether your employees are working from home temporarily or for the long term, it’s important to create a positive remote culture that leads to happy employees.

But you can’t force people to be happy. Leaders can set the tone on how to work and interact, but they can’t force employees to respond accordingly. Instead, culture does that.

Creating an amazing remote work culture isn’t easy. Even as a remote-first company, my own business had to really up its game in light of today’s challenging circumstances to make sure employees feel secure and supported. If you’re starting from scratch, I’d imagine this is even more difficult. With no foundation to build upon, it could feel like your new remote culture is on sinking sand.

However, putting in place a quick but sturdy foundation is possible. Here’s what I have learned from years of building remote teams:

Be intentional. A great culture isn’t an accident.

A great remote work culture starts with intentionality. Let your team know what you expect and what working remotely means to you as a leader. Tell them how they are expected to communicate and treat one another.

Even better, recruit for people who naturally embody those traits. Once those ground rules are set, you can more easily empower your team to excel as they build on that.

Then, think about the extra steps you can take to encourage a culture of positivity. At my company, for example, we named one of our team members as our company’s “Chief of Cheer,” a paid role with the responsibility of upholding and nurturing an intentional culture.

Set the example.

Your team will follow as they’re led. Leaders who make demands of their team but don’t adhere to those same demands or expectations kill motivation and positive attitudes. I’ve heard this is true from remote experts across the board. For example, I learned from Help Scout’s Director of Talent Acquisition Leah Knobler that a leader’s values can influence a company’s culture, whether your team works in-office or remotely.

This is why setting an example for your team is essential. At my company, we take work-life balance and trust for our team very seriously, and we allow our team to flex their schedules. We use an instant messaging tool for quick communication, but from the beginning, we set a standard that employees should not feel that they need to answer immediately. We made it clear we’re not monitoring their time online. As an example, even when I feel the urge, I resist answering my instant messages immediately if I’m offline or in the middle of working on something else.

Along the same lines, kindness is also one of our biggest values. So, I keep kindness in mind in all situations and make it evident to our entire leadership team that they ought to do the same.

Make time for fun.

Fun is the unsung hero of strong working relationships. While some people might envision remote workers as slacking off at home, unsupervised and in pajamas, the reality is different.

In most traditional work settings, people can physically separate work from personal life, but remote workers don’t always have those dividing lines. They are at work when at home. And when they’re highly driven, it can be hard for them to turn off.

So, take time to inject fun into the mix. Create a celebratory environment, and establish team traditions. Celebrate important moments creatively. While you can’t force people to participate, what you can do is signal that your team has permission to have fun.

 Let your team make a difference.

People want to contribute and make a difference. There’s a contrast in telling your team to “think outside the box” while demanding that they do their work in a robotic way. In my experience, that can make people feel like what they do doesn’t matter, as expectations are preprogrammed. Let them feel like they can do things outside of their daily norm. Get people out of the grind.

Great culture thrives in an open environment. An open environment only exists where people trust one another and believe that what they think and say will be valued and considered.

 Know what a healthy culture looks like.

Could you tell the difference between a functional but sickly culture and a healthy, vibrant culture? It’s important you’re able to spot a good (or bad) cultural trend so you can correct it. Hailley Griffis, a leader at Buffer (which publishes an annual report on remote work) taught me that a healthy culture is one a leader has defined and employees want to engage in.

To assess your own company’s remote culture, observe your team’s response. Do they show appreciation to you and one another? Does fun and positivity spill over into nonwork-related communication channels? Are you getting a glimpse of their personality? Are you and they encouraging one another freely? These are signs the team is becoming cohesive.

 Great remote culture self-replicates.

Great remote work culture is a kind of unspoken call to cohesion. It comes from what people do, and it comes from each person’s values. It comes from individuals understanding how they fit into the picture. And it rubs off on the others in the group.

If your remote work culture is open and bright, it will propagate itself despite any changes that normally occur in a growing team. While it takes intentional effort to keep it healthy, great work culture will yield dividends for companies and customers alike.

(Sandra Lewis)

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