We’ve all heard of a little thing called company culture, but what does it really entail? And, what does it mean to foster remote company culture now that in-person interactions are few and far between?
On the surface of things, company culture refers to the shared values and attributes of a business and all who work there. A company’s culture tends to be evident in the way employees interact with one other, the decisions they make, and how they make them. It can constitute a range of factors, including company mission, work environment, leadership style, values, ethics, expectations, and driving goals.
Ultimately, positive company culture is built on positive relationships, and building it requires more than free snacks and an occasional round on the foosball table. But while snacks and foosball might serve to enhance in-person work culture, the reality is that with the pandemic hyper-accelerating the world’s shift to remote work, having a strategy for building remote company culture is more relevant and necessary than ever before. This requires real thoughtfulness with regard to how your employees relate to you and to one another.
Why remote company culture is so important
When remote company culture is strong, employees personally benefit and consequently become company advocates. And your company retains its top talent. And so your business grows.
In other words, you should care about company culture because it influences how employees and customers alike perceive you—and this in turn, determines the success of your business. Building a worthwhile company culture is more challenging when teams are remote, yet it’s all the more important without in-person interactions, collaborations, and real-life hangouts to serve as an organic foundation.
Whether your team is making the shift to more permanent remote work or have always been scattered around different locations, here are 8 ways to foster solid remote company culture:
1. Communicate, always
Find an effective way of communicating your company’s mission to your team and keep reinforcing it so the importance of this mission is central to everything you do as a business. Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of Gitlab (the world’s largest all-remote company), argues that communicating and upholding your company values is one of the most important ways of building positive remote company culture.
Be sure to include your company values in your employee handbook so employees can access it as needed. It’s also a smart idea to create a remote work policy if you haven’t already, as “flexible” and “remote” have different meanings to different people. For instance, if employees are expected to be online a certain number of hours daily or to travel to HQ on a set schedule, they need to be 100% clear about what they’re signing up for.
2. Foster “psychological safety”
A study by Gallup indicates that many employees choose not to contribute because they feel “saying nothing” is more beneficial than speaking up. In many cases, employees worry their ideas will be rejected or that managers will penalize them. Gallup’s data reveals that just 3 in 10 US workers feel their opinions count.
Yet, by shifting that ratio to 6 in 10, businesses could see a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents, and a 12% increase in productivity. It’s up to you to set the expectation that it’s OK to ask questions and even disagree with ideas. To foster a culture of psychological safety, start by acknowledging your own mistakes and weaknesses and ask for feedback regularly.
3. Cultivate trust
In order to build healthy remote company culture, communicate higher-level decisions with your team during weekly meetings and make it clear that you trust your team to do their work—even when you can’t see them doing it. Do your best to focus on your team’s output rather than the number of hours they spend at a desk. If someone is not fulfilling expectations, that’s another matter: start by checking in and seeing if they need help or guidance.
4. Do onboarding right
Ensuring that your new hires are equipped with all the right resources to be successful is non-negotiable. Develop a clear plan that lets them know what onboarding will look like in the first few months, schedule meetings in advance, and be sure to check in regularly. This will ensure they’re getting introduced to the right people, processes and projects as needed—without unnecessary confusion or stress slowing things down.
Onboarding in groups is a brilliant way to minimize effort, as well as create a sense of community among new hires. Crazy Egg‘s group hire strategy is to appoint “squad hosts” to welcome new employees and “functional stewards” for technical support needs.
5. Encourage “water cooler” conversations
Never underestimate the importance of making time and space for casual conversation. While it’s true not many of us are engaging in much chitchat around the proverbial water cooler these days, a lot of companies create different Slack channels where employees can connect on topics such as cooking, pets, music, parenting, real estate, and remote work—to name a few. According to Lea Jovy, founder of Location Independent, company culture comes from the connections we make beyond the context of work. You might also organize virtual events like team lunches, book clubs, and perhaps even the occasional COVID-safe outing. Teams that are more emotionally connected and engaged work more effectively together!
6. Make space for uninterrupted work
In a remote work situation, employees often feel like they should respond to requests immediately to demonstrate active engagement. It’s fundamental, however, to carve out time for meaningful work—the kind that requires uninterrupted attention. With the input of your remote team, set boundaries. Whether it’s time blocks on the calendar, status settings on Slack, or a full weekday (or three!) with no meetings, there is always a way.
7. Schedule regular meetings
Face-to-face interactions are important to relationship building. Devote regular time slots each week to both group and one-on-one meetings by harnessing the unyielding power of Zoom (or similar technology). It’s also important to stick to the schedule (avoid calling last-minute meetings).
While group meetings foster a culture of peer learning, one-on-ones offer an ideal environment for discussing an employee’s individual progress and goals. No matter what kind of meeting you’re heading, always encourage feedback—this is the stuff of healthy, open, and honest remote company culture. For a much-needed screen break, switch things up now and then by doing a good old-fashioned voice call instead.
8. Facilitate work-life balance, not burnout
When people work remotely, the boundaries between work and the rest of their lives can blur. Encouraging people to maintain a work-life balance should be a top priority. Be respectful of people’s calendar and time zones. If you need to message your team outside work hours, specify that they can reply the next day.
In December 2020, Comparably published its Annual Best Company Culture Awards and accompanying survey. They found that, besides salary, work-life balance was the thing most valued by both women and men. And, while 81-90% of those employed by small and large company winners felt they were paid fairly, just 47-49% of women and people of colour could say the same. The link between this statistic and burnout? Underpaid employees are likely to face eventual burnout as they feel undervalued.
Takeaway: progress has been made, but there’s still work to do. Choosing not to replicate the inequities at play in the world will make you a better employer.
Companies that do remote company culture justice
Inbound marketing master Hubspot is a veritable gem in the company culture crown. Groups are encouraged to get creative and make projects their own as long as they offer a compelling, data-driven rationale. They amplify their team’s voices. Leaders at all levels work to be inclusive and transparent. HubSpot’s goal is to find the best fit for both employees and clients alike. Plus, employees at every level have access to unique perks like their Free Book Program and expert “HubTalks.”
For the Adecco Group, the world’s second-largest HR provider and temporary staffing firm, work-life balance is the crux of company culture. They show their commitment to meaningful talent development with unique initiatives like the “CEO for One Month” program. They also invest heavily in training: in 2016, 100% of applicants to their annual training scholarship received funding. Their benefits are top-notch, and they make a point of encouraging women to explore leadership roles.
Zoom facilitates a supportive work environment through full-team meetings and community projects and they work to create a fun and enjoyable workplace for all. To this end, they even have their own happiness crew, which organizes and runs events, (COVID-safe) outings, and volunteer opportunities for team members.
For more examples of companies that are winning at remote company culture, check out this tidy list.
The world is ever-changing, and so is work. But just because remote work is more prevalent than ever doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice culture, engagement, and meaningful human connection—y’know, the bonds that hold it all together. Do your business—and your people—justice by doing company culture right whether that means fostering in-office or remote team bonds.