5 Tips for Building Culture in a Remote Workforce
Have you ever walked into a room and immediately felt welcomed, like you instinctively connected with the people and the surroundings? How about the opposite experience, when you enter a space and immediately know something doesn’t feel quite right? In the context of the workplace, that feeling has a lot to do with a company’s culture, and it can have a significant impact on the happiness and productivity of your teams.
I think Peter Drucker said it best with the phrase, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” No business can be truly successful without a compelling internal culture, but building that culture from the ground up is no small feat. It requires a significant investment of time and resources to create the environment desired, and to actively engage staff in perpetuating that culture. This is true for a company where most team members share the same walls, but what happens when your team is remote, with staff spread around the world? That can make things a lot more complicated.
I’ve worked with remote teams throughout my career, and in my experience, I’ve found five key tips for team leaders who want to build and maintain a successful corporate culture within a remote workforce:
1. Decide what kind of culture you want to see.
It may sound obvious, but the first step to establishing a successful culture is deciding exactly what kind of environment you want to create. What values do you want to emphasize? How do you want teams to communicate with each other while working remotely? Depending on the results you want to see, a company’s culture can evolve in any number of ways.
When creating a company culture from scratch, it can be helpful to look for examples of successful, established cultures to use for inspiration. A few notable examples include the fun and irreverent atmosphere created by Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines, where staff have the fun and flexibility to work to meet a common goal, or the focus on flat communication structures and employee benefits offered by Squarespace. You can even combine elements from different, existing cultures to create something uniquely yours.
2. Hire staff who support your vision.
Establishing a fun and effective culture starts with your team members, and it’s important that new workers are a fit for the culture, particularly if they don’t have the benefit of working together in a shared office space.
When interviewing new employees for a remote position, chances are you’ll be conducting those interviews over the phone or via a videoconferencing platform. This is your first opportunity to gauge how comfortable that person is with the remote communications structure in place at your organization. Use these interviews to ensure new employees will be able not just to collaborate effectively with their teams, but also to remain active and visible in establishing the culture of your organization.
3. Foster participation by making it fun.
It’s not enough just to start a cultural initiative—you also need to provide the right motivation for team members to participate in and grow that culture. This requires a system that not only rewards workers for their achievements, but also encourages them to have fun and enjoy the company of their colleagues, even when they might be physically separated by thousands of miles.
Companies have taken different approaches to creating a fun and collaborative environment for their staff, and there is no sure-fire strategy that will work for everyone. Personally, I’m a sports fanatic, so I’ve always enjoyed activities such as company NFL Fantasy Leagues or setting up March Madness tournament brackets as a way to bond with my coworkers. Whether it’s sports competitions, an annual retreat, or even sharing fun gifs through e-mail, what’s important is that businesses provide a structure that encourages teams to step back from an “all work, all the time” mindset and enjoy each other’s company.
By placing a cultural emphasis on the happiness of team members, workers naturally will want to share and promote the culture among their remote coworkers. Moreover, keeping staff happy goes a long way toward reducing turnover, which is crucial to maintaining a strong, shared corporate culture.
4. Use technology to your advantage.
By necessity, most organizations with a remote workforce will use a videoconferencing or virtual meeting platform to allow staff to communicate and collaborate in groups. When utilized properly, the flexibility these platforms provide can do wonders for creating a culture that prioritizes work/life balance and creates a more positive environment for workers.
The great thing about remote meeting and videoconferencing technologies is that they allow teams to collaborate at any time, virtually anywhere in the world. These solutions also allow workers to shut down for a few hours to handle personal matters, then reconnect with their teams and continue working afterward. That freedom and flexibility is valuable to employees, many of whom already are working remotely because they need that flexibility in the first place.
Demonstrating to staff that the company trusts them to get their work done while affording them the time to handle personal matters, or foster a personal interest outside of the office, also helps to perpetuate a culture of trust within the business. In turn, that trust is reciprocated by teams who feel motivated to engage with their coworkers and deliver their work on time.
5. Be the culture you want to create.
The final and perhaps most important step in establishing culture among a distributed workforce requires you to take charge and personally lead the initiative. Teams will look to their executives for guidance in the face of change, and without a strong example, any efforts to instill a new culture will fall flat.
As the one leading the cultural initiative, you should take extra care to positively embody all of the changes you wish to create, and communicate these goals clearly to your team. When nurturing cultural ideals within remote teams, you often will be required to spend extra time on e-mail, phone, and videoconferencing platforms to ensure remote workers have a strong understanding of your company culture and can easily see it being embraced by leadership. When these cultural goals resonate with employees and they have a clear example in their leader, they will begin to display the culture you’ve created in their own workstyle and interactions with other coworkers.
Establishing a truly effective corporate culture is a difficult undertaking, and it can become especially challenging when attempting to grow the culture within a remote workforce. Doing so requires a clear vision of the changes you wish to see across the organization, employees who meet that vision, a commitment to perpetuating the company vision and culture, and a strong leader who embodies that culture. It’s not easy, but if you are willing to invest in all of these areas, you have the opportunity to create a truly special environment that will inspire both your teams and your industry.
Paul Gentile is the senior director of Product Marketing at LogMeIn, a provider of software-as-a-service and cloud-based remote connectivity services for collaboration, IT management, and customer engagement.