Maybe it was never about the perks offered by a workplace. For a few decades, companies took time battling over which had the coolest pool table or cafeteria food. The goal was always to keep workers happy at the office. But what are you supposed to do when the workers aren’t in the office?
That’s far more than a rhetorical question. The benefits of remote work are undeniable. Workers get more done and can build a better work-life balance. But companies can’t just send everybody home and be more productive. Remote workers face different challenges than in-office workers, but the overall takeaway for company leaders is the same: happy workers are better workers.
In a sense, the challenge is the same for companies as it was before remote work became prevalent. Companies need to build a positive and supportive culture for workers. The object of the game is the same; the rules have changed.
Here are our tips for building a remote culture that optimizes and supports distributed teams.
Plan the work culture
In reality, setting a workplace culture hasn’t changed that much. With no guidance, some kind of a workplace culture will develop on its own. But that’s not what companies want and that's not always for the best. It’s up to leaders to discuss and document what they want the culture to look like. Then it’s up to the leadership team to reinforce those values with workers.
That process doesn’t change when everybody is working remotely. And both steps are equally important. Companies should define the company culture by writing it down in a document, recording a video overview to watch at onboarding, or wherever it’s most likely to be viewed and easily accessed by the whole team. This is about more than simple phrases like “work should be fun.” It’s about outlining your company’s story and ethos. Define your company mission and values. Have concrete, tangible goals to share with your employees.
That’s the obvious first step. But as any manager will tell you, simply saying something does not make it true nor does saying something make it happen. If your company chooses to focus on encouraging time off and not being on Slack after hours, for example, leaders need to lead by example on a regular basis. Clock off, celebrate teammates taking vacation, and continue to remind colleagues they don't need to reply to messages after hours or from their beach vacation.
Mental health and work
Some workers aren’t happy being in the office, others aren’t happy being at home, and some just aren’t happy. You’re not wrong for thinking it’s impossible to make everybody happy.
Perfection isn’t attainable but better should always be the next step for company leadership. It’s important to tune in to the issues remote workers report are causing them stress. Research says guilt and worry are top problems. There’s often an expectation that workers be online, available, and responsive during work hours. And the definition of “work hours” has been expanded to mean any time during waking hours.
Companies focused on wellbeing will want to intentionally disconnect from immediacy. Employers need to be clear about expectations. Deadlines are critical and must be met; replies to emails can wait a few hours. Companies have found turnover rates drop and minority participation in work shoots up with asynchronous work. The goal should be providing a framework to reduce tension. Leaders want to prioritize mental health for remote workers while maintaining certain industry standards. It’s possible to do both.
8 proven ways to build a strong work culture
#1: It starts at onboarding.
You can’t simply send a new hire off to meet with the HR department and go on with your day. On a new employee’s first day, be ready with a statement about the culture your company is trying to create. Make it honest and aspirational. Get into the nitty-gritty and be specific about: work policies, communication guidelines (when to be online), what’s expected, how they’re expected to contribute, and how you expect to work together. This can all be stored in Notion, a designated Google Drive, or in a central meeting library for them to watch in their own time and rewatch whenever they like.
And because remote workers are prone to feeling isolated, let’s get to know the new team. Have them share a picture of their pet(s) and some information you can share with your workers. Then have your workers share their own pet pics (and stories).
#2: Communicate and collaborate.
There’s a perception that remote work means working uninterrupted, with no chit-chat or emails. That’s not the point. It’s work. There should be a steady stream of conversation through tools like Slack, email, or any other work-appropriate channel. You don't need back-to-back meetings, a quick Zoom call or Slack huddle can do the trick to catch up and get on track quickly. If you're async, share a video presentation or document and let others comment as they have time. Then designate a time to have a call and discuss.
#3: Team bonding.
There’s no cure-all for every team on this topic. But people are, as a rule, competitive. Find out what your teammates like to do and feed into their instincts to win by hosting a live trivia show, or have a daily steps competition or a recipe swap, where workers try different dishes suggested by each other. Even online multiplayer games are an option. (Rocket League games are short and wildly competitive, if you’re looking for an idea.)
Up for a bit of fun during your tea or lunch breaks? Add some Slack integrations to generate some icebreaker questions and let everyone respond whenever they have time.
#4: Swag them up.
Whether it’s coffee mugs, socks, or golf balls, make sure your staff get in on the goods. Maybe put together a gift bundle with a little of everything and mail it out to your team or send it to new employees during their first week.
#5: Recognize accomplishments.
This should be a recurring feature of your regular communication. Maybe have a weekly staff chat where you cite somebody’s good work. It doesn’t have to be overly serious. Maybe somebody put together a funny meme or contributed in an intangible way. Keep it fresh and make sure to recognize major achievements.
Here at Clearword, we celebrate teammates taking time off (fully disconnected!), getting out for a walk or some sunshine throughout the day, and get pretty competitive on the meme front. All in addition to the major milestones and accomplishments of each person. Kudos go a long way!
#6: Ask about needs, listen, then act.
Workers will tell you what’s up if you simply ask. Maybe they want help finding a spot to work from because kids are overtaking the house for the summer. Or maybe they have an issue with how the team is operating. There are no wrong answers and everybody probably has at least five ideas if they’re being honest with themselves (and bosses). Taking this feedback on board and adding it into your benefits package (where it makes sense) goes a long way for employees feeling heard, happy and retaining your awesome team.
#7: Don't underestimate facetime.
Never, ever start a Slack conversation with “Can I talk to you for a minute?” You should have regular one-on-one video chats with workers, if not the occasional in-person meal or coffee. There’s no substitute for talking regularly. Adding things like daily coffee chats over Zoom, monthly meet-ups or quarterly off-sites can go a long way in addition to regular 1:1s with those you manage and weekly team catch-ups.
#8: Asynchronous meetings.
Asynchronous meetings and presentations don’t depend on immediate responses or viewing from viewers. Even an email chain between co-workers counts as an asynchronous meeting. Free up your workers from the expectation that they respond immediately or that they watch a presentation immediately.
Build remote culture
Remote work can be stressful and disconcerting. That’s why it’s up to company leadership to provide clear guidance and tools for workers to do their best.
Clearword helps reduce complexity in the process of creating a remote culture, supporting distributed teams worldwide with their internal communication and collaboration all in one place with meeting summaries and transcriptions all stored in one searchable and sharable meeting library.