Managing  people

How to build workplace culture when you have a remote team

Technology enables employees to have more flexible work options. Today, more employees choose to work remotely, either at home or another location away from the central workplace. 

This can lead to greater productivity and work-life balance. However, it’s often challenging to encourage and support a strong team and workplace culture.

Workplace culture is the personality and environment of your organisation. It encompasses team values, attitudes, beliefs, interactions and behaviours in the office. Cultivating a strong corporate culture is important for any business, but even more so when you have employees working away from the central workplace. So how can you create a strong work and team culture with a remote team?

The importance of workplace culture

Workplace culture significantly affects your employees’ performance and productivity. Having a positive workplace culture leads to increased employee engagement, team morale and job satisfaction. On the other hand, poor organisational culture may lead to increased employee turnover and decreased motivation.

One of the benefits of remote work is that it promotes workplace cultural diversity by accommodating different employee needs. For example, working mothers may need to work remotely as they cannot afford childcare. Similarly, if an employee is experiencing mental health issues, they may need to attend appointments or be in a more controlled work setting.

While there are many benefits to remote work, it also requires adjustments to your strategies for workplace culture development. If culture is ignored, the advantages and disadvantages of remote work may be cancelled out. Although employees may be more productive and free from workplace distractions, they may also struggle to build connections. This is because there are often fewer opportunities to communicate and get to know one-another. 

On top of this, it becomes harder to maintain a sense of team morale and a shared purpose. Employees may also work in silos, leading to lost productivity or the duplication of tasks.

Building a team culture for remote employees

Evaluate existing workplace relations

Before moving in to any actions, the first step is understanding workplace culture as it currently exists in your workplace. This way, you can identify any existing issues that need to be addressed, and target these with specific actions.

Consider the following:

To what extent do remotely working employees identify with each other and with being in a ‘team’?

How well do remote employees identify with your overall organisation?

What gaps or overlaps exist in communication? Is there important information that is not reaching some employees? 

Do employees fully understand how their role interacts with other employees and departments? 

Are all employees clear on how their role contributes to the overarching organisation’s mission and goals?

 

 

Set aside ‘common time’ for the entire team

In most organisations, there is some degree of face-to-face communication built in. For example, employees may need to come in for an important meeting or team building. These are opportunities for your team to strengthen connections and engage with one-another. The challenge is to do it in a way that benefits remote employees, without disrupting them too much.

If all employees live within the same city or town, a viable solution is to establish a time when everyone needs to be present in the central office. This could be every week or month, depending on your organisation. 

However, this may be impractical if your team is located in different cities or have different working hours. A compromise may be to have as many as possible in-house. For those who can’t make it, they can video call in at the same time using Skype or a similar tool.

Regardless of which approach you choose to build team culture in the workplace, it’s essential to consult your team first. Speak to your remote employees to see which arrangement works best for them. Take the time to understand each employee’s individual requirements and preferences, and accommodate them as much as possible. 

Once you have reached a consensus, establish ground rules to ensure they participate. 

Remember to also review the arrangements periodically to ensure they are still meeting everyone’s needs.

Cultivate one-on-one relationships

Because they’re not based in the office, remote employees may feel disconnected from the rest of the team. This is why it’s important to foster a sense of belonging to the organisation for these employees. However, this is easy to overlook, particularly if you seldom see the employee face to face. 

To keep employees ‘in the loop’ and to ensure their needs are met, schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your remote employees. These could be every fortnight, month or quarter.

Ask them questions like:

  • What’s the best way to keep you connected with your other team members?
  • What do you believe brings out the best in you at work?
  • What can we do to help you do your best at work?

Create a shared team purpose

For every employee in a team to perform at their best, they need a common purpose. In addition, they should understand how their role and daily tasks feeds into this purpose.

Building upon your organisation’s vision and mission statement, create a shared purpose together with employees during a brainstorming session. Following this, ask each team member to consider how their individual contribution contributes to this purpose. This helps establish clarity and accountability. 

In addition, be sure to regularly remind your team of their shared purpose. This could be done during one-on-one meetings, or during ‘common time’. Doing so reminds everyone, including remote employees, of their value and establishes a sense of camaraderie.

Involve remote employees in team events

As remote employees are often working away from the central office, they may miss out on team events. These range from little things, like team birthday celebrations, to big events like important company-wide announcements. Over time, this may lead them to feel disconnected from the team and the organisation.

It is important to include remotely working employees as much as possible in team-building initiatives provided to in-house employees.

Some examples are:

  • Ensure they are invited to on-site social events and celebrations of successes, like team lunches.
  • Include them in activities such as sports tipping competitions or Christmas festivities.
  • For important events such as company-wide addresses by the CEO, invite them to attend in person. If this isn’t possible, invite them to listen-in or watch from home, or send a copy of proceedings afterwards. Remember to provide them the opportunity to comment and ask questions.
  • Arrange occasional ‘meet and greet’ on-site events for employees who would otherwise seldom or never attend the central workplace.
  • Ensure they have reliable access to services to help deal with issues that may arise while working remotely. This could range from IT support to HR support for any workplace-related issues.

Lastly, keep in mind some line managers require training and coaching to effectively manage remote employees. It’s possible they may not fully trust their employees to get the job done, or question a remote employees’ commitment to the job. Creating a strong sense of mutual trust and respect is vital to positive team culture in the workplace.

Remote work is a highly beneficial tool for promoting work-life balance and workplace diversity. However, this requires some adjustments to workplace culture so your remote employees feel like they are part of the team.

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