Did you know that “loneliness” and “difficulty in collaboration and communication” are two of the biggest struggles faced by remote workers? Often, the lack of human interaction leads to remote workers feeling isolated and disengaged, eventually affecting their mental health and productivity.
The solution? A robust and inclusive remote company culture. Your company culture directly impacts the enthusiasm of your workforce, and how much of their time and energy they are willing to invest in your company. Not just that, there is now a proven link between healthy company culture and employee productivity. According to a study conducted by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, happy workers are 13% more productive than their unhappy counterparts.
In co-located settings, company culture often stems from various naturally occurring triggers built upon how team members treat one another, and what is the accepted code of conduct. On the other hand, in the absence of these natural triggers, remote companies often struggle with the following challenges when it comes to building culture:
The water cooler effect
The ‘watercooler effect’ is defined as “a phenomenon occurring when employees at a workplace gather around the office water cooler and chat.” In a physical office, casual conversations and non-work banter build trust amongst employees, in effect strengthening company culture. However, in the absence of these regular conversations and social interaction, remote workers often find themselves distanced and disconnected from their team members.
In colocated offices, a large part of the workforce shares a common culture. Festivals and holidays become a natural point of convergence, adding to the team’s sense of oneness and camaraderie. On the other hand, members of a distributed team hail from different cultural backgrounds and celebrate different festivals, and thus have to work harder to find common ground.
Lack of trust and empathy
Non-verbal cues like facial expression, body language, gestures, and eye contact play a huge role in any kind of communication. When a person’s nonverbal signals match with their words, it increases trust, clarity, and empathy. Team members feel connected to each other, viewing fellow colleagues as people instead of merely names on a screen. One of the biggest factors for disengagement within remote teams is the lack of trust within team members.
For distributed teams, culture must be built intentionally, and strengthened continuously. Here are some steps that every remote organisation can take to build and strengthen their work culture:
Re-emphasize core values
Ensure that the company’s core values are clearly articulated, and reiterated at regular intervals. We recommend ensuring that your company’s website clearly reflects your vision and mission statement and your core values. Remember, simply adding that you’re an equal opportunity employer in your company’s values is not enough. The same must be reflected in the composition of your workforce.
Get buy-in from the leadership
One of the best ways to earn credibility in this area is to get participation from your company’s leadership. Here’s an example: back in May 2020, when most companies were struggling with the transition to remote work, Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, sent a company-wide email telling his employees that they had the option to continue working remotely forever. This endorsement by the CEO played a huge role in helping Twitter’s employees feel safe and valued as they chose to continue working remotely. Today, we know that company culture remains an empty phrase unless it is reflected in the actions of the company’s leadership.
Create open channels of communication at all levels
In physical workplaces, interaction amongst team members is often decided by physical proximity of their cubicles. However, in a remote setting, every employee is simply a message away, whether it’s your immediate manager or the company’s CEO. Remote companies must use this advantage to form better relationships between employees that are not restricted by organisational hierarchies.
Set clear availability expectations
In a remote team, it’s easy for people to feel like they need to respond to requests immediately to show that they are staying actively engaged. However, this also leads to the problem of constant presenteeism followed by burnout. Companies need to set clear expectations with respect to time and channels of communication. Slack, email, video calls – clearly demarcate your policy with respect to synchronous and asynchronous communication. Clearly defined expectations ensure that all employees are on the same page.
Invest in your onboarding process
69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. As a remote company, your onboarding process is your best chance to create a positive lasting impression on new employees. We recommend investing into weekly and monthly check-ins, a thoughtful welcome kit, and a company handbook with all the relevant information an employee needs to get started.
Set up a virtual water cooler (or banter channel)
Much like an actual water-cooler, where colleagues indulge in non-work banter and socialising, a virtual water cooler enables the same for distributed teams. A dedicated slack channel, a virtual game room or even an email thread – the idea is to help your workforce bond over shared interests and non-work conversations. From Gatheraround to Donut, there exist hundreds of tools to help strengthen the connection between members of distributed teams.
Remote teams work because they refuse to let barriers like physical location and time zones act as hurdles. The same also holds true for building company culture.
As a remote first organisation, we know at Talent500 that there is no fixed secret-sauce for building the perfect remote culture. As leaders begin to understand and prioritise the needs of their distributed workforce, a healthy and nurturing company culture is the natural result.