A survey of remote workers conducted several years ago established loneliness as the second biggest struggle they faced. This closely followed the difficulty remote employees have with unplugging and separating work and home life. These issues can negatively impact the productivity and happiness of remote employees and lead to difficulties in companies meeting business objectives.
The feelings of loneliness and isolation can be addressed by companies willing to build a healthy remote work culture that allows individuals to flourish no matter where in the world they are located. A majority of executives stress the importance of a company’s corporate culture over its operating model or business strategy.
The foundation of a strong and viable remote work culture is a shared sense of purpose that unites employees. Relationships and friendships can be fostered in a remote work environment by things like reaching out to coworkers with a quick instant message to minimize any feeling of isolation or loneliness. No matter what type of team you manage – be it managing a distributed team, building a remote support team, or a sales department, you need to start with the remote-first culture in your company.
What to start when you building the remote-first culture
From management’s perspective, empowering employees is a major benefit of remote-first work culture. In a robust remote work culture, inclusivity is fostered and opportunities are available to everyone in the company. People can effectively use their unique talents, knowledge, and skill sets at work regardless of geographical location or physical impediments.
Employees in a remote-first work culture have:
- • Increased efficiency and productivity gained by working the hours when they are at their best;
- • Better work/life balance by increased availability for their family and home obligations;
- • A trusted connection developed over time with remote coworkers and managers;
- • Greater employee satisfaction and sense of value when seen as an integral part of the company;
- • Enhanced retention of happy employees.
In addition to the benefits of having more happy and productive employees, business owners and corporate decision-makers achieve financial benefits from promoting a remote-first work culture. The costs of renting office space and providing the infrastructure of a traditional office-based workplace are minimized or eliminated. More resources are made available to further empower and support the remote workforce.
More sustainable and productive businesses are possible when combining remote work and company culture. Both the company and its employee community benefit without any negative effects. If you start from the hybrid work model you need to forward step-by-step to the whole remote company. For example, GitLab started from remote work and they have always been a company with remote-first culture.
Developing a remote-first culture begins with management committing to several complementary initiatives that include:
- • A concerted effort to recruit and hire a diverse workforce;
- • Providing compensation and benefits tailored to the needs of employees in various geographic locations;
- • Promoting remote and asynchronous work facilitated by extensive documentation;
- • Leading by example to support the mental and physical health of remote employees.
How to build a strong culture with a remote team
A viable, robust, and nurturing remote-first work culture consists of seven related components.
- • Recruitment strategy;
- • Compensation framework;
- • Flexible benefits;
- • Streamlined onboarding process;
- • Asynchronous communication;
- • Purposeful meetings;
- • Support through remote-first management.
A company’s ability to achieve an effective remote-first culture requires the implementation of all seven components. They each are an important part of the symbiosis of remote work and company culture.
1. Employing a remote-first recruitment strategy
Remote-first recruitment enables companies to tap into the global talent pool. Using this strategy enables talented workers to be employed without the need to move to a potentially expensive metropolitan location. This fact immediately increases the number of workers likely to apply for a position.
Job postings should be constructed to appeal to potential candidates around the world. Highlight the flexibility of your benefits packages and the emphasis the company puts on creating a healthy work/life balance for its employees. Include details about paid time off, various types of leave, home office expenses, and opportunities for education and advancement in the organization.
Through these steps, a company can attempt to develop a more diverse and inclusive workplace that includes individuals of varying genders, races, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, and locations.
2. Operate using a remote-first compensation framework
For a remote work culture to thrive a company is required to provide adequate compensation to attract top-notch employees. Businesses can hire talented individuals from around the country or world at different pay scales. Many workers will take less money on the benefits of remote work.
Going strictly for the least expensive candidates is not recommended. Compensation should be fair and competitive with market forces. Some strategies for structuring salaries in a remote-work environment include:
- • Adjusting salaries based on seniority and the cost of living in an employee’s locale;
- • Compensating based solely on seniority levels;
- • Considering factors such as location, experience, seniority, and the currency exchange rate when calculating a remote worker’s compensation.
This framework is designed to make remote employees feel a connection to the company and foster a sense of belonging. Competing with local and global businesses requires a creative approach to compensation.
3. Offer flexible and customized remote-first benefits plans
Flexibility in the benefits a company offers is one of the best ways to attract qualified candidates to remote work culture. Employees are more discriminating in the jobs they will take and allowing them to achieve a comfortable work/life balance will increase interest in your open positions.
Consideration must be taken for differences in expectations from employees living in foreign countries. Some countries enforce mandates for benefits such as paid parental leave, so employees from those nations will not see extended leave as a valuable benefit. Companies need to investigate the benefit structure of in-scope nations when creating packages designed to appeal to remote employees.
A growing employee trend is an interest in moving to new areas if it can be done without impacting their current job or prospects. Companies can assist these employees with resources to support relocation and comply with local labor laws.
4. Create a streamlined remote-first onboarding process
Onboarding a qualified candidate is the first step in introducing and integrating them into a remote-first work culture. For many organizations, retaining talented employees is becoming more competitive than initially hiring them.
During the onboarding process, employees should have their roles clarified, learn about the company culture, socially integrate into the new environment, and take ownership of their area of responsibility. New employees should feel confident they can do the job after successfully being onboarded.
In a traditional office setting, new employees can organically integrate into the corporate culture. In-person interaction and support from HR departments are available to help individuals feel as though they belong and have value in this new environment.
Remote-first companies need to take a more proactive approach when onboarding new hires. A balance needs to be found between providing too much information and letting the new person feel isolated from the team.
Some methods that can be used to facilitate a structured and balanced remote onboarding process include:
- • Stress the importance of adhering to guidelines regarding documentation and communication;
- • Create online onboarding resources with links to pertinent information through the organization;
- • Allow new employees to progress through the process at a comfortable pace;
- • Pair a new employee with an experienced person located in the same time zone to assist with a smooth onboarding experience.
5. Adopt asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication is essential to achieve the full value of remote work. With asynchronous communication, replies to queries are not handled in real-time. Instead, employees respond when available and can opt-out of communication to more deeply engage in work during their optimal creative periods without distractions.
Reliable and robust collaboration and communication tools are required to make the asynchronous approach work. Companies need to standardize these tools and supply them to the remote workforce. These tools can allow recordings of questions and answers so everyone on the team is on the same page.
Documentation needs to be constantly updated in an asynchronous communication environment. Employees need to know they are getting the latest information from corporate data resources.
The knowledge that everyone is not online at the same time is the reason for implementing asynchronous communication. Employees need not fear missing out on something due to their location or work schedule. Managers should lead by example and use communication tools efficiently while respecting the unavailable times defined in employees’ online calendars.
6. Hold meetings with a purpose
Unimportant and useless meetings are responsible for wasted hours as well as lost revenue and productivity. Even in an organization practicing asynchronous communication, there will be times when fully attended meetings must take place. The key is to make sure these meetings are called with a clear purpose in mind.
Before calling a meeting it should be clear that the meeting needs to take place. If the same results can be obtained through asynchronous communication, the meeting should not be scheduled. If it does need to be held, some guidelines should be developed and implemented.
Streamlining the process of attending online meetings for remote-first teams entails setting some guidelines and clearly defining the tools used for the meetings and the criteria used to schedule them.
Before the meeting, a link to the platform should be provided to all participants in a calendar event. Meetings should be kept as short as possible with supplementary materials offered asynchronously. Moderators should strive to find times that work for all, or as many employees as possible.
Meetings should start on time with a shared document available for extemporaneous notes. An agenda needs to be shared with attendees and followed. Attendees can be allowed to leave the meeting if they are not involved in its topic.
End meetings on time or early if possible. Meeting recordings, notes, and additional documentation should be made available to all attendees via links.
Minimizing the number of meetings is a sure way to boost productivity. When they must be held, stick to the agenda for clarity and brevity. Regular meetings can be scheduled in different time zones to address the needs of a global remote workforce.
7. Support through a remote-first management approach
In a remote-first environment, a primary goal of team leaders and managers is to understand and protect their own and all team members’ physical and mental health. The lack of physical interaction makes it difficult to identify colleagues who are not feeling well or are overwhelmed with their responsibilities.
Managers need to be cognizant of the workloads assigned to their employees. Realistic deadlines and expectations should be set to reduce stress and promote an employee’s feeling of successfully contributing to the enterprise. Encourage feedback through the appropriate channels and assist when needed.
Processes that allow people to get the necessary rest and recharge contribute tremendously to a viable remote-work culture. Coming back online should not be stressful regarding items you missed due to asynchronous communication.
Remote-first management should lead by example and take all their paid time off to relax and forget about work. Employees will follow the lead and use the time they earned to remain productive and satisfied in a remote-first environment. If a manager supports remote employees they will not feel lonely.
Connections between remote-first employees can be fostered through meetings and activities that are not related to work. Managers should be creative when searching for shared online activities that serve as a platform for team building. Perhaps a cloud gaming tournament could be used as a bonding tool for remote workers.
A remote-work culture demands that attention be focused on employee health and well-being. Employees need to be at their mental and physical best to optimize their creativity and productivity.
What can managers do to build a remote work culture?
Managers can take several steps to help foster a viable remote-first corporate culture.
Improve communication – Effective communication is a key to remote-first work culture. Regularly scheduled meetings with a clearly defined purpose can be used as well as shared collaborative workspaces. Refrain from information overload and calling an excessive number of meetings. Non-verbal communication through video conferencing adds depth to remote work interactions.
Celebrate all successes – All achievements should be noted and celebrated. Employees will feel motivated when their work is noticed and discussed with a wide audience.
Allow employees to lead the way – When considering new policies or procedures for the remote-first workforce, consider what the employees want. Employee buy-in is essential for a remote workforce to succeed, and obtaining input from workers can help define effective policies.
Promote virtual socializing – Reducing the feeling of loneliness or isolation that can accompany remote work can be challenging. Virtual social events can be organized to allow employees to interact in a setting unrelated to their daily work routine. Unstructured meetings can be held that allow everyone to speak freely without an agenda as would happen during a casual lunch with office colleagues.
No perfect formula for building culture in remote teams
No perfect formula exists for instilling a corporate culture in remote teams. The principles outlined above provide a starting point that should be tailored to the unique situation of a specific remote-first workforce.
Conveying company values, implementing effective channels of communication, and empowering employees will contribute to the success of remote-first work culture. Motivated and engaged employees who feel valued get things done remotely without the need for a physically present manager. Build a robust remote work culture and you can trust your employees to perform well and drive the company’s success.