As the global health crisis continues to force many of us to work from home, business leaders have had to think on their feet, and fast, to adapt to a new way of running their companies. As vaccines come to market and we emerge from the pandemic in the months ahead, the question is, what will workforces look like once the dust settles? 

There are no definitive answers, but one thing’s for sure: remote working is here to stay. Before COVID-19, remote working was already steadily on the rise. According to a recent survey by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, between 2005 to 2017, there was a massive 159% increase in remote work. That number will surely look small compared to what’s to come.

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Thanks to new tech, the remote work environment has drastically changed. Now, instead of everyone communicating through limited email interfaces and clunky chat programs, employees are using sophisticated communication, collaboration, and file-sharing tools, and enjoying the freedom of online coworking spaces. 

Nurturing a positive team culture when employees are not in the same workspace is a vital part of ensuring everyone is happy and productive. Read on to discover how to build a winning company culture in your remote teams.

What is Company Culture?

Company culture refers to the attitudes, behaviors, and ideals of the business as a whole and of those who work there. Each culture is as unique as a fingerprint: no two are alike.

Company culture manifests as the way people interact with each other, the decisions they make, the way managers lead, the company mission, the work environment, team traditions, and rituals—as well as ethics, goals, and expectations. 

Some of these things are relatively inflexible—like values and management styles. Others are more fluid, like how people interact with each other. 

Why is Company Culture Important? 

Company culture affects everything in your business, from the way employees interact, to the way your customers see you, to how well everyone works together, to how much your company earns.

There are benefits to having a strong corporate culture. When people work together, their everyday interactions naturally strengthen the bonds that are the foundation of positive company culture. Chats in workplace social areas, after-work drinks, quick powwows in meeting rooms—small things that strengthen connections are what makes teams work. 

When teams are separated by distance, it’s all the more important to keep a finger on the pulse of your company’s culture. A lack of communication or complicated projects, for example, that are difficult to work on remotely all chip away at a team’s ability to function like a well-oiled machine. Poor communication, confusing processes, and loneliness all take their toll and erode a feeling of camaraderie and morale in remote work environments.

Bad Company Culture: Warning Signs to Look Out For  

You know when you walk into a room and you can just tell there’s been an argument? That’s what bad company culture feels like. People just don’t cooperate and anxieties are higher. No one is working together as they should, there are delays, and people are not taking responsibility for their actions. This is an extreme example—but company culture can quickly suffer if issues are not dealt with effectively. Here are some signs of an unhealthy company your culture:

  • Your company doesn’t have core values (or it does, but no one knows what they are, where they are, or how to follow them)

  • You notice cliques developing 

  • Employees are having a problem collaborating

  • Employees are often late or absent 

  • You try to fix low motivation with perks, but it doesn’t work

  • Managers don’t lead by example 

  • Turnover is high and you don’t recognize half the people you see 

  • Employees don’t take breaks or regularly work nights and weekends

  • Your company has a bad rep 

Building an Awesome Company Culture 

Now that you know the warning signs, here’s how to make sure they don’t happen. It’s best to take a preventative approach, but it’s never too late to use the below tactics to change things around if your culture has already taken a nosedive. 

  1. Define (or Refine) Your Company Values

Having clearly defined values helps focus your company’s direction. It gives people a clear sense of what the business believes in, which in turn defines actions. Communicate it clearly, so everyone knows what they’re working towards together.

The same goes for policies and procedures: be clear about the company’s stance on things like expected work hours, communication channels, reply timeframes, and so on. The more specific you are, the clearer everyone’s expectations will be.

  1. Prioritize Trust and Psychological Safety 

If people feel safe, they can allow themselves to be vulnerable. When it comes to workplace culture, that’s essential: it means people are more likely to share ideas, help others, and speak up when something’s wrong. The benefits of creating a culture of vulnerability are huge. 

Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,” wrote Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson in a 1999 paper.

To cultivate this, prioritize constructive feedback. Formalize a schedule and structure so that feedback is consistent and helpful. Leaders should also encourage participation from everyone in the organization and let people know it’s ok to make mistakes. 

  1. Make Communication Easy and Fun 

Poor communication practices, combined with bad technology, can spell serious trouble for remote workers. To avoid a dreaded communication breakdown, make it a priority to incorporate best practices into your company guidelines or policy. This will ensure all employees, from the most senior to the newest team members know what’s expected of them. It can include things like when and how certain channels should be used, how to ask the right questions, and who to contact in certain situations.

As well as setting out communication guidelines, companies should invest in tools and tech that make remote conversations and collaboration easy. Email and phone are a given. However, businesses should also invest in video conferencing software, chat apps, and cloud-based project management tools. There’s so much out there to make it easier for people to stay in touch.

  1. Fine-Tune Your Onboarding Experience 

You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make sure it’s your best. While bad first impressions can be overcome, a positive first experience will set employees off on the right foot. 

When it comes to remote employees, put as much effort into the onboarding process as you would do in a real office environment. Structure a two-week onboarding plan so new starters can gradually get to know their team and work processes. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when everything’s remote, so be patient and attentive as you bring people into the team. This not only helps new employees: taking the time to integrate someone also makes it easier for the rest of the team.

  1. Invest in Tech

We’ve mentioned how important it is to have tools that make communication easier. It’s just as important to invest in tools and technology that make it simple to keep track of all the processes that are happening every day. 

Time tracking tools help employees (and HR teams) keep an eye on schedules and hours put in, while freelancer management systems are a must for assigning projects to freelancers and finding extra help when needed. 

As the world moves towards more flexible ways of working, it’s more important than ever to have a trusting, communicative, collaborative, and connected company culture that reflects your company’s principles. Incorporate the above steps to ensure your company aligns with these objectives and your remote employees are a valued part of it.