Company culture is a big, big part of running a successful company. While plenty of managers think they’ve got culture on lock, culture-building can’t be an afterthought.
Your culture is a mishmash of your values, mission, and goals. It’s something you build over time, and usually unintentionally.
Your employees don’t care if you have ping pong tables or “fun” trivia nights if your culture sucks. Employees crave healthy, positive work culture.
75% of workers want to know a company’s culture before working there; and 56% of workers would take a pay cut if it meant working in a better culture.
Now, it’s easier to build culture in a physical space, where you can see people face to face.
But we’re living in a weird world where remote work is the standard. And until COVID-19 is under control, we’re probably working remotely.
When we utter the words “remote culture,” you can feel a cold shiver pass down managers’ spines. That’s because remote culture-building is hard. Communication is different, expectations have to be crystal-clear, and managers have to place a frightening amount of trust in their teams.
So yeah. Your team is physically apart right now and it feels like the world is burning to the ground. Stress and uncertainty have a big impact on your remote culture, which affects everything from timelines to morale to work quality.
Fortunately, you can build a healthy work culture from the comfort of your home. Technology will give you a much-needed assist as your team moves from cubicles to couches. If you’ve never built an intentional culture before, use The Great Pause as your excuse to start.
Not sure where to go from here? No sweat. Use these 5 steps to build culture in a remote work environment.
5 culture-building must-haves for remote work
1. Define and communicate your values
You can’t wake up and say, “We’re gonna have a FUN culture!”
It doesn’t work that way. Culture doesn’t mean taking Zoom calls in funny hats—it’s about what you stand for.
Aside from revenue and your client roster, what are you doing? What’s your business’s moral code?
If you want employees engaged in their work, it’s your job as a manager to give them a stake in those values. But you can’t do that unless you communicate those values first.
Meet with your team and define a vision for the company. What do you promote? What will you never do? Where do you draw the line in the sand? How are you improving the world?
Make sure your values are communicated clearly:
- On your company website.
- During hiring. Ask value-centered questions during hiring, like, “How do you react to dishonesty in the workplace?”
- During employee training.
- In peer recognition. Train employees on your values and give them systems to reward each other for demonstrating those values.
This sounds fluffy and a little woo-woo, but you’ve got to do this stuff first for proper culture-building. Values give intrinsic meaning behind every employee’s actions, and they’re critical for building culture at your remote business.
2. Trust your people
Nobody wants to work for a manager who’s constantly creeping on them. Sure, you might worry about people’s productivity with screaming kids, blaring TVs, and 24/7 stressful news, but you have to trust your people.
65% of remote workers say they’re actually more productive than in-office employees. Oh, and they’re also happier!
Your people are doing the work. Who cares if they take a break to help kids with homework, scroll through Instagram, or meditate? They can take a nap at 10 AM if it means they’re meeting their KPIs.
The butts-in-seats model of management just can’t happen if you want a healthy remote work culture.
Instead of tracking everyone’s time in front of the computer, focus on output. That means creating SMART goals for each employee and tracking them in a system like Asana. If they aren’t meeting their numbers, focus on that.
But your focus should be on improvement, not punishment. Arm your remote workers with the tools and strategies they need to be successful—that starts with trusting them.
3. Invest in communication
In a remote environment, you’ve got to overcommunicate as a leader. That might mean:
- Setting rules for communication. Every business is different, but this means setting expectations for how to communicate (like using chat before scheduling a meeting) and when to respond (like a 24-hour rule for answering all emails).
- Using meeting agendas: Never schedule a meeting without an agenda. We’re all Zoom-ed out, and employees hate pointless meetings. Track what was said, who attended, and what next steps need to happen on the agenda.
- Using technology: You’ve probably got Skype or Slack or email for your employees. But make sure you’re using tech that works. Outdated email clients that land in the spam folder won’t do you a lick of good.
- Scheduling video calls: Chats and phone calls are well and good, but you need face time with your reports in a remote environment. This is essential for building camaraderie and giving more context to your conversations.
Aside from these tips, it’s important for you to know your people. You can’t build a positive culture by yourself. Know what’s going on in your employees’ lives, what’s on their plate, and how they prefer to work. Show that their input matters and that they’re a valued part of the team. If your reports feel like numbers, they just can’t contribute positively to a healthy culture.
4. Build community
Community and togetherness are super important. But everyone’s feeling cabin fever after 3 months of physical isolation. It’s your job as a leader to build community in an appropriate way that people enjoy.
Try to build community remotely by:
- Celebrating wins. Encouragement does wonders for establishing a healthy culture. Give employees kudos on personal accomplishments as well as work wins.
- Hosting fun events. Game night, remote team dinners, cooking classes, crafting, and birthday parties are fun team-builders. Create optional events that your team will actually enjoy. These casual encounters and conversations are a must for culture-building.
- Creating a watercooler chat line: Watercooler conversations aren’t happening right now. How do your employees let off a little steam and connect with coworkers? In a remote environment, that means creating a watercooler chat line. Use Slack to open up communication for non-work-related content.
5. Treat your employees well
No manager sets out to treat their reports like chopped liver. But it still happens. Certain decisions and policies can negatively affect your team.
And what happens then? They start to resent you. And resentment can’t happen if you want a healthy remote culture.
Make sure you flex your policies to meet your employees’ reality. That means never compromising on:
- Good employee pay. Pay everyone fairly and ensure you aren’t engaging in gender or race pay discrimination.
- Benefits. Plenty of companies paused PTO or health insurance to survive COVID-19. That’s understandable, but your employees hate that. Give them the benefits they negotiated and earned.
- Schedule flexibility. Childcare and other home responsibilities are weighing heavily on your people right now. Give them flexibility with deadlines, work hours, and meetings.
When you take care of your people, they’ll take care of you. Now’s the time to give grace if you want it in return. That’s the key to building a culture where people know they’re valued.
The bottom line
Culture isn’t a finish line. It’s something you constantly work on and maintain. Culture-building is like owning a car: you have to treat it right every day if you want to keep it running.
We know remote culture-building isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s definitely not something you signed up for, but here you are. Follow these 5 tips to build an intentional culture that shines through these dark times.
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