Remote work has gone mainstream. What was once considered a fringe benefit is now a default for many companies. But simply allowing employees to work from home is not enough to create a thriving remote work culture. Leadership, communication, and intentionality are key.
As evidenced by leading remote work reports, including Owl Lab’s most recent State of Remote Work findings, companies with robust virtual culture programs exhibit much higher job satisfaction, improved mental well-being, and stronger loyalty and retention than remote staff left to navigate flexibility alone.
Whether you recently switched to fully remote in response to the pandemic or you’ve been distributed for years, use the best practices and expert insights here to take your organization’s virtual culture to the next level.
Why Remote Work Culture Matters
Transitioning to remote work involves much more than just giving employees laptops and allowing them to work from home. To compete and thrive in the era of distributed teams, you need to nurture company culture proactively. Why invest time and resources into building a remote culture? Consider the following benefits:
Boosts employee satisfaction and retention
Study after study shows that poor company culture is one of the main reasons employees leave a job. This issue can be amplified with remote staff if they feel disconnected from leadership and coworkers. Prioritizing relationships and a sense of belonging increases employee satisfaction, happiness, and tenure.
Attracts top talent
In a tight labor market, candidates have options and pay attention to how selectively companies approach remote work support structures and culture building. Organizations recognized for excelling at remote collaboration, engagement, and work/life balance will have a competitive edge in recruiting the best virtual talent.
Uplifts inclusion and accessibility
Offering flexible location and scheduling options allows you to tap into a wider talent pool, including working parents, individuals with disabilities or mental health needs, and those who work better outside a traditional office. Facilitating an empathetic culture where all voices are heard fosters diversity and inclusion.
Drives productivity and innovation
between subheadings to improve the reader experience. While remote teams present certain engagement challenges, companies that motivate and connect distributed groups see gains in focus, effective collaboration, idea sharing, and output. Align values and operations to get the most out of a virtual staff.
Culture amplification should be a priority for any business embracing long-term remote work. So, how can you realize the above benefits? The rest of this guide explores key areas to focus on.
Overcoming Remote Work Challenges
Before we dive into solutions, it’s important to note that remote and hybrid arrangements present some inherent hurdles—especially for organizations with colocated teams. Some of the most common challenges include:
Lack of Spontaneous Connections
In an office setting, you cross paths walking down the hall, chat before meetings, and celebrate birthdays and milestones together. Distributed infrastructure makes those casual collisions less likely. Without concerted effort, remote workers can feel disconnected from leadership and peers.
When conversations happen predominantly over Zoom and Slack rather than face-to-face, messages can get misinterpreted, and nuance gets lost. You lose the ability to read body language and other non-verbal cues. This makes conflict resolution and sensitive topics harder to navigate in the virtual sphere.
Out of sight often means out of mind. Remote team members can feel unseen in their contributions and growth without being physically present to have impromptu check-ins, attend office gatherings, and get recognized publicly for achievements.
Distraction and Boundary Issues
Lacking cues telling our brains when the workday starts and finishes, remote workers often struggle to turn “off.” Many battles separate work and personal identities in the same environment. The flexibility of virtual work can also lead to overwork tendencies.
Thankfully, these pitfalls are surmountable with the right strategies and systems in place. Building remote culture involves understanding people’s fundamental needs for purpose, belonging, autonomy, and progress and finding creative ways to meet them.
Setting Clear Guidelines and Expectations
With increased location flexibility, the lines between professional and personal spheres can easily blur. Teams thrive when everyone shares an understanding of what’s expected. Start remote work off on the right foot by codifying guidelines around:
Work hours and availability
Be transparent about standard scheduling norms and channels used to keep in touch—detail procedures for meetings and time tracking. Share or develop a company policy about the “right to disconnect” and burnout prevention.
Specify the tools used for different types of exchange, e.g., email vs instant messaging vs video calls. Set norms around response times so needs are met without constant disruption to deep-focus work.
Are all-hands meetings mandatory or optional? Will some collaborate better, attending planning workshops in person while others dial in? Detail any location-dependent expectations.
Explain what key results and metrics individual contributors and teams will be evaluated on. Share guidelines for goal setting, informal check-ins, reviews, etc, so people feel actively developed and supported.
In remote environments, norms can evolve quickly. Continuously reassess policies with employee input to meet the teams’ emerging needs as priorities shift. Transparent guidelines empower people, boost productivity through alignment, and preempt conflict stemming from unspoken assumptions.
Promoting Ongoing Team Communication
Intentional communication fuels remote cultures where everyone feels invested in collective success. But messaging volume alone isn’t enough. Prioritize different channels for their strengths, cultivate trust and listening, facilitate two-way dialogue between leaders and staff, and incorporate fun!
– Email works well for formal messages, updates, delivering instructions, etc. Keep length moderate. Summarize topics and clearly state purpose and call to action upfront.
– Instant messaging platforms like Slack allow efficient action exchanges without disrupting focus work. They are great for quick questions, brainstorming, sharing inspiration, and timely feedback.
– Discussion boards are ideal for topic-based dialogue where extended back and forth added by multiple team members is beneficial. Allows conversations to unfold organically over time.
– Video calls add personal connection and non-verbal cues absent in other mediums. Especially critical for complex or sensitive discussions. It allows more nuanced meaning especially important. Small groups are recommended.
– Phone calls offer real-time exchange without the demands of video presence. It is helpful as an alternative when screens aren’t feasible, or topics are better discussed verbally vs. in writing.
– Digital whiteboarding during video workshops visualizes concepts and decisions, helping teams collaborate and align effectively on projects, planning, etc.
Execs and people managers serve critical culture-carrying roles. They should overcommunicate with both broad team messages and individual exchanges. Share company news and wins publicly via newsletters, town halls, and digital signage. Host frequent Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions—check in one-on-one via video chat. Recognize contributions and celebrate milestones. Their active involvement signals care for staff well-being and teaches that communication is a shared duty.
Listen to First Mindset
Messaging volume means little without the empathy, trust, and psychological safety that lets people feel heard. Cultivate soft skills in compassionate video conversations and emotional intelligence training. Promote understanding of different working styles and needs, especially across locations and roles. Listen without judgment and acknowledge hurts before resolving issues when tensions run high.
Fostering Camaraderie and Inclusion
Meaningful relationships and belonging form the heart of thriving cultures. While making friends with virtual strangers can feel awkward, fun connections breed loyalty, innovation, and resilience during stress and change. Explore ways for your distributed staff to:
Bond During Onboarding
Welcoming new members with care sets an inclusive tone from day one. Let existing team members introduce themselves via video profiles highlighting hobbies and fun facts beyond just qualifications. Pair new hires with culture buddies to answer questions in scheduled video chats during onboarding so they feel supported and immersed in existing norms.
Schedule no-agenda video coffees, virtual lunches, or digital water cooler sessions for casual social mixing. Participation is key, so encourage it, but don’t mandate attendance. Use icebreaker-style prompts to spark laughter and vulnerability. Occasional in-person meetups can strengthen connections, although remain cognizant of geographic constraints.
Shared gr, with opportunely tunities breed relationship building. Sponsor virtual book clubs tackling professional development reads or fun fiction for those looking to dive deeper during leisure. Attend industry conferences individually, then reunite online to share key takeaways. Rotate hosting teach-the-team workshops to highlight everyone’s expertise.
Rally people around causes they care about unrelated to company output. Organize fundraisers for global nonprofits or individual hardship needs within the team. Enable grassroots employee resource groups organized around affinities like working parents or members of marginalized communities looking to support one another.
While you can’t mandate interpersonal bonds, designing structures for people to relate to humans cultivates community and allows friendships to spark organically.
Driving Productivity and Innovation
Remote work gives employees control over when and where work happens best for them individually. But autonomy absent alignment wastes effort into fragmented initiatives instead of opelling shared strategic priorities forward together. Give virtual teams purpose through:
Connect short-term key results to a longer vision in consistent leadership messaging. Design streamlined goals frameworks teams can break down collaborative work into—Foster transparency via priority dashboards to track initiatives against outcomes in real-time.
Honor that head-down sessions fuel the deep thinking necessary for renewal and breakthrough solutions. Default asynchronous communication and meeting policies enable stretching without constant disruption—train managers on identifying burnout behavior patterns.
Spark bold idea generation and debate through collaborative documents and virtual whiteboarding, allowing for iterative building. Assign designated devil’s advocates and optimism anchors to reduce groupthink. Follow video workshops with investigative sprints, granting freedom to explore concepts.
While remote work allows flexibility in getting things done, output absent alignment wastes effort. Consistent priority signaling through various mediums keeps everyone energized and headed in the same direction.
Adjusting Leadership Techniques
Leading hybrid and virtual teams requires a different approach than traditional, colocated management. Rather than micro-managing every detail, productive remote leaders:
Coach Self-Organized Teams
Grant agency fully leveraging virtual tools for direct peers to align efforts. Establish clear “North Star” goals, then trust people closest to the work to structure optimal workflows and stakeholder coordination. Confidently delegate then empower others, amplifying strengths.
Develop Talent Holistically
Schedule dedicated 1:1 videos or conversations uncovering needs beyond task completion. Discuss opportunities for skills growth, creative challenges, and career aspirations. Recognize output and model work/life balance through open vulnerability about your experiences.
Communicate with Compassion
Send weekly team messages highlighting collective contributions to advancing priorities. Publicly recognize milestone work anniversaries and life events. Listen without judgment and acknowledge emotional responses with empathy during conflicts or setbacks. People feel valued when leaders relate on a human level first.
The key to managing productive distributed teams lies in hiring the right people and providing the clarity, development opportunities, resources, and psychological safety for them to put their best selves forward. The rest takes care of itself.
Remote Culture Tools and Strategies
While mindset and soft skills provide the foundational culture bedrock across all distributed companies, savvy leaders also incorporate supportive tech and engagement strategies:
Virtual Water Coolers
Digital spaces for casual hangouts and social connections outside formal meetings build relationships and reinforce inclusion. Popular options include Donut for randomized 1:1 coffee chats, Gather for more group interactions, and team channels within enterprise community apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
Virtual Team Building
Specialized platforms facilitate fun team-building activities digitally. Options like Teamhood, Aisle, Baam, or fellow.the app offers built-in icebreakers alongside sharing; help align priorities while profiles and activity update to increase visibility across locations. Dashboards plotting individual and collective progress toward Objectives and key Results make output transparent. Public kudos channels facilitate recognition.
Surveys and Analytics
Platforms like Culture Amp, Peakon, and Officevibe offer templatized remote work surveys alongside advanced sentiment analysis for a nuanced picture of evolving team dynamics. Leaders can quickly identify changes needed proactively. Many integrate with Slack etc. to simplify delivery.
Short, personalized video updates, bring warmth while respecting flexible work patterns. Loom makes it easy to record short screen capture walkthroughs and reactions. Async video conversations happen via platforms like Stars, Allowing people to respond in kind when convenient.
Purpose-built tools strengthen remote work culture foundations. Select solutions aligning with your people priorities and integrate broadly into existing workflows for seamless adoption.
The key to managing productive distributed teams lies in hiring the right people and then providing the clarity, development opportunities, resources, and psychological safety for them to put their best selves forward. The rest takes care of itself.
Maintaining Momentum Over Time
Transitioning to flexible location work involves much more than just giving employees laptops and letting them work from home. To compete and thrive in the era of distributed teams, you need to proactively nurture company culture with the intention of approaching any other business priority. The frameworks above explore key areas to focus on, from establishing trust and connection to enabling collaboration and engagement.
While structure helps set the stage, evolution requires regularly taking the pulse and realigning programs with emerging needs. Distribute quick remote culture health check surveys on a quarterly or bi-annual basis. Track trends over time segmented by tenure, role, and location. Follow up with focus groups when you uncover areas needing tweaking.
Continue modernizing policies balancing business priorities, employee well-being, and lessons from global events. Maintain an openness to keep adapting as the future of work continues to change at pace. By upholding remote culture as a long-term priority instead of a one-off fix, your distributed or hybrid workforce will flourish for years to come.