The more your business grows, the more important it is to build your culture. This is especially true for remote teams. A healthy remote work culture is a powerful growth driver.

Strong culture can help you overcome a lot of the challenges of remote work. Some remote workers feel lonely, so it’s hard for them to stay engaged. Employees working from home may struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Productivity suffers when your team isn’t plugged in. This is true for all types of businesses, but it can be more pronounced for distributed teams.

There’s less built-in accountability when your team works from home. Nobody is there to see if they take some extra breaks or focus more on Netflix than their to-do list.

Fortunately, going remote is a smart way to increase productivity and profits. Remote teams get more work done and generate higher revenue than on-site employees. They’re also happier and more engaged in their work.

Hubstaff's best tips for employee happiness

Are you getting the most out of your remote strategy?

If you’re ready for your remote business to be the best it can be, it’s time to put some work into your culture.

“Remote and on-demand workers have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line, but only if corporate culture is set up for their success.”

— Chris Dyer, CEO of PeopleG2

This article is here to walk you through the process of creating a strong, positive culture for your remote company. Creating culture is an ongoing process, not a quick fix. Bookmark this post so you can come back to it as you grow.

Let’s get started.

What is remote work culture?

Remote work culture is made of the habits, beliefs, and behaviors that your team shares. That includes the ways employees connect with each other and with you. If you used to work in the same office, it’s probably similar to the culture you had there.

There are nuances that make remote culture different from co-located team culture.

Interactions between distributed employees are virtual. Culture is built and spread by the connections between people, so your remote culture is more heavily influenced by the technology you use to connect.

Nelson taught the team to make temaki over Zoom.

Everything from how you use emoji 👍  to how you prep for video calls shapes culture.

You’ll notice the phrases that your team uses (#ship it!) and the things they do often. Culture is also visible in the way your team works. If most people cut out early on Fridays, that’s a piece of culture.

As a remote company, it takes more effort to communicate your company goals and values. Sharing goals is one of the most important parts of culture.

Despite this, 60% of workers cannot agree on what their company stands for. This is true for all types of companies, including those that work in a shared office.

That means there’s a lot of room for improvement.

What are the benefits of a healthy company culture?

Your team has a culture whether you put effort into it or not. If you haven’t intentionally worked on it, you probably have some cultural behaviors you don’t want.

Here are some of the warning signs that your remote culture is negative:

  • Complaining is more common than problem-solving
  • Productivity is low
  • Employees don’t use the tools you provide like time trackers and task management systems
  • Everyone leaves their video off during meetings
  • Gossip runs rampant
  • Turnover is high
  • Your employees don’t take breaks

If you see these symptoms, there are more problems that you can’t see because your team works from home.

Those problems can be expensive. They may even prevent you from growing as your counterproductive culture infects new hires.

warning signs of a negative remote culture

Fortunately, the opposite is also true.

A great culture brings out the best in your employees. Here’s what you can expect when you nail it.

Higher engagement

According to CultureIQ, improved employee engagement is “a direct outcome of a high-performance company culture.” This is because “high-performance cultures clearly outline behaviors and norms that are healthy and supportive.”

In other words, people care more when the culture is right.

People are more likely to focus completely on work when they feel like that’s expected — not just from you, but from their peers. There’s a lot more motivation to plug in when it feels like you’ll let your team down if you don’t.

It’s more than just peer pressure, though. Your culture can and should make your employees feel how much you care about them. It’s easier to stay engaged when there’s caring on both sides.

Team members don’t want to let down their friends. In a great remote culture, employees are accountable to each other.

Effective decision-making

If you’re the only person who knows what’s going on, you’re the only person who can make informed decisions.

That’s not a productive way to work.

Culture creates alignment. Everyone knows the ultimate goal, so they’re better equipped to make choices that move you in the right direction.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

— Henry Ford

Increased productivity

Your culture has a direct impact on productivity.

The same feeling of responsibility that keeps your team engaged also increases productivity. Team members finish more tasks because they don’t want to create extra work for teammates.

Healthy culture creates an environment where it’s easier for people to get things done. There’s less stress about minor things so your team can focus their energy on top priorities.

Happier workforce

When you build a better culture, you build a better work environment. It’s more pleasant to show up and connect with coworkers. Employees feel more fulfilled and important.

All of this helps employees feel happier at work.

Did you know that happy employees are up to 20% more productive? They’re also more likely to stick around, so your turnover is lower. Happiness and job satisfaction are good for your bottom line.

Better talent attraction and retention

It’s easier to attract the best talent when you have a reputation as a great place to work. Most candidates – 88% – say that culture is important when they decide whether to apply for a position and accept an offer.

The happier your employees are, the longer they’ll stay with your company.

Plus, your strong culture will attract candidates who are ethically aligned with your company values.

Make sure you deliver on those cultural promises. 30% of new hires quit within the first three months. Of those, almost a third – 32% – blame company culture as their reason for leaving.

The happier your workforce, the longer your top talent will stay in their jobs.

The bottom line is that good culture reduces costs and improves revenue. 94% of executives and 88% of employees say workplace culture is important for business success.

How to create a remote work policy

Let’s talk about how to do that in your company.

How to build and maintain a strong remote work culture

Creating a strong culture is almost like finding out who you are as a company. Think of it like a personal development program, except for your business.

Culture is made of your shared beliefs and behaviors. What kinds of beliefs do you want your employees to share?

Start with the values you want to embody. Good cultural habits arise naturally from strong shared beliefs.

1. Define your company values

Values are like the rudder that steers your culture in the right direction. If your team doesn’t know and understand your core values, your culture drifts.

First, you must understand your company values. Questions like these can help you get to the root of your company’s purpose:

  • Besides surviving and making a profit, what is significant to the company?
  • Why was this company founded in the first place?
  • How do our customers see us? How can we make their lives easier or better?
  • Which values do we all share? What motivates us to come to work every day? What would make me more engaged with my work? What will keep me from looking for another job?
  • What are we not doing to improve society that we could do?
  • Which behaviors are acceptable at work? Which are not?

Use those questions to start building a list of the most important things to your company.

Values are like a rudder. They steer your company and give you direction.

Talk to your team about the things they find most important and add those items to your list, too. You’ll get a better idea of where your culture is right now based on their answers.

From there, you can narrow it down to the few core values that drive your company.

Values do the most good when they’re simple, specific, and detailed. They should be clear enough that your team can use them to guide decisions. If they’re too long or complicated, though, your employees won’t use them for reference.

Hubstaff’s values

Hubstaff’s core values are at the center of our culture and all of our business decisions. They look like this.

  • Freedom: Work where and how you want to work. You’re free to design the business you want when Hubstaff streamlines time tracking and team management.
  • Transparency: Running a business is hard when you can’t see how the work’s getting done. We create tools that make transparency in teams simple and automated.
  • Customers First: Our customers are always first. We work hard to understand business owners and then build the systems that help them succeed.
  • Accountability: We take ownership of the projects we take on. We move projects forward and do what we say we are going to do.
  • Focus: Our products help teams fight distraction and focus on the job at hand. We believe that focus breeds productivity, and productivity breeds success.

We include this list in our company handbook and refer to it often. You can see these values in our products, in the way we structure our company, and even in the posts on this blog.

As you choose your own values, ask yourself how those things will shape the way you work. If it doesn’t fit in every area of your business, it’s probably not a core value.

Hubstaff's core values

2. Prepare your staff to work remotely

If your team is struggling with the logistics of remote work, address that first. It’s hard to think about culture when you can’t get work done.

Set expectations and make sure your team is equipped to meet them.

Do you have the right tools to work remotely? Does everyone on your team know how to use them?

Keep documentation and process guides where your team can easily find them. You can use a dedicated software like ProcessStreet or organize documents in a shared drive like Dropbox or Google Drive.

Offer training as needed. A team that isn’t used to technology may need help using Zoom or Slack effectively. Encourage people to ask for help without fear of judgement.

You should be able to tell what your team is working on without needing them to check in every day. Use a tool like Hubstaff to give you the visibility you need without getting in your employees’ way.

Hubstaff dashboard

Find and fix the specific problems that make remote work harder for your team.

For example, if remote communication is an issue, address that by using the right tools and creating clear guidelines on how to use them. At Hubstaff, we have a Communication Manifesto that outlines what we expect. You can download a copy of it here to help you create your own.



3. Establish a clear remote work policy

When you go remote, your employees have questions.

  • Can we work flexible hours?
  • Do I need to use my personal equipment?
  • How do I handle sick days?
  • How do you know I’m working when I say I am?

Answer all of these types of questions in your remote work policy.

Publish your policy where everyone can access it. Update and share it often. As you adopt new tools and learn new things, your policies might change.

A thorough remote policy covers all of these things.

  1. Who at your company is eligible for remote work?
  2. Under what conditions can people work from home?
  3. What are your productivity expectations and how do you measure results?
  4. What are your equipment, security, and privacy policies?
For more help creating a great remote work policy, check out this complete guide. You can even download a template.

4. Create a community

One of the secrets of team productivity is accountability. People are more likely to be engaged and committed to their work when they feel like they’d let their friends down by slacking off.

A strong sense of community keeps employees motivated and invested. They’re more likely to stick around and do great work. Plus, they’ll be happier and healthier.

Help create that sense of community by making space for fun.

Start by helping people connect during work hours. It’s not healthy to expect your employees to keep their heads down and think of nothing but work, especially when they’re working in different locations.

In a traditional work environment, people joke around, chat, and share updates about their lives. Your remote workers need that, too.

Slack is a good tool for this. Create channels where people can connect over similar interests. By default, Slack includes a #random channel just for watercooler conversation. Use it.

If you don’t see conversations happening in these “shared spaces,” start them. Share memes. Respond to other peoples’ posts. Set the example so that your team knows it’s okay to goof off a little at work.

As long as the work gets done, it’s a good thing if there’s a lot of chatter. That means people are connecting — which is exactly what you want.

You can also use remote tools to host some social events.

Use Zoom to host “Friday Night Drinks” and join your coworkers for a remote happy hour. Of course, they have to provide their own drinks, but you can pick up the tab every now and then with a food delivery gift card.

Hubstaff team members get together for virtual pub trivia, video game sessions, Zoom cooking classes, and more. Let people get creative and join the fun.

Hubstaff Pub Trivia

Hubstaffers use Slack and a virtual office tool called Workfrom to play Pub Trivia on Fridays.

5. Host an annual retreat

For fully remote companies, it’s important to get time together as a team at least once per year.

At Hubstaff, we hold an annual retreat. This brings our team together in one location to work, play, and connect.

This year, our retreat was virtual. The pandemic forced us to stay home, but we still found a way to get together and have a great time.

Your retreat should be an opportunity to come together and get things done. Use hackathons or breakouts so that teams can focus on a big picture project. This is a good tool to help connect employees with the overall strategy while they’re not bogged down in day-to-day work.

Of course, the job still has to get done. Schedule work time between events.

Showcase all the unique talents within your team. Plan fun events like talent shows, karaoke, cooking classes, escape rooms, and other things that people enjoy. Ask for suggestions. This is a great event to plan together.

Risotto cooking class with Eyal

Eyal taught us all to make risotto at our virtual retreat.

6. Give recognition

Praising employees can lead to a 10-20% increase in revenue. It’s also an important part of a healthy culture.

Start getting into the habit of recognizing good work in the moment. If someone sends you an email with a good idea, reply and tell them “good job.” When a shy team member suggests something in a video meeting, thank them sincerely for their input.

Giving recognition is easier for some leaders than for others. Build the habit by setting aside time every day to thank someone or praise a job well done. That might be a private Slack message, a post in a public channel, or a callout at a team meeting.

Appreciation is contagious. The more you point out your team’s wins, the more likely they are to start doing the same.

At Hubstaff, we have a #hubstars Slack channel where anyone can post a shout-out to a team member who embodies one of our core behaviors.

Hubstars Slack channel

We use this channel often.

This kind of public appreciation is even more important in high performance cultures. When you expect a lot out of your team, they should know that you appreciate the extra effort they put in.

7. Encourage employee wellbeing

Remote employees take fewer sick days. You don’t end up with a flu going around the office because someone came to work sick.

You still need to pay attention to employee health and wellbeing, though.

Working from home can be lonely. Make sure that your employees have plenty of ways to stay socially connected. Social isolation is bad for a person’s wellbeing and increases the risk of serious health issues.

In a study of older Americans that were socially isolated, the CDC reported an increased risk of dementia, depression, heart disease, stroke, and death from all causes. Other studies have found similar results in younger adults.

Remote work is also tied to a higher risk of burnout. Some people feel like working from home is more like living from work. It’s hard to unplug and step away.

All kinds of desk work involve hours of sitting still. Too much sitting is a major health problem that we’re only beginning to understand. Some remote employees find that they’re even more sedentary when working from home since they can sign in from the sofa.

There’s a lot you can do to help your team stay healthy.

  • Encourage social interactions. Meet virtually or gather in person — safely, please. Reach out if you notice that someone is less connected than usual. It’s hard to speak up when you feel alone, so watch for signs of isolation.
  • Monitor workloads carefully. The signs of burnout aren’t always obvious. An employee who is more irritable and less reliable than they used to be is likely suffering from burnout. Keep workloads realistic and make it clear that you’re here to help without judgment if someone needs help.
  • Keep off hours off. You are responsible for your team’s work-life balance. It’s okay to ask for extra effort sometimes, but working after hours should never be the norm. If you’re working late, try scheduling messages to send in the morning instead of pinging your team at all hours. Respect their time off and they’ll get more done during work hours.
  • Create a wellness program. Team wellness programs can be simple. If you all wear fitness trackers or have step trackers on your phones, set a weekly step goal. Send out hourly reminders that it’s time to get up and move. Find little ways to have fun and be more active throughout the day. Your team will appreciate that you care, and they’ll be more mentally sharp after taking a quick walk.

8. Provide flexible scheduling

Employees want flexible schedules. 77% of millennials say that it’s a major factor when they’re choosing an employer.

Plus, flexible work has a lot of built-in benefits. People can work when they’re most productive. It’s easier to work around demands like childcare, school, and other commitments.

Set shared work hours for part of the day and offer flexibility outside of those hours. This gives you the best of both work styles.

On average, remote employees work longer days than their on-site counterparts. Part of that is because they can work outside of normal business hours.

Offering flexible schedules means that you will communicate asynchronously sometimes. Stay organized by using the right channels to talk.

Project management software is the best place to share updates about work tasks. Email is good for broad announcements that don’t require a response. Slack is good for one-on-one conversations and group discussions, but be sure to organize your channels wisely so you can find things again.

Hubstaff Tasks My Stuff

When working asynchronously, use the right technology to stay connected and productive.

Try a combination of specific and flexible hours. For example, you can ask everyone to be available from 10 AM through 2 PM local time, and outside of that, employees can work whenever they like.

Your team will appreciate it and you’ll have an easier time creating a productive culture.

9. Hire people who fit your cultural goals

You don’t have to hire new people to change your culture.

But when you do hire new people, keep culture in mind.

You can hire diversely and still find a cultural fit. Match values, not backgrounds.

Behaviors can be learned, while values are more difficult to change. Often, people use the term “cultural fit” to describe someone who acts and thinks like they do, and that can stifle your diversity.

Instead of hiring someone who has a similar communication style or background, look for candidates that have similar values to your company.

By hiring based on values, you’ll enrich your culture with new ideas and perspectives.

10. Use a time & project management system

Micromanagement is a culture killer.

Remote managers can accidentally become micromanagers when they struggle to keep track of time and tasks. Daily check-ins and Slack messages asking for project status are annoying and inefficient.

Signs of being a micromanager

Use a tool like Hubstaff to keep track of time and productivity. This creates visibility and keeps you out of the way so your team can focus on getting work done.

Automatic time trackers are also a good way to build more accountability into your culture. Unlike manual timesheets, time trackers are always accurate and unbiased. Your team can be confident that they’ll be paid for all the time they worked, and you can be sure that payroll is on point.

That’s a recipe for trust, which is one of the main ingredients in a good culture.

Your project management tool builds on that.

Tools like Hubstaff Tasks show you the status of every project. You can also see employee workloads, plan timelines, spot bottlenecks, and solve problems without needing to micromanage.

Use your project management tool as a hub for communication. This keeps everyone organized and makes it much easier for someone to step in and pick up where the last person left off.

When you use project management tools the right way, it’s easier for your remote team to be independent and proactive.

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Next Steps

This is a lot of information, and building culture is a process. Bookmark this post so you can find it again later.

Here’s what you should do right now:

  1. Start listing your company’s values. You can even send an email or start a Slack thread with your team to get their ideas. This will be the list you start with to shape your culture.
  2. Ask your top performers where they see the biggest challenges with remote work. Their feedback will help you spot the things you need to address before you invest time and effort into cultural improvement.
  3. Recognize someone on your team who did a great job today. Get in the habit of noticing and praising achievement now.

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This post was originally published in May 2020 and was updated in March 2021.