Company culture plays an important role in remote teams, just like it does for in-office teams. It is the way your organization identifies itself, and how you build camaraderie and connections.
Your remote company culture may include communication styles and the way you solve problems, as well as monthly recognition and friendly competitions.
As you can see, any of this can happen in an office and within remote teams. It’s just a matter of making conscious decisions for your organization.
A significant degree of effort is necessary to create and maintain a positive culture where everyone can work harmoniously. We ourselves at Hubstaff are constantly finding ways to improve our remote culture for the benefit of everyone.
Without further ado, here are ten tips on building remote team culture the right way.
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Tips on building remote company culture (based on our experience)
1. Hire by personality
Don’t hire on talent alone: Not everyone works well remotely. If you are in the process of going remote or are seeking new talent, don’t just hire on job skills alone. You will end up with employees who don’t communicate well, fall behind, and generally produce less. Also, if your company is moving in a remote direction, don’t assume all current employees will want to be remote. Many, especially the super extroverted, will resent this perceived lack of office culture.
Do hire on soft skills: If you are currently a brick and mortar business and have decided to go remote, give current employees your expectations of going remote upfront. This includes more communication than before, utilizing project management apps for success, and being a self-starter.
When you go to hire new employees, interview candidates not only for what skills they offer, but what their personality is like. Ask questions like, do you like working alone? Are you self-motivated? How do you stay on task without being asked? Have you worked remotely before? You want great employees who understand what working for a remote company entails.
2. Hire globally
Talent is everywhere: When you are remote, you need to let go of the mindset that talent is only available where you are based. Hiring only locally means you are missing a large pool of potential employees. Plus it limits the diversity of your company.
Do hire globally: One of the advantages of going remote, is that the sky’s the limit for finding great talent. The Job Preparedness Index surveyed recruiters and hiring managers and found 75 percent wouldn’t hire outside of their immediate geographical area. So there is a pool of great untapped candidates being overlooked by most recruiters. Why not capitalize on this oversight to build your company’s success?
Plus, hiring employees with various cultural backgrounds will bring different perspectives to your company. You may get a great idea from one of these employees that never entered your mind. Not to mention if you are a startup where every hour counts, having employees in different time zones allows for work around the clock. And if customer service is part of your business, different time zones allow for quicker responses to customers. All in all, diversifying your talent base, will make your business more rounded.
3. Communicate more
Don’t rely solely on email: When you go from an office setting to a remote setting, team communication becomes even more important. Employees at a physical office can walk to a co-worker’s desk and ask questions. Bosses can ask team members where a project stands. When your staff is remote, you don’t have this luxury.
To communicate, you may think email will work well. The issue with this communication vehicle is there is a lag time. A person may not see your email right away and you need instant communication back. Plus, with several email chains flying around, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the resolution was. And people write differently than they talk. Communication over email can be confusing and a positive tone can be easily misconstrued as a negative one.
Do choose different formats of communication: You may not be able to walk over to a team member’s desk being remote, but it’s important to convey this company transparency. There are so many great communication tools available for remote teams. Try Zoom or Slack for group conference calls. These video calls help connect team members and can serve as real-time problem-solving sessions.
Plus, you can store messages to be sent again. This is a great option for recurring deadlines. Google Drive is a great way to access shared documents. Whether these are spreadsheets or documents, any team member can easily update and make changes with little to no learning curve. Plus, if you have an upcoming conference call, allow team members to suggest topics they wish to cover directly onto an agenda on a shared drive.
4. Utilize a time and project management system
Don’t track time spent on projects manually: Attempting to manually track the time your team spends on tasks is a bad idea. To track your remote team’s progress, use a reliable time tracker like Hubstaff. With just one click, your team can work without worrying about having to write down what they worked on. Hubstaff can track the apps you use and the sites you visit, as well as take optional screenshots so you can see your team’s progress without the need to nag them about it.
Do use a robust project management software: Project management apps like Hubstaff Tasks outperform email reporting-based systems by a large margin. Hubstaff Tasks is designed for quickness and accuracy, which makes it perfect for remote teams. With its Agile Sprints, prioritizing the right tasks is easy. This helps ensure that projects are constantly moving forward and that your workflow is as efficient as possible.
5. Create office equipment policy
Don’t let employees use outdated equipment: When you work in an office, chances are you have an I.T. department that supplies computers and an office manager who buys necessary supplies. When you work remotely, your employees do not have these departments handy. Plus, if an employee has an old laptop, it may not accommodate the necessary software needed. And, if it breaks down, there is no I.T. department to fix or replace it. Instead, you need to formulate an equipment plan.
Do create and communicate your equipment standards: There are really no laws that say you need to give your employees office supplies or equipment. But you do need to think about their needs and what will make their jobs easy.
First, decide if you will give money toward equipment costs. This might be necessary if your business has very unique equipment needs. If you do not plan on an equipment allowance, at the very least provide a list of what equipment and software each employee should have.
Items you may consider providing are laptops, printers, scanners, and cell phones. Also take into account special equipment needs. For example, if your employees will make several calls throughout the day so you may consider providing a headset.
When it comes to software, list your requirements clearly and make it easy to install. You want everyone up and running quickly so the focus can be on work versus admin. Also, consider what happens when an employee has a question or a problem with their software or equipment. Do you have an I.T. person they can call, or at least someone in the team who’s knowledgeable in technology that they can ask?
6. Communicate career path and company objectives
Don’t think short-term: When you are part of an office team, you most likely have an intranet, internal newsletter or frequent company-wide meetings. All of these help connect employees to the company. They feel like a part of the larger company goals and understand what a projected career path may be. When you are remote, you are focused on the tasks at hand.
Simply allowing employees to work toward their next deadline with no overall vision is a mistake. Employees will see your company as a stepping stone to another career move because there is no upward job projection.
Do share company goals, career path potential, and feedback opportunities: From the moment an employee is hired, let him or her know about potential career growth. Also, frequently update employees on new company initiatives and project roll-outs even beyond what their team is working on. Plus, you never know where a good idea will come from.
Allow any employee to weigh in on these goals. You may get a winning idea from an unlikely source. All of these big picture communication tactics will keep employees informed, connected as a larger company, and empowered to know that their voice is being heard.
7. Offer flexible schedule
Don’t assume everyone will work the same hours: When you are a remote company you need to be more flexible. Going remote allows you to hire people all over the world. It also allows working parents to drop off and pick up their kids from school. Certain people are attracted to the remote environment because of the flexibility. If you mandate certain hours or try to enforce conference calls on the fly, this will not go over well with your team. You may miss out on top talent.
Do create a “soft” schedule: In other words, allow employees to have a great work/life balance. For example, instead of a lunch break at noon, maybe they’d prefer to work through that part of the day and take a longer break in the afternoon. Let your employees know they are free to take lunch and other scheduled breaks when it works with their day. But employees still need to be accountable for meeting deadlines. And if you need regular conference calls with your team, schedule these at a set time each week. This will allow employees to factor this into their day. Also make sure it works for all employees no matter what time zone they are in.
Two groups on opposite age spectrums are ideal fits for remote companies: baby boomers and millennials. Many baby boomers still wish to be part of the workforce, but want that downtime to spend with family. Millennials want the flexibility to focus on hobbies and travel while they build their careers. By offering a flexible vacation schedule, you will attract and retain these employees.
Instead of the standard two-week vacation, maybe you offer ways for employees to travel and take time off while fitting in work. Also, if you employ global workers, you need to take into account different holidays and what standard vacation is in different parts of the world. Formulating vacation plan that works for all employees and meets your company deadlines is crucial.
8. Have fun
Don’t further isolate your employees: Whether you started in a brick and mortar setting and are taking the company remote or you are starting off this way, working from home can feel isolating. When you are in an office, you go out to lunch with coworkers, grab coffee in a break room and ask someone how their day is going. You want your remote employees’ days to be productive, but also enjoyable. If your employees only have project related conversations, this does not create team camaraderie. Plus, employees never get to know each other on a personal level.
Do find fun ways to engage team members: To keep morale high and a team environment, look for apps employees can download for fun. For example, in an office you may have a holiday party where you give out awards for top achievement. Try a site like Bonusly which recognizes top employees with points. These points can then be redeemed for gift cards, extra vacations days or whatever you feel is the reward. Another popular office topic is fitness.
Everyone likes to show off how many steps they have for the day. Use an app like Health Hero where employees can share their fitness goals and keep each other motivated. Try themed video calls with Zoom. Maybe once a month is a different theme like fun sunglasses, costumes or crazy hats. Everyone can vote on the best one and you can send that employee a reward.
9. Schedule annual retreats
Do find the time to get together and bond: In a way, working remotely is the same as working in an office. The main difference is that remote workers have much more freedom with when and where they work, but the level of effort they give is just about the same, if not more. They can always get rest after working hours and in small breaks, but nothing beats retreats when it comes to replenishing your team’s mental energy. Be sure to find the time to meet up with your team in a foreign country for a couple of days so you can bond with them and they can get a genuine vacation. They deserve it.
Do absorb different cultures: By cultures, we mean the cultures that your team members practice. Make sure that you pay close attention — your team will appreciate your interest in them outside of their professional skill set. This will help in getting to know them on a deeper level, and will make it easier to work with them.
After you return from the retreat to work, ask your team which parts of the retreat they enjoyed the most, and if they have any suggestions on where to go for the next retreat. You can also publish an article about the retreat so the world can see what kind of team you are, similar to this post that we did.
10. Give recognition when it’s due
Do give credit when a team member performs exceptional work: All kinds of businesses experience unexpected puzzling situations, during which someone steps up and solves the problem. As a team leader, you should never let these moments pass by without giving props for a job well done. Give them recognition for getting the job done, and for the sheer dedication and effort they gave to get there.
Do come up with a recognition system: Props lose their meaning if you’re handing them out for every single thing. What you can do is write a set of criteria for determining if someone in your team truly deserves praise, and on what grounds. At Hubstaff, we give props to our team members based on eight core behaviors:
- #own-it: Have pride in the work you do and own it from start to finish. Do what you say you’re gonna do without being nudged.
- #prove-it: Know your numbers. Show evidence for decisions and proof later that they worked. This earns respect.
- #trim-it: Work efficiently, and recognize when time is being wasted. See opportunity for improvements. Don’t get bloated so that projects get slowed down by unneeded communication. Keep teams small.
- #solve-it: Present solutions not problems, and think for yourself. You have permission to create. Creation adds value. Take charge and just get it done.
- #mean-it: Share opinions honestly and respectfully. Don’t be afraid to pick a side and defend it.
- #feel-it: Start with empathy. Not an assembly line. Take initiative and think with the customer in mind.
- #ship-it: Act with urgency and choose simple over complex. It’s better to release something early and iterate on it than perfect it first.
- #team-it: We’re in this together and we’re all on the same team. Have each other’s backs, and take time to appreciate each other
Don’t be stingy when it comes to giving credit, but be smart in deciding which acts deserve them. This will help in keeping your team inspired and motivated.
Time to define your remote culture
There are several best practices when it comes to running a remote company. Some find it easier to build around existing models, while others prefer creating one from scratch. Whatever the case, your culture should be focused on employee positivity so they can help the team in the best way they can.
Do you have any tips for creating a strong culture for remote teams? How do you motivate and manage employees while being remote? Please comment below and let us know your thoughts.
This post was updated May 2020, with contributions from Miles Burke. Miles is the founder and CEO of employee survey tool 6Q, which allows companies to send pulse surveys to their remote teams, to build a positive culture and collect valuable feedback. Their peer-to-peer gratitude tool is well received as a way for members of remote teams to pat each other on the back virtually.