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How to Build Culture in a Remote Team
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How to Build Culture in a Remote Team

March 15, 2019
How to Build Culture in a Remote Team

A hard to quantify and yet extremely important factor in employee retention is company culture. With remote teams, company culture can come out in various ways. It’s in the way you speak to each other over email, chat, and video, the amount of trust you put in employees you can’t see sitting across from you, and how you look out for their well being.  

A supportive, motivating company culture won’t develop out of thin air. You have to be intentional about creating procedures, traditions, and methods of communication that align with what you want your company to represent. Luckily we’re sharing some easy steps you can take to build culture with remote teams.

Define your values

In order to build culture, you’ll need to define the values that will serve as a basis. Maybe you’re all about innovation and self-starters, or maybe you’re more into teamwork and community engagement. Values will differ from company to company, but they should never just be a laundry list of corporate jargon created to check off a box for marketing purposes. Think critically about what you want your company to stand for, and then use those values to inspire action.

Create Working And Non-Working Hours

One of the biggest risks of remote work is employee burnout. When your office is your living room, it can be hard to disconnect. Look out for your employees by encouraging them to set working hours. They don’t have to be 9-5, but team members should know when they can expect to reach each other. That way the temptation to be “on” around the clock will be minimized. Encourage employees to take advantage of their geographic flexibility, and remind them that they can and should log off when their working hours are done.

Keep Things Light

There’s a time and place for strictly professional, productive communication. But you don’t have to use corporate speak all the time. Throw a gif in the Slack channel once in a while, and you might just create an opportunity for bonding.

The Buddy System

This might sound juvenile, but pairing remote employees can make them feel like they’re part of a real team, not just an email chain. An employee’s partner might be someone they run ideas by, troubleshoot problems with or even get together for a happy hour with. What they do is up to them, all you have to do is assign pairs and watch the team building happen before your eyes.

Create Opportunities to Meet In-Person

Many companies with remote employees have started doing yearly company retreats to encourage team building and getting to know each other. This may sound expensive but it’s likely cheaper than the overhead for maintaining an office. A good way to justify the cost is to ensure that in-person meetings are ten times more productive than what could get done over a video call. That’s not too high of a standard to meet if you think about the difference in bonding that takes place on a conference call versus hiking together on a weekend retreat.

Trust

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again. When it comes to remote teams, trust is the single most important factor in determining your success. Psychologically, it’s hard to trust people are getting things done when you can’t see them doing things. That being said, remote employees have been shown to be more productive and to put in more hours than traditional employees who might leave their work at the office outside of 9 to 5. An environment of mistrust, where superiors are always checking up on employees and making them prove that they’re working, is not the type of culture you want to promote. Instead, create procedures for employees to update managers periodically, and then, unless they give you a reason to believe otherwise, trust that they’re doing what they say they are.

Use Meetings To Inspire

Team meetings are a great opportunity to exemplify the culture you want to emulate. Do you give everyone a chance to talk? Are you leading by example, inspiring team members with your drive and innovation? Are you giving constructive criticism and offering helpful resources or lambasting employees in front of their peers?

Stress Values At Every Step

If you want values to actually shape the culture at your company, you’ll have to implement them into day-to-day procedures. They should be incorporated into the hiring and onboarding processes as well as employee reviews. In fact, ask employees to reflect on how they have lived out these values, and how they can in the future, often.

Shout Out Success

Giving positive feedback (when it’s due) is one of the most important things you can do as a manager. You don’t want to be the boss you only hear from when there’s bad news. It can be as simple as mentioning a co-worker’s help in your weekly update, giving them a shoutout during a conference call, or sending an email thanking an employee for their hard work after a big project or at the end of the quarter.

Team Building Exercises

Remote team building may seem like an oxymoron, but there are a number of ways you can implement it and the payoff is huge. It can be as simple as having everyone go around and tell the team about their hometown or how they got into their line of work. Or you can have everyone give a virtual tour of their workspace, have everyone send an email describing who they are outside of work, or create a Slack channel to drop non-work related content like articles, memes and jokes.

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There you have it. Simple steps to build the culture in a remote team. Here’s a quick review:

  1. Create Company Values
  2. Quality of communication
  3. Define Working Hours And Watch For Burnout
  4. Keep it Light with GIFS and Memes
  5. Buddies
  6. In Person Meet-ups
  7. Trust
  8. Incorporate Values Into Hiring, Onboarding and Employee Review
  9. Team Meetings As Example
  10. Shout Out Success
  11. Team Building

Written by:

Bernhard Mehl
CEO at Kisi
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