Remote Teams And Company Culture: Making the Fit

The co-located office space is no longer the standard for much of today’s workforce. Employers, whether small businesses or enterprise-level, have embraced remote workers like never before, for a variety of reasons: reduced overhead and real estate costs, internet-enabled access to a global talent pool, and more. But according to many recent workplace surveys, one reason stands out above all the others: Remote workers are happier, more productive workers.

The numbers prove it: more work gets done from home than at the office.

According to data from SurePayroll, a web-based payroll provider for small businesses, 86 percent of those surveyed said they preferred to work alone to “hit maximum productivity.” What’s more, two-thirds of managers say employees who work remotely increase their overall productivity.

In a global survey by PGI, 79 percent of knowledge workers said they work from home, and 60 percent of remote workers in the survey said that if they could, they would leave their current job for a full-time remote position at the same pay rate.

As we see every day here at Graphite, an increasing amount of top professional talent is shifting towards freelancing and virtual work.

If this trend continues, those who manage remote teams but still want those remote workers to feel more connected with coworkers and executives will have to think creatively about how to use those same channels that enabled them to recruit their remote workers as a means of keeping them within the fold. This means that in order to collaborate with these capable professionals, you’ll need to offer the business model they prefer to work in.

Building company culture in co-located spaces is easy. Impromptu sports or entertainment activities, company lunches and other face to face opportunities to get to know each other outside of work are abundantly available.

Not so with remote workers. Regardless of the geographic challenges, remote teams are still worth investing in. Besides reducing a company’s overhead due to reduced office space needs, remote workers are healthier and happier, which leads to more engagement overall.

When working in sweats isn’t enough: why company culture is important

A good, solid and openly expressed company culture keeps workers motivated. Their degree of motivation affects some fundamental factors: their performance, how they treat your customers, and how well they do their jobs.

Bad company culture can often encourage undesirable traits in your team. A lack of team spirit, gossip, bad habits, and unfriendly competition are all signs of bad company culture, and hence could be dangerous to your productivity.

But how do we build company culture when we never see each other?

Remote team members often feel somewhat invisible to core principals who are often in co-located space, and that their actions and efforts therefore attract less notice. It helps to be generous with public praise and acknowledgement of remote employees in email communications or your virtual meetings. This assures them their work is recognized, and signals to co-workers that the remote members are pulling their weight, too.

There are other meaningful strategies you can deploy too.

Meet up in person when you can.

Meeting up in person is a great way to build culture, especially for those working in the startup space. One company I worked for as a remote team member held a team kickoff retreat that included day-long brainstorming sessions and a group outing to a major league baseball game. After we all flew home to our various locations around the country, we remained a very close-knit working team. Just being able to associate a face, body language and a personality with each name made me feel I really knew and could trust all the guys I was working with.

Include some “warmup time” on team calls and video chats.

Try reserving the first few minutes of calls and video conferences for casual chitchat.  Let people talk as if they were in a casual encounter in the break room: weekend plans, kids, pets, or last night’s big game. Encourage your direct reports to do the same with their remote colleagues. This social bonding builds essential empathy, trust, and camaraderie. What binds many virtual teams are the personal details.

Unplanned conversations between coworkers can have unexpected productivity benefits as well.  The flows of knowledge throughout an organization often increase through personal encounters. You can create “virtual water cooler moments” through video links between offices, where practical.

Also, you can explicitly set standards for communications flow: how quickly employees need to respond to email; what follow-up steps should be taken; and on which days check-in calls should occur. If the workflow would benefit, schedule recurring team meetings that at least attempt to accommodate everyone’s schedule.  Encourage the use of instant messaging apps like Slack or Skype,

Have a virtual water cooler chat.

Keep an online space open for your team to chat with one another and discuss non-work related topics. One tech company uses a #random chat in Slack where they learn all sorts of fascinating things about each other. Thanks to that chat, they know who participates in April Fool’s, what kinds of software tools their teammates use, and learn from each other about cool technologies.

Do a team challenge.

Try doing a month-long physical challenge across all your remote team locations. (Be sure to make it voluntary.) A 3K daily run, a month without sugar…or better yet, solicit suggestions from your remote team members. Set up a place where they can post their own results and check others’. Team challenges are great because they give everyone something light to talk about, and helps the team feel closer with a simple common goal.

These are just a few suggestions; you’ve probably already thought of a few more as you read this. Why not try out a few ideas like these? You’ll see some fast results in company morale.

Remote workers are already more productive than their in-office counterparts, but when you engage them within a positive, collegial company culture then your business will have a true A-team.

Graphite has over 3,000 highly vetted finance, strategy and marketing professionals ready to join your remote team. You can browse our talent here.

Greg Andrade

Greg Andrade handles Graphite's marketing and communication programs. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he worked in corporate marketing for 15 years before turning his focus to virtual marketing consulting for startups and global businesses.

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