This post was updated in June 2021.
It’s clear that remote work is the future. In its State of Remote Work 2021 report, Buffer found that 97.6% of respondents wanted to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the remainder of their career. Forty-five percent of respondents were already fully remote.
We’re only beginning to see the way the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work. It pushed employers to recognize how much of their employees’ work CAN be done from home. And now, as businesses reopen and vaccinations expand, working from home continues to offer employees flexibility, location independence, and the ability to work on their terms. For an increasing number of companies, remote work is the future.
Whether you’re transitioning to a hybrid work model — where employees can split time between physically working in an office space and working remotely or from home — or fully remote work, keeping company culture healthy and consistent may present a challenge. Here are six ideas to help you maintain your company culture with remote employees.
Design a Thoughtful Employee Experience
What happens when hiring new employees is necessary during this time? You can’t copy and paste your existing employee experience for a remote role. There are many aspects of the standard employee journey that are challenging for remote employees. For instance, a remote employee can’t go out to a welcome lunch with their new team. They also don’t have the opportunity to turn to their deskmate with a question or have a casual water cooler conversation with a company leader.
That’s why you’ll need to design an employee experience specifically for your remote workers, while still being true to your company culture. To help you visualize what this might look like: consider the remote worker’s onboarding experience, which can have a significant impact on an employee’s tenure.
You can schedule video calls with the team, send the new hire a fun welcome gift, or have the CEO record a personalized welcome message. These thoughtful gestures can have a positive impact on the remote employee’s overall experience.
Take Advantage of Technology
There are a growing number of tools that make scaling a company culture across a remote workforce more manageable. From communication platforms like Slack to video conferencing services like Zoom, these tools are integral to staying connected with people who aren’t physically in the office every day. There are even technologies like Donut, which regularly pairs up team members who don’t know each other well for virtual “coffee dates.” We use all three tools at HealthJoy so our employees feel connected. They’re running better than ever while our team remains fully remote.
Make sure that your remote team is comfortable using crucial tech tools as they continue their work from home. The whole company should be on the same page about best practices. For instance, make sure that one team isn’t using Skype while the rest of the company uses Zoom. Since implementing a more structured remote work policy this year, our People Operations team has overhauled our remote onboarding process to make sure it’s standardized across the company. To get started, simply sending an email or creating a companywide Google doc with best practices may help.
Whether all or part of your company is telecommuting, colleagues need to be extra considerate. There are small but significant things everyone at the organization can do to ensure everyone feels included and connected. If your organization values idea sharing, for example, you may want to think about how you can promote this understanding on video calls. It can be awkward during a brainstorming session if multiple people are talking at the same time. Consider creating a remote environment for those who aren’t in the office to contribute to the discussion.
Or, if your company is big on being respectful of each other’s time, be especially thoughtful when scheduling time on your colleague’s calendar. We still want to make the best use of our time even at home, and that’s especially true if colleagues have children. Be mindful of any time zone changes and make sure your meetings are necessary. After hearing that employees were stacked with meetings, we implemented a few scheduling norms across the company. We now ask that every employee block eight “meeting-free” hours each week, either consecutively or over the course of a few days. We’ve also cut 30-minute meetings to 25 minutes, and 60-minute meetings to 50 minutes, ensuring everyone has adequate time for breaks and preparation throughout the day. Minor considerations can add up and have a big impact on productivity and employee satisfaction.
Celebrate with Your Remote Workers
Company cultures become stronger in times of celebration. Unfortunately, it can be tough to celebrate when the traditional office space is no longer part of the picture. There are many creative ways to address this. For example, you can rotate the times that an all-hands meeting is hosted so everyone has a chance to join regularly. If you have regular company happy hours, why not host a time to get together over Zoom for a virtual drink?
Also, don’t forget that employees should be recognized for their contributions. Whether it’s a shoutout on Slack or a personalized email, remember to regularly thank employees for their hard work. Keep up with any recognition programs that spotlight recent achievements in the face of adversity. All of these actions will help your remote workforce feel deeply rooted in the company culture, no matter where they’re working.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication is key to maintaining a cohesive company culture. But the need to over-communicate becomes even more pronounced when collaborating with remote workers. You may find it helpful to create a document that codifies communication guidelines for your employees. These guidelines can cover everything from working hours to Slack etiquette and best practices for providing project updates. This becomes especially important when hiring new remote employees, so include these norms in your remote onboarding process. Having a single source of truth for communication with remote employees will ensure everyone is consistent in upholding these best practices.
If you’re a manager, be sure to check in with remote workers frequently. The remote workplace no longer allows you to chat with employees over lunch or see them around the office. You need to be intentional about reaching out to see how they’re doing and providing relevant updates. You may find that weekly one-on-one’s aren’t enough when you don’t regularly see each other in the office. You might find that daily standups, set a more productive and focused tone for your days, or that three focused team meetings throughout the week keep everyone on track. Take employee feedback into consideration and don’t be afraid to adjust schedules.
Support Employee Mental Health and Wellness
You might expect that working from home would encourage better habits. After all, without the time spent commuting, we should have more opportunities to go for a walk, squeeze in a workout, and make a healthy meal. While some of us have thrived during a pandemic, others have struggled. Employees who don’t normally work from home may be thrown off their routines. When kids are home, things are even more complicated. It takes time to build healthy routines in a different environment. Some employees might suffer an emotional or mental toll from the stress of health or financial concerns.
You can help employees by encouraging them to practice healthier behaviors. Instead of leaning on healthy office snacks, group fitness classes, and employee parties, it’s more important than ever to focus on building strategic year-round initiatives to keep people physically and mentally recharged. In January, HealthJoy’s Operations Manager Mallory Fritz shared how she masterminded wellness initiatives for our teleworkers while bolstering employee engagement.
“When I started, I was getting feedback from staff that they wanted to offset the stressful season,” Mallory said. “There was a need for additional events, but events catered to feeling less stressed, having fun even though it’s a crazy day, or taking a pause to do something else.”
The key to planning was creativity and aligning activities that reflected what employees said they needed. From virtual escape rooms and social hours to complimentary lunch and yoga flows, Mallory curated a slate of events that addressed all aspects of employee wellbeing including mindfulness, movement, meals, self-care, and community engagement.
Additionally, you could start a channel in your Slack feed to share at-home workouts or healthy recipes. Lead by example: encourage senior leadership to share what they’re doing to stay healthy while working from home. Remind employees of their EAP benefit. As a manager, check in with your employees often. Ask how they’re doing. During times of incredible stress, coworkers can provide support and make us feel less alone.
As more companies consider changing remote work rules, company culture should remain a key focus. In some ways, its benefits may aid this transition — you may find that you have happier employees due to the flexible work environment. Remote work can also be a key factor in winning the war for talent. While it takes time to build out the processes, structure, and culture needed to accommodate remote workers, in the long run, making it work may be worth it. After all, working from home offers organizations and their people a chance to re-examine what they define as culture and, ultimately, to grow.