Updated March 18, 2020
It’s more clear than ever that remote work is the future. In its State of Remote Work 2020 report, Buffer found that 98% of respondents wanted to work remotely, at least part of the time, for the remainder of their career. Fifty-seven percent of respondents were already fully remote.
As we know, the last few weeks are likely to push that number even higher. As more companies send employees home to work and counties instruct people to shelter in place, we’ve reached a critical juncture. This crisis is pushing employers to recognize how much of their employees’ work CAN be done from home. Right now, working from home allows us to continue our work safely. In the future, it may become the norm.
If you’re transitioning to a partially-remote or even fully-remote workforce, you’ll quickly find that one of the biggest challenges may be in keeping your company culture healthy and consistent across various teams and time zones. These six ideas can help you maintain your company culture with remote employees.
Design a thoughtful employee experience
What happens when you hire a new employee during this time? You can’t copy and paste your existing employee experience for a remote workforce. 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 employee 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 to make sure our employees feel connected. They’re running better than ever while our team is fully remote.
Make sure that your remote workers are comfortable using crucial tech tools as they continue their work from home. The whole company is 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. It may help to send an email or create a company-wide Google doc with best practices.
Whether all or part of your company is working remotely, colleagues need to be extra considerate. There are small but significant things everyone at the organization can do to make sure everyone is included in the culture. If your organization values idea sharing, for example, you may want to think about how you can promote this on video calls. It can be awkward for everyone to speak up during a brainstorm if multiple people are talking at the same time. Create a space 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 when we’re working from our home, and that’s especially true if colleagues have children. Be mindful of any time zone changes and make sure your meetings are necessary. Being considerate in these minor ways adds up big differences in employee satisfaction, and your remote team will appreciate you all the more for it.
Celebrate with your remote workers
Company cultures become stronger in times of celebration. Unfortunately,it can be tough to celebrate when everyone is remote. 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, now more than ever, 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 to best practices for providing project updates. 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. You no longer have opportunities to chat with your remote employees over lunch or see them around the office. You’ll 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. Our marketing team recently implemented daily standups while we’re working from home, and it’s helped set a more productive and focused tone for our days.
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. Unfortunately, things don’t always pan out this way (especially during a crisis such as a global pandemic). 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 up again in a different environment. Some employees might suffer an emotional or mental toll from the stress of health and financial concerns.
You can help employees by encouraging them to practice healthier behaviors. 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 a time of increased stress, coworkers can provide support and make us feel less alone.
Even though the circumstances are stressful, there are benefits to working remotely. You’ll practice working remotely as a team, making you well-placed to welcome fully-remote new hires when you are able to work together again. That means gaining access to a much larger talent pool and attracting a greater diversity of people to your organization.
Ultimately, you may find that you have happier employees due to the flexible work environment. It takes time to build out the processes, structure, and culture needed to accommodate remote workers. As more of the world makes this transition, opportunities to practice working from home are a chance for organizations to grow.