Remote Work Culture
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
What Is a Remote Work Culture?
Workplace culture consists of principles, values, rituals, norms, behaviors, language, and rules, and remote work culture is no exception. Whether employees are in-person or spanned across a great distance, the same concepts of workplace culture apply. In a virtual, remote environment, workplace culture adapts to match the environment’s needs. Principles are developed to incorporate new methods for communicating, interacting, and doing business. New behaviors and practices are accepted into the culture and others are expelled during a shift to remote work.
Why Is Remote Work Culture Important?
According to O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2023 Global Culture Report, “More than half of hybrid and remote employees (59%) said their organization’s culture has improved since going hybrid or remote. However, less than half (48%) say it’s easier to create a sense of community in their new work environment.” Culture should be something that is designed rather than something that is simply allowed to grow on its own. Here are a few reasons human resources professionals should pay attention to the signs of an adapting culture and strategically implement principles that will allow their culture to flourish.
- Culture attracts or deters talent. In a remote environment, culture is critical to attracting talent because it helps companies stand out from their competition. When potential candidates search for a job, they not only look for a steady paycheck and a competitive benefits package; they search for the right fit where they can thrive. They look at each company’s employee experience, which is a major aspect of workplace culture. In a 2022 international survey, 77% of respondents noted that they consider a prospective employer’s culture before applying.
- Culture can improve employee loyalty. One of the major drivers of culture is a sense of belonging. This is one of the most critical yet challenging elements of culture in a remote work environment. When employees feel like they belong, they tend to stay with an organization longer than they would at one where they feel isolated, unsafe, or distant from others. This is mostly due to our natural tendency to want to be accepted by those around us. Employees who feel safe to share their ideas bring their whole selves to work. While it may be more challenging to create a strong remote culture that fosters loyalty, the value is great and has immense potential. Fostering a strong remote work culture can counteract feelings of isolation and improve employee loyalty in a virtual environment.
- Culture has the power to increase innovation and productivity. Remote work often increases a company’s flexibility and ability to respond to socio and economic changes in the environment. Additionally, according to Apollo Technical Engineered Talent Solutions, on average, remote workers are 47% more productive than in-person workers. A strong remote work culture increases the likelihood of an innovative and productive remote work environment. When employers open up lines of communication, connect with their workers, and clarify goals, they not only improve their remote work culture, but they also increase their chances of success.
How to Foster a Strong Remote Work Culture
Many employers feel at a loss when it comes to strengthening workplace culture and don’t know where to start. Here are a few ideas.
Build a Sense of Belonging
According to author Alfie Kohn, “People will typically be more enthusiastic where they feel a sense of belonging and see themselves as part of a community than they will in a workplace in which each person is left to [their] own devices.”
How can we create a sense of belonging in a remote environment where individuals are naturally more isolated and distant from others? The key is to break down the barriers that block communication, energy, and personal connection.
- Don’t hide behind the screen, and encourage others to follow suit. Being yourself in a virtual environment can be challenging, but it is one of the fastest ways to connect with others on a personal level. Finding and sharing similarities and common ground between yourself and others quickly breaks down barriers like distance and technology. Encouraging employees to find common ground with their peers also strengthens each individual’s sense of belonging.
- Find new ways of communicating. When shifting to a virtual environment, employers have an opportunity to change their operating procedures to include new lines of communication. This is one critical area that should not be overlooked. If communication channels are blocked, it becomes increasingly more difficult for employees to feel comfortable sharing their voice and connecting with others. Methods of communication should be easy to use and inclusive of everyone. Communication methods that are only specific to one team or business vertical are not conducive to a communicative culture. Strong virtual communication methods may include daily/bi-weekly meetings, open forums, instant messaging apps, or even a precedent of hopping into personal zoom rooms for a quick chat.
- Develop consistency. Many methods of opening lines of communication and increasing a sense of belonging falter because of a lack of consistency. When leadership sets an example of consistent, open communication and connecting with others, they foster a strong sense of belonging throughout the organization.
Focus on Adapting, Not Changing, the Current Culture
One common misconception with developing a strong remote work culture is that it must be completely different from the original “in office” culture. This is not true. Culture is established by people through social interaction, and therefore does not always require a physical, in-person component to thrive. Maintaining culture while adapting to a virtual environment takes creativity, but is not impossible.
Focus on maintaining culture while adapting it to fit the new environment. The values, purpose, language, norms, and behaviors of the organization will likely stay the same, but some of the practices and rituals may need adjusting. For example, if it used to be common for an organization to host small parties in person once a month, the principle of hosting a fun get-together need not go away, but can be adapted and held in a Zoom meeting where participants are sent party supplies or gifts to their home offices. If an organization focuses on hosting events to give back to the community, these need not go away just because of a switch to remote either. Virtual drives and competitions to raise money can take the place of in-office events.
Creating Remote Workplace Traditions
There are many types of workplace traditions, including rituals, practices, celebrations and behaviors. When building a strong remote work culture, it is crucial to pay attention to the precedent being set and the rituals that are developed. Some common traditions in a remote workplace include:
- Brown Bag Lunches: All employees are invited to a Zoom meeting once a week over the lunch period to chat with leadership as they eat.
- Spirit Weeks: Employees are encouraged to dress up or change their Zoom background each day in a different color or in accordance with a theme.
- Anniversary gifts: Employers may send employees a small gift basket when they hit their first, fifth, or ten-year anniversary at the company.
- Celebrations of milestones: Employees are publicly recognized for their achievements over Zoom or in a chat forum.
Tools to Help Build a Strong Remote Work Culture
There are many tools available to help organizations build a strong remote work culture. Here are just a few popular at the time of this writing.
Tools for Communication
- Slack is a common and user-friendly tool for communicating quickly across teams and workspaces.
- Microsoft Teams is used to chat, video or audio conference, and collaborate with team members.
- Staffbase is an app for internal communication.
- Zoom is a video-conferencing platform that also has chat features.
- GoTo is a platform for communicating and collaborating in a virtual work environment.
Tools for Connecting and Having Fun
- Quizbreaker is a tool for helping teams connect and engage with each other.
- GoGame is a team-building tool where people can connect, learn, and play.
- Kahoot is a forum where people can play quiz games and collaborators can even make their own quizzes.
Tools for Collaborating
- Monday.com is a collaboration forum where employees can share projects, goals, assignments and timelines in real time.
- Zoho is project-management software for team collaboration.
- Sharepoint is a tool for sharing information, content, and other resources throughout an organization.
Tools for Recognition
- Culture Cloud is a collection of recognition tools by O.C. Tanner.
- Bonusly allows users to celebrate each other and share recognition.
- Assembly gives cultures a boost through a recognition program.
- WorkTango is a software program that helps employees support each other towards goals and recognize each other.
- Awardco is a vendor that allows employees to give shout outs to their peers and leaders.
- Nectar is a recognition platform known for building community.
Examples of Great Remote Work Cultures
Many companies have made the move to remote work and developed a thriving culture. Let’s take a look at a few examples that have been listed as a top remote company to work for.
Zapier is a technology company where employees work remotely. Some of the culture-related practices that set them apart include their home office stipend, two annual company retreats, and unlimited vacation days. They have embraced flexible schedules and the virtual environment to create a fun culture of communication and celebration.
Automattic is a completely remote software company. They offer career coaching, sabbaticals, and an annual week-long in-person event for bonding and connecting with one another. They also refer to their team members as “Automatticians,” which helps increase employee’s sense of shared identity within the organization.
Ghost is a publishing platform with an entirely remote workforce. Some of their appealing practices include focus time, which is set aside to be meeting-free; the last Friday of every month off; and a workspace budget. They also focus on hiring individuals who work well as a team rather than trying to find top individual performers. This enhances their culture of collaboration.
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Rae has acquired HR experience in team leadership, research, training, recruiting, project management, and mentoring upcoming HR professionals. She is fascinated by workplace culture and the many implications it has on the world of business, especially HR. When possible, she seeks out opportunities to expand her knowledge and give back to her community.