Although the exact definition of a workplace culture may be different in your company, most business leaders realize the importance of creating a strong and positive culture. A positive culture leads to more creative, happy and productive team members, and more importantly, it also helps everyone work together as one cohesive unit.
But, how can you achieve this when you have employees scattered across the world? Well, just because they’re not physically together doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, if you use the following techniques, you’ll be able to successfully create a vigorous workplace culture for your virtual employees.
Be patient — not everyone is built for remote work.
Here’s a reality check. Not everyone is cut out for remote work. That means in a perfect world, you hire those who can. It can be a lengthy process after scooping out candidates on sites like Toptal, Upwork or FlexJobs. After that, you want to screen potential hires and review samples of their work.
Then, make sure that they have access to all of the tools and resources needed to do their jobs. They should also have been trained in how to use whatever technology you’re relying on for communication and collaboration. And make sure that you are available to guide them and have deployed tech support when needed.
Most importantly? Be patient with them. It’s going to take some time to figure everything out, like how to set up their home offices and block out distractions.
Establish or refine your company’s values.
The foundation of a strong workplace culture is the values that it’s built on. Having cool perks like cereal bars and unlimited time off are well and good, but it’s your values that unite teams, keep them focused and create a positive and productive environment.
Gitlab, one of the world’s largest all-remote team, has six values that have helped the company thrive:
- Collaboration “where any team member can approach any other team member to learn, seek input, or ask for advice.” Additionally, feedback and encouraging everyone to contribute are also a part of Gitlab’s culture.
- Results that “focus on rewarding outputs rather than inputs.”
- Efficiency means grating autonomy while expecting employees to be held accountable by documenting everything.
- Diversity and inclusion are necessary since you’re working with people from all over the world. As such, you need to be respectful and empathic to others.
- Iteration is “encouraging small steps and empowering individuals to propose a minimum viable change.”
- Transparency is straightforward. Keep employees in the loop and provide feedback on where improvements need to take place.
“To be effective, and to impact the culture in an ongoing, meaningful, sustainable way, values must be more than words written on a page,” note the Gitlab team. “Values must be lived, with each day representing a new opportunity to re-familiarise oneself with said values and strive to implement them in every professional interaction.”
Create psychological safety.
At some point, we’ve all been here before. We see a disaster approaching, but instead of speaking up, we remain silent. The reason? We just didn’t feel safe enough to engage.
How can you prevent this within your organization? By promoting psychological safety.
“A culture of psychological safety enables employees to be engaged,” writes Jake Herway for Gallup. “They can take risks and experiment” and “express themselves without the fear of failure or retribution.”
“Juxtapose this type of culture with one where employees feel too intimidated to speak up or share a new idea,” adds Herway. “It’s hard to imagine these employees can mentally allow themselves to be engaged at work.”
As a leader, here are some ways that you can make your team members feel safe:
- Be open about your own weaknesses and past mistakes.
- Encourage feedback and questions — just make sure to also take action on it.
- Instead of penalising employees for mistakes, use it as a learning experience.
- During virtual meetings ask quieter attendees what their opinions are.
- Make time to check in on your team members individually so that you can help them resolve any issues, like handling a toxic colleague or fear of speaking publicly.
Prioritise meaningful work.
Some remote workers respond to every message, take-on new assignments, and seem to be working 24/7. Their reasoning? Well, firstly, they want to give the impression that they’re actively engaged. Secondly, they don’t have that hard line between work and life.
If they were in an office, others could actually see when they’re hard at work. And, when the clock strikes 5, or whatever time signals the end of the workday, they leave and go home.
The problem with this is that your remote team may be working too much. They may also be wasting time working on the wrong things at the wrong time.
Make sure that they’re not falling into the urgency trap. It’s the best way to ensure that they’re spending their time and energy on meaningful work. How they decide to do this is up to them. But you could suggest:
- Eating the frog first by doing their hardest or most important work in the morning.
- Focusing only on the most critical tasks for the day.
- Using the Eisenhower Matrix to separate the important from the urgent.
- Prioritising daily tasks using the Ivy Lee Method.
- Assigning values to tasks with the ABCDE Method.
- Following the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule.
- Creating time blocks in their calendar for specific tasks.
Forge rituals and traditions.
Rituals and traditions bring family and friends closer together, and they do the same for teams. Besides building stronger bonds, these can provide structure, improve morale and communication and gives team members a sense of belonging. To have a conversation, and especially to instill that belonging, is essential, considering remote workers struggle with loneliness.
Examples could be starting each meeting with acknowledging a team member who crushed it this past week or what everyone is grateful for. You could also have bi-weekly virtual parties to celebrate accomplishments, birthdays, anniversaries. Heck, you could make up your own company holiday or take the day off and go volunteering once a month.
If you want to have a positive and productive culture, then you need to trust your team. That means not focusing on the hours that they’re working and mentoring them through keystrokes or time-tracking apps. Instead, pay attention to their output and.
Moreover, don’t be a micromanager. Clearly communicate your guidelines and expectations and then let them take the ball and run with it. Don’t think that this is an issue? Well, according to Tolero Solutions, “45 percent of people say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance.”
Encourage casual conversations.
Informal encounters, like having lunch or taking breaks together, aren’t as common among remote workers. And that’s a shame, because casual get-togethers strengthen workplace relationships.
Thankfully, because of technology, you can still encourage casual conversations. For example, you could have various Slack channels where your employees can discuss their favourite topics like music, movies, food or pets. You could also plan for virtual lunches or after-hour events like movie nights or online game challenges.
Recognise and reward your team.
“Employees rely on recognition and rewards to ensure they’re on the right track,” Nicole Fallon writes for the U.S Chamber of Commerce. “Praise and acknowledgment instill confidence that ultimately improve performance, retention, and overall satisfaction.”
“Real-time recognition for employee achievements can be as simple as a public or team-wide ‘thank you’ for a job well done,” adds Fallon. “Many companies have Slack channels for recognizing employees, and some even adopt digital platforms like Bonusly or YouEarnedIt to tie it to tangible rewards.”
Other options would be sending e-gift cards, healthy snacks, office essentials, vacation time or learning opportunities to those who have been exceptional at their jobs. Personally, you should get to know each of your team members so that you can give them a reward that they really want.
This article was first published in Entrepreneur.