It’s no secret that a well-defined and carefully curated work culture is a fundamental part of the long-term sustenance and success of any organisation. In fact, several research studies endorse that positive company culture improves productivity, business profitability, and enhances the overall experience of employees.
What Is Company Culture?
The highly subjective and specific nature of what culture means to various organisations makes it tricky to generalise and define. Simply put, culture is the experience that your employees have working at your organisation or with your team.
As Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, says “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion”. In Schein’s Culture Model, “artifacts and behaviors” play a crucial role in defining healthy work culture within organisations.
Why is company culture essential for remote work?
Working remotely was a gradually rising concept until COVID-19 enforced all organisations to abandon their offices and adopt remote work almost overnight. And since building work culture is a critical part of business success and employee experience, maintaining a vibrant and healthy work culture is of prime importance for fully distributed teams.
The challenge of building or maintaining positive company culture in a remote team is furthered given the fact that there is no common office design or shared experiences or discussions. These little nuances add to the unique flavor and texture of corporate culture for organisations with a physical presence.
In a remote work situation, the idea of building culture has to evolve. Values and commitments need to be at the forefront for both, the organisation and the employees..
How to communicate effectively in remote teams?
For any remote team to work successfully, interaction and communication are key. Here are the best practices to ensure that positive work culture is maintained during remote communication:
Make team meetings inclusive
Team meetings need to be much more than logging on to a pre-scheduled Skype or Zoom call to discuss status updates and weekly goals. Team meetings must be used as a medium to get all your team members to share their thoughts, opinions, and to clarify any confusions. Managers and team leaders must ensure that every member of the team is actively involved, and the overall morale is heightened during every team meeting.
As a best practice, it’s advisable that all team meetings should be video calls. Not only does this help team members see each other, but it also ensures that every participant is focused on and contributing to the meeting.
It’s also important to use a team communication tool or app that matches the culture you are trying to create. Since most of your communications will take place within an app, it needs to convey a positive vibe that your team can associate with and enjoy. You can also use multiple team communication apps to help build a stronger work culture.
WhatsApp group chats are great for sharing memes and inside jokes, which will help build comradeship outside of work. Whereas Slack can be reserved for formal work conversations and Zoom can be the de-facto team conference call platform.
Foster creative one-on-one meetings
One-on-one chats and meetings are more likely to be neglected in a remote work setup. There’s no scope for random chats in the pantry or catching up in the elevator. Come up with creative ways to ensure your employees and team members still connect with each other on a one-to-one basis.
Connect two random members of your team and allow them some casual “getting to know” each other time on a weekly or monthly basis. Doing this will help strengthen team bonds.
Individual work-related conversations should be promoted between members. These conversations should be calendared with a specific agenda so members can discuss and share opinions that they would otherwise refrain from sharing in a team setting. These one-to-one conversations can help employees better express their thoughts and ideas.
How to build culture and teamwork in remote teams?
Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” And in a remote work setup, getting to transform employees from mere colleagues into teammates can be a bit unnerving.
It’s safe to say then that the process of creating a positive and healthy work culture begins much before a team is formed. Your company needs to have certain processes and systems in place to dictate the culture created.
So, what do you do? How do you build culture and a strong sense of teamwork when your team is not sharing a common physical space?
Here’s how you can build culture and promote teamwork in remote teams:
Define your company’s values and communicate it
Writing down the values and ethics of your company is a great way to dictate the direction your company culture takes. The idea is to create meaningful company values that boost overall corporate culture for your company. Simplify your company’s values in a clear and articulate fashion.
Document these values and share them with remote team members, both old and new. The values should clearly mention the company’s expectations from team members, how the team and individual performance is measured, and how employees are assessed for being a cultural fit. Every little detail that adds to the overall values and culture of the company should be included.
This company culture document should be revisited and reassessed in co-relation to the growth of the company. The document should be shared with employees from time to time to reinforce the culture-standards your company aims to meet.
Openly welcome new employees to the team
Just like you would do in a physical office space, welcome new employees on a team meeting, on a group chat, or on a collective email. Include the new members’ contact credentials along with an introduction about where they worked before, their hobbies, and prompt your team members to initiate a conversation with them.
Encourage new team members to speak in the team meetings and to schedule one-on-one conversations. The former will boost morale and give confidence to new hires about their role in the company, whereas the latter will help new hires understand who does what in their team and get to know people on a personal level.
Keep communication channels open
Open and clear communication channels not only promote the concept of transparency, but they also foster a layer of confidence in the minds of your team members. Make team meetings about receiving constructive feedback and open discussions. Everyone should have an opportunity to share their thoughts without being judged or ridiculed.
Typically, casual and laid-back group conversations that are agenda-oriented make for a good team conversation. Your team members should look forward to these conversations and actively participate.
Pre-decide communication tools and methods
It’s imperative to chalk out which communication tools to use beforehand. Team calls can be done on Zoom or Google Hangouts, whereas Slack can be the go-to enterprise productivity chat app. Email can be used for serious announcements, follow-ups, and for sharing important information, whereas Google Drive or Dropbox can be used to share and communicate files and docs.
These communication expectations and tools need to be decided in advance and communicated with all new hires as well as older team members if there is confusion.
Communicate, then communicate some more!
Quite simply, your remote work culture will fail if you get your communication wrong. Get on a call with your team members every week or fortnight to understand them better and to show them that you have their backs. Offer them mentorship by getting them to speak about their experiences and issues at work and come up with ways to solve any bottlenecks in a convenient way.
Conduct as many video calls as possible, so you can see your team members and convey your emotions and thoughts better. Body language helps improve communication and seeing each other enables understanding reactions and expressions a lot better. Encourage your team members to conduct their one-one-one calls via video, too.
Stay active on all communication platforms and be prompt with your responses. Let the team know that you are available to them for the most part of the day (depending on time zone restrictions). In addition to this, indulge in virtual team building activities like “share your bucket list” or “a peek into my home”.
Offer equal respect to all employees
A great way to build culture is to offer equal respect to employees of all segments of seniority and also across in-house employees and freelancers. On a team call or a group chat, it is essential to always speak with every employee respectfully.
Any biases based on seniority or status of employment will not bode well for your company culture. For instance, if you are on a Slack group chat discussing the redesign idea for a web page with your in-house marketing manager and a freelance web designer, it’s important to speak with both respectfully and let both be heard equally. Any prejudices will hamper the sustenance of a healthy culture.
Send over company schwag and merchandise to employees
Whether a new hire or a veteran, an in-house employee or a freelancer, it’s always a good idea to share your company’s merchandise with all your team members. Not only does this foster culture and a sense of motivation at home, but it also builds team spirit when everyone wears the same t-shirts on a group video call.
The role of culture training when hiring freelance talent
If you spearhead a remote team or want to add temporary remote members, it is essential to first evaluate the cultural fit of freelance candidates. Best practices indicate interviewing candidates to uncover personality traits and look for entrepreneurial spirit. Check if the candidate can communicate clearly or if they understand their craft well enough or not.
While these are common strategic tips, you may want to consider this guide on how to hire a freelance developer to build your team. However, it’s important to evaluate the cultural fit of freelancers during the hiring process. This requires a keen, almost peculiar eye for detail and attention.
As a manager and team leader, you need to look for personality traits that will vary depending on the candidate, the role, team size, among other factors. Having said that, if candidates meet all requirements and are on-boarded, culture training can help to make them better fit in the team.
Not only can frequent training build stronger team rapports, but well-organised, and intuitive online training can also vastly help unify remote team members. The key is to ensure that all team members have an opportunity to work with one and other.
Another important aspect of culture training is the communication of the company’s value document mentioned above. This will help new team members get a taste of what the company is like.
For any company, the ability to create and maintain a healthy work culture is one of the essential components of longevity and success. This applies both to remote teams and in-house teams.
By clearly establishing your company’s values, communicating those values, taking care of your employee’s work-life balance, providing mentorship and guidance to them, creating a sense of teamwork and comradeship, encouraging employees to share leadership of their projects, providing meaningful online training, and investing in virtual team building activities helps to build a strong and positive work culture among remote teams.
When hiring freelancers or building a remote team, it’s critical to check if the candidates make for a good cultural fit for your team. Your values and ability to communicate clearly are the founding stones of positive work culture that binds your remote organisation together. A healthy corporate culture will result in a motivated team of employees that will deliver unprecedented success to your organisation.
About the Author
Romy enjoys writing about human resources, interior design, and business development. Online marketing and PR are the core of her work experience. When not in front of a back lit device, she likes to read psychology books, take photos and listen to music.