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Both employees (88%) and employers (94%) agree that distinct workplace culture is key to business success. Companies all over the world are investing and dedicating time and effort to building a strong culture in their team. However, as one of the major fallouts of the pandemic, the world is moving to a remote setup. The Global State of Remote Work report had already noted that 68% of the employees across the world worked remotely in 2019. Given the situation now, this number is like to increase tenfold in the near future.

While teams are busy getting accustomed to working remotely, it is also imperative for business leaders to build a strong culture as their teams work in a remote setup. Yes, it can be a little challenging. Work remotely already brings a lot of infrastructural and managerial issues. But oftentimes, a great value-system in the company can help in overcoming these issues. To make this a little easier for you, here are some tips and activities that you can follow in a remote setup in order to imbibe a positive culture and value system in your team.

Be vocal about your values

While you’d already have a set of values for your organization, they become difficult to communicate as your team moves to a remote setup. This is where it becomes vital to document your remote culture in an articulate, inspiring form so that it can reach your remote team. A document or any record of your cultural values and expectations comes in handy when you hire new members remotely. It ensures that your new hires are clear about expectations, know how their performance is measured and what belief systems the company operates with.

Companies today are not just documenting their culture and values for their employees but also making them public. One of the most popular examples of this is Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility slides that CEO and Founder, Reed Hastings, published back in 2009. It talks about their core values: Freedom and Responsibility and why they chose them above fancy words like Integrity and Excellence. It even goes on to talk about other values and what actions align with each of them including communication, innovation, and more. Even Hubspot’s Culture Code and the Grammarly Way are great examples of culture decks that you could take inspiration from.

Empower your team with the right tools

Culture and performance are closely related. If your employees don’t get the right work environment to perform to the best of their abilities, your culture-building efforts will reap no fruits. In an office setup, communication, task management, collaboration, and brainstorming are much easier and seamless. On the other hand, when you switch to remote work, you need to build adequate channels. When you do that, you can use an online whiteboard for brainstorming sessions. Not just that, you must provide relevant tools to your team members to work and collaborate smoothly.

Trello and Slack are the most widely used collaborative tools used by most companies today. While Trello helps you with project management, Slack allows you to communicate and work together on these projects. You can integrate your Trello with Slack and get updates on the progress of work efficiently. Apart from these, working remotely also requires you to use teleconferencing software like Google Meet, Zoom, or Skype.

These may seem pretty obvious tools to use. But, it is important that the same tools are used across teams for easier collaboration. So, you need to set these as standard in your remote work guidelines. For instance, you can’t have your dev team using Trello for project management, and your content team using Notion. That way, there’d just be too many tools for you to take care of and team building would go down the drain.

Set clear expectations 

“Exceptional leaders are fearless in setting expectations in clear language.”, says Alan Willett, a leadership coach who guides leaders and organizations towards world-class performance. You may have set concrete channels for communication and collaboration. However, it is crucial that you clearly state which channel is to be used for what communication. You cannot take it for granted that your employees would ‘obviously know’ the right channel for each topic.

For instance, you must be clear that all leaves or legal matters must be communicated over emails. Similarly, point out that casual team catch-ups and updates can be communicated via Slack or Zoom.

This not only reduces confusion about what to send where but also ensures that your new members are brought up to speed faster. Your new hire need not mail their manager asking where to upload the projects, Drive or Dropbox.

Clear expectations also mean defining availability on each of these tools. For instance, using Slack is futile if your team members are not online at a particular time. Remote work allows people to work according to their convenient work hours. However, you can set definite overlapping time periods for your team to be readily available for active communication. All these are tiny but crucial steps in building a more cohesive and collaborative workplace.

Make room for beyond work activities in a remote culture

A downside of remote work is that it takes away spaces for your team members to bond and relax. Basically, it leaves no room for the “water-cooler effect”. There’s literally no water cooler for your employees to gather around and chat. Nor do they share lunch breaks or evening tea-breaks together to share and hang out. This takes away the possibility of them building bonds and friendships and limits all conversations to work.

A good place to start is to add certain channels or spaces for non-work banter. For instance, you can have Slack channels that people that share common interests can join like #Football Fanatics, #Potterheads, etc. You can also include channels where people can share content/resources beyond work. For instance, channels like #mustwatchonNetflix or #bingenext can become spaces for people to have virtual ‘water-cooler’ conversations.

Additionally, you can set virtual meetings for non-work communication as well. This includes everything ranging for a Pictionary hour to virtual Tea-parties and online Zumba classes for your team to take part in.

Don’t let silos creep into your remote workspaces

Working remotely is isolating and people can often feel left out and disengaged. Over time, these results and teams working as silos taking away all possibilities of overall remote culture building in your company. To avoid this, you need to ensure that there are spaces for people to interact and know one another beyond their work and project teams.

An excellent way to build inter-team bonding is to ensure company-wide virtual celebrations which brings everyone together. Everything from on-boarding for new members to rewarding existing members should be done with the entire workforce and not it isolation.

A new member of the team feels more belonged when they are introduced to everyone. They also get to know whom to go to for different issues they may face in their journey ahead. On the other hand, celebrating achievements (or even birthdays!) of different members with the whole team not only instills inspiration in the rest to perform better but also allows them to take a break from work.

Test the waters regularly

Lastly, as important it is to invest time and efforts in remote culture building, it is equally necessary to measure the effectiveness of these efforts. Include a formal quarterly survey, a monthly email status update from every team member, or employee pulse surveys really to know the general employee sentiment at any given time.

Slack has Happy at Work integration that allows you to ‘continuously measure employee satisfaction and stress levels in your organization and respond to negative trends before they cause problems.’

We hope these tips, tools, and activities can help you build a strong, positive culture at your organization.

In The End: Focus on Results

Remember, building culture takes time, effort, and consistency. The key is to focus on driving results. As Phil Montero, Director, Events, and Field Marketing at Model N state, “Remote management is not radically different from managing people on-site. The biggest difference is a shift in management style from “eyeball management” (assuming workers are being productive because you physically see them at their desks working) to managing by results.”