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With the onset of coronavirus, 88% of the organizations worldwide encouraged their employees to work from home. Companies suddenly had to shift their operations to a remote setup, irrespective of whether they were prepared for it. 

However, the pandemic only accelerated a growing trend. The Global State of Remote Work 2018 report revealed that 52% of global employees were already working remotely once a week, and 68% did so at least once per month.

Not just that, back then, 55% of businesses globally offered work-from-home in some capacity to their employees. And these numbers have only increased in the past two years. 

This upward trend can be attributed to the fact that today’s employees prefer the flexibility that remote work offers. A Softchoice study stated that 74% of workers would switch jobs for the opportunity to work off-site more often.

All said and done, even though remote work is a popular demand by employees, it does present challenges for employers, especially in terms of building company culture. 

How does remote work affect company culture?

As teams work remotely, keeping the workforce engaged and productive while ensuring seamless collaboration and communication can be a challenge for business leaders everywhere. Plus, it's important to have a remote employee returning equipment policy in place for maintaining organizational assets and security protocols.

Work-silos start building up

First of all, while trying to build a culture in a distributed team, the biggest stumbling block that most leaders face is work-silos. In a silos mentality, team members become reluctant to share information and communicate beyond their division.  In an on-site setup, your employees are more likely to have water-cooler conversations, cafeteria chats, hallway banter, and parking lot discussions with their colleagues beyond just work-talk.

These go a long way in expectation-setting. A new hire in the company would learn faster about your company’s performance standards and communication protocol from their teammates than they would ever through a manual. 

Not just individual employees, but teams also get siloed, and eventually, interactions become limited within a person’s own project team and/or department. That way, culture building on a large scale goes for a toss. 

Employees start feeling disengaged and isolated

Not just team building but employee engagement also can go downhill in a distributed workforce.

The social interactions that employees have at their workplace are directly linked to how engaged and satisfied they are with their company. 

As a matter of fact, 15 million employees say that having a best friend at work makes them seven times better at “engaging customers, and producing higher quality work”,  as compared to those without. On the other hand, only 1 out of every 12 employees without a work buddy feel engaged at work. 

When employees move to a remote setup, fostering meaningful relationships becomes difficult. There’s less room for quick chats, shared lunches, and tea-breaks to bond over. As a result, loneliness and isolation creep in. According to the State of Remote Work Report 2020, employees find loneliness as their biggest structure with remote work tied with collaboration and communication. 

With disengaged employees, disconnected teams, and disjointed efforts - remote work can become a culture nightmare for you. So, what can you do? Well, one way to go about it is to return to onsite operations as soon as possible (with all safety measures!). However, considering the brightest talent out there desires the flexibility to work from home, wouldn’t it be better to combat these challenges than just to give up on building a remote culture? 

How to make remote work, work!

Consistent check-ins with your employees

As a leader, it is important for you to understand where your team members are, what they’re experiencing, and what their expectations are from you. To do that, make regular one-on-one meetings with your team members a part of your remote culture. 

These check-ins should include:

  • Setting clear tasks and performance expectations.
  • Understanding employee struggles and concerns. 
  • Sharing business updates and the employee’s contribution to them. 
  • Appreciation and feedback on the employee’s performance. 

When leaders have direct conversations with their employees, they not only align their team to their business goals but also make the employees feel valued and appreciated.

Create spaces for non-work banter for your teams

Let’s just establish that you can’t completely rely on the default “random” channel on Slack to build a space for non-work banter for your team. It takes a lot more effort than that to build a fun, nurturing environment where your employees feel safe to share and communicate with one another. A good place to start is by adding interest focussed channels on Slack where employees can share their love for a shared topic like #FootballLover or #Potterheads or #Memers. 

In addition to that, there are innumerable team-building activities like Pictionary, team quizzes, and even open mics that can be organized virtually to foster healthy bonds amongst your team members.

In the end

As Brian Chesky, Co-Founder, CEO, Airbnb, rightly said, “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.”

Culture is a mindset that you build in your team to deliver the best. So, whether you operate on-site, or remotely shouldn't affect your culture as long as your employees have the right enablers to work with and the right goals to work towards.