You might think after two years of a pandemic, we’d all know how to make remote work, well, work for us. But with every company taking its own approach to remote and hybrid work culture, it can be hard to figure out which strategies are best for your team.
Whether your company has already embraced the work-from-home model, or is still transitioning to a fully remote workforce, developing a strong remote work culture is key to employee engagement, retention, and mental health.
With the right mix of virtual meetings and face-to-face activities, remote companies can build a strong company culture while supporting their employees.
Here’s everything you need to know about remote work culture, and what you can do to build trust and a sense of belonging across distributed teams.
What is remote work culture?
First, what is remote work culture? Most of us know what organizational culture is: a set of shared norms and company values that employees follow.
Some aspects of an organization’s culture might be clearly spelled out in its work policies, but it also comes through in social settings like team-building activities and happy hours.
A company’s workplace culture can have a big impact on the work environment. For example, one company may encourage a healthy work-life balance by encouraging team members to take time off and leave work by a certain hour. Another may ask everyone to stay at work until every task is completed, even if it means working into the evening.
Remote culture is really just an extension of an organization’s culture, updated for the world of virtual work. It might include more flexible work hours, ways to bond with remote team members, or asynchronous communication.
Companies that take the initiative to create their remote work culture are more likely to have a cohesive team and workplace camaraderie than those who continue business as usual and assume that the same rules still apply.
Types of remote workers
Before we go any further, let’s consider what modern remote work looks like. While in-person workers may assume remote employees lie in bed all day or work from the beach, the reality is a lot more complex.
Here are three different types of remote workers you might encounter as part of your remote work team:
Employees who work from home
According to “The Economist,” the pandemic drove a massive increase in the number of Americans working from home. Many of them have wanted to continue with this setup, as people enjoy skipping long commutes, being able to care for their children or family during the work day, or simply having a quieter, calmer work environment.
That said, working from home isn’t right for everyone, especially those who don’t have a dedicated home office or enjoy connecting with team members face-to-face. Some of these remote workers may prefer a hybrid work culture in which they come to the office at least a few days per week.
Digital nomads get a lot of press due to their ability to set up their “office” in any city, country, or even beach that has a great WiFi signal.
Some digital nomads have a home base, but others may travel continuously or spend long periods with family and friends. Taxes and time zones can present some issues, but a thorough remote work policy can mitigate these risks.
Employees who relocate
A third category of remote workers are those who choose to permanently relocate to a new city or region, usually for a better quality of life or a lower cost of living. The rate of people leaving urban areas increased in 2020, as employees decided to keep their jobs, but move to more affordable parts of the country.
Challenges of remote work culture
Whether the transition to a remote work culture is coming from the top down or from employees themselves, there are a few obstacles to be aware of. Here are three major challenges to creating an engaging, positive remote work culture:
Lack of camaraderie
Look, we’re not exactly pining for the days of watercooler conversations about the latest episode of “Lost” or “Game of Thrones”. But we’ll be the first to admit that sharing meeting memes in a Slack channel just isn’t the same.
A shift to remote work can lead to reduced camaraderie unless an organization makes a concerted effort to create opportunities for team members to connect.
Navigating fair pay in the workplace is already hard enough. But as remote employees move to areas with a lower cost of living, some companies have tried to pay them less – and received pushback for this decision due to its impact on morale.
Compensation disparities can lead to resentment if employees feel they’re getting paid differently for the same work based on where they live. Remote companies may also have to contend with complex tax laws if their employees move from one state to another, or spend time working in multiple states.
The onboarding process is one of the most important opportunities to impart company values to new employees. But new hires who are observational learners may have a harder time picking up on workplace expectations and social cues if they don’t get to meet their colleagues in real life.
And without an in-person connection, it may be harder for employers to recognize them for great work, as their day-to-day contributions fade into the (virtual) background.
How to build a strong remote work culture
These challenges aren’t a reason not to shift to remote work – after all, even fully in-person companies can run into problems with company culture. It’s just a reminder of how important it is to specifically address remote work issues.
Here are five ways your company can navigate remote work challenges:
1. Define your remote work policies
First, create remote work policies that are a match for your existing company culture. Do you currently offer unlimited PTO, and if so, how will that apply when everyone is working from outside the office? Will you take a page out of Portugal’s handbook and discourage emails outside of business hours?
The number of hours that employees are expected to be online, what kind of attire is acceptable on Zoom calls, and even whether kids and dogs can hang out in the background, can all speak to your remote work culture.
2. Use onboarding to discuss remote tools and policies
Your onboarding process for new employees is a great chance to teach new hires your company values through online workshops or an interactive handbook. You can also discuss your remote work policies like how to use virtual meeting etiquette, when to be online, and how to set your Slack status when you’re away from your desk.
During this process, make sure that new employees have all of the tools they need to be comfortable, and consider providing a stipend for home office expenses.
3. Make time to connect
Even if you have flexible work hours, designate hours when team leads will be available for one-on-one conversations. This can help make sure everyone gets the guidance, support, and connection they need. Generally, make sure to schedule team meetings with multiple time zones in mind so no one has to wake up at 5 a.m.
Also, remember that remote workers can also meet face-to-face. Schedule an in-person retreat at least once a year, and encourage team members to meet up for social outings when possible.
4. Plan remote team-building activities
If your employees are used to fun team-building activities like karaoke nights or escape room outings, those don’t have to come to an end just because you’re all geographically dispersed. Some of these activities can easily be continued in an online format – think virtual happy hours and scavenger hunts.
Be sure to dedicate a couple of Slack channels for non-work-related topics like birthday wishes and pet pics, or watch a movie together using a simulcast app.
5. Use effective collaboration tools
When everyone is working remotely, old-fashioned communication tools like emails and phone calls just won’t cut it. You may need more advanced tools for scheduling, video conferencing, time-tracking, and note-taking.
Make sure your employees have access to all of the collaboration tools they need, even if they cost more or take time to implement. You can easily replicate sticky notes and Kanban boards with digital alternatives, such as these project management tools.
With the right tools, your employees will always be able to do their best work, whether they work from home, the office, or a co-working space.
Remote meetings call for great notes
Remote work has grown significantly since the beginning of the pandemic, and it shows no signs of stopping. But an effective transition to a remote workforce requires a strong remote work culture that reflects company values and communicates work policies.
With remote work, getting things in writing is more important than ever. So why not let Anchor AI take notes for you? Our automated note-taking tool will provide you with a time-stamped transcript of interviews, face-to-face meetings, and Zoom calls.