According to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, 42% of the U.S. labor force is now working remotely. This trend has been on the rise for the last decade, but in the wake of the pandemic, many companies have had to scramble to convert to a remote workforce—to varying degrees of success.
For companies without the infrastructure or culture in place, the transition has been a little rocky. That’s why focusing on culture is more important than ever. When you proactively nurture your culture, you can bring the best parts of the office to life for workers behind the screen, and maintain an integrated and engaged team no matter where you are.
But that doesn’t happen overnight. You need buy-in, guidance, and a blueprint to bring it to life. The good news is we can get you started.
Building a remote culture isn’t easy, but it’s no longer a choice.
How to Cultivate Your Remote Culture
Remote work has plenty of benefits. You save on office space, can hire talent a greater diversity of talent without geographic restriction, etc. But keeping your team connected can be tough. To help realign your team, your first step is to examine the core pillars of your culture.
- Benefits + Perks (Compensation)
- Learning (Communication)
- Community (Socialization)
- Environment (Physical Space)
When you look at these pillars through the lens of your remote workforce, you can identify your strengths, weaknesses, and unique opportunities to support your team, cultivate connection, and create a better culture across your organization.
We know this work isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it. Having allowed people to work remotely since our early days, we’ve faced (and continue to face) the challenges of a distributed workforce. But we’ve also learned how to grow, adapt, and create a strong remote culture.
We want you to do the same, so here are some of the simple steps, tips, and ideas you can take to keep your team connected.
1) Benefits + Perks
While remote work is a benefit in itself, it doesn’t always feel like that. You might feel stir crazy sometimes, or you might struggle through a conference call while your toddler wreaks havoc on your improvised office. One of the marks of a great culture, remote or not, is making employees feel cared for, supported, and invested in. You can provide this through simple perks that make remote life easier.
- Deliver a lunch. Not having to worry about a meal is a great way to give people a break. Even if it’s an occasional treat, it’s a little gesture that says a lot. This is especially important if you have a mixed team where some people are in office and others aren’t. Extending these perks to remote workers makes them feel included.
- Offer subscriptions. Monthly goods or services are a simple way to ensure you’re investing in people regularly. Things like the Calm app, MasterClass, Audible, or Skillshare empower people to care for themselves and stay centered.
- Encourage time off. Boundaries between work and home life blur when you work from home. In some ways, this makes it even more important to have protected time to rest and regenerate. Creating a culture where people feel not just comfortable but encouraged to take those breaks is crucial to prevent burnout.
2) Learning (Communication)
One of the best things about remote work is that it allows for a lot of flexibility. But when you have teams working different hours, in different regions, on different projects, things can fall through the cracks or get lost in translation. Luckily, the tools we have for modern work make it easier to stay on the same page.
- Set expectations about availability. When you’re remote, there can be a lot of confusion about what you need to respond to, what your schedule is, and what’s expected of you. Each team is different, but making some ground rules can take the pressure to be available night and day off. For example, we’ve implemented Slack communication rules to respect people’s flow time. If they’ve added a specific emoji to their name, we don’t Slack them. (HomeSlice is a handy tool to identify and convert timezones, which is super useful for scheduling meetings or clarifying deadlines.)
- Have personal check-ins. When you’re working remotely, it’s easy to feel disconnected from other people on your team. Having one-on-one meeting time is more intimate and engaging. We encourage our team to keep cameras on in all video chats, as seeing the other person’s face also helps your interpersonal communication.
- Let departments share their work. Remote work happens behind a virtual wall. It’s likely that people outside your project team don’t know what you’re doing everyday—and you don’t know what they’re doing. Break down those walls by providing opportunities for individuals or teams to share their work, successes, and learnings with the larger group. This can be educational and inspiring, sparking more conversations and creativity.
- Acknowledge good work. No matter the job, everyone contributes to your company’s success in some way. Public awards, shoutouts, thank yous, gift cards, and words of affirmation are a great way to show remote employees that they’re seen—and appreciated by the larger team. (Note: Ask people how they preferred to be celebrated. They’ll appreciate it.)
Social interaction is one of the biggest advantages of working in an office. Those anecdotes, jokes, or passing conversations may seem insignificant, but they are often the hallmark of your culture. Preserving these dynamics, or creating space for them to happen remotely, is one of the biggest challenges—but also crucial to create a happy and engaged remote workforce.
- Make good intros. When a new employee joins the team, you want them to feel included from day one. Whether it’s via Slack, Zoom, or email, making public introductions helps newcomers feel seen and welcomed. For example, we introduce new employees to the whole company via email and include their answers to a few fun questions (e.g., What was your craziest job? What’s something you’re scared of but do anyway?). This lets them share a little bit about themselves—and gives us some immediate ice breakers to chat about.
- Encourage employee-generated content. Asking the whole group to contribute to something fun, silly, or playful is a great way to engage people and let them show off their creativity. Whether it’s sharing a pic of their pet, their favorite playlist, or tips on how to beat burnout, this is an easy way to encourage people to engage with each other. (As an added bonus, you may be able to turn some of that content into future culture marketing.)
- Create rituals and traditions. Consistency is really important to establish a sense of routine and normalcy. For this reason, little rituals can make a big difference. You might poll everyone on how they’re feeling at a morning meeting, ask a silly question to open up your town hall, or have a group send a themed care package to someone for their birthday. Handwritten notes are an especially meaningful physical token that transcends the digital space. Consider sending them to remote workers for birthdays, thank yous, or awards.
- Schedule social time. People crave social interaction, but they can’t always fit it into their work schedule. Designating (and protecting) that time helps your team form deeper bonds. These types of social opportunities can take the form of random coffee breaks (where you’re paired up on Zoom), all-team happy hours, or other team-building activities. This is also a great way to do activities inspired by your brand’s purpose and values. For example, we’re starting a book club to read Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be Anti-Racist.
Environment (Physical Space)
Depending on their setup, a remote employee’s workspace may be better or worse than the actual office. For many struggling to adapt, you can help by providing the devices, tools, software, or ergonomic furniture they need to do the job—and tips on how to improve their work-from-home life.
- Emphasize ergonomics. Taking care of your physical health is crucial, especially as we spend more time on screens. Provide guidelines about how to set up an ergonomic workspace. You can also incorporate more ergonomic practices into your remote culture (e.g., take a stretch break during meetings, schedule eye break reminders, etc.).
- Send office kits or provide decor stipends. A workspace should be functional, but it should also help you get in the zone. Fun (or even funny) decor kits can be a way to bring some levity to the work day. You can even turn it into a decorating challenge.
- Share workspace tours. This is a fun, playful way to give fellow employees a peek behind-the-scenes—or inspire ways to make your own workspace better.
- Encourage walk-and-talks. Sitting inside all day makes people feel crazy. Encourage people to use meeting time to go outside, get some sunshine, and move around.
We hope these ideas have inspired you, and we hope you’ll try a few—or share your own.