Now that people have experienced working from their homes, professional life has changed completely. According to a Glassdoor survey, three out of four office workers would consider company culture before applying for a job. In another survey by People Management, nearly 50% of employees reported that they would consider quitting if they weren’t allowed flexible working options. This means that having the option to work from home is no longer a perk, but a requirement.
So employers are now finding ways to scale company culture amongst their distributed teams. They are strategizing on how to integrate new employees, build lasting bonds, and reimagine rituals and ceremonies in an entirely virtual world.
But culture isn’t built overnight. It takes constant effort from the leadership, HR, and the employees themselves. The first step is to acknowledge that companies can no longer forge culture as they did in traditional offices. Businesses that have hybrid or remote jobs need to develop a transparent and productive work environment while giving employees a sense of belonging even when they are distributed across the globe.
What are remote and hybrid cultures?
Culture refers to the social order within the organization. It doesn’t always mean board games, a foosball table or pizza parties. It is the feeling that a new joiner experiences in their interactions with colleagues. The culture of a company shapes people’s attitudes and behaviors, and outlines what is encouraged, and discouraged within the organization. A remote culture is one that is digital, whereas a hybrid culture is one that has evolved across a distributed workforce over time.
Here are some examples of companies that managed to reinforce aspects of their culture during the shift to remote or hybrid work:
- Hotjar: The company hosts virtual team-building activities with fun ice breakers. These include Wednesday bonfires and “10 things about you” sessions where people can let in weird stories or fun facts during onboarding.
- IBM: The “Work from Home Pledge” described how employees should support each other in maintaining a work-life balance while working remotely, be sensitive to needs for family time, and stay socially connected (virtually).
- Alibaba: For Aliday, a day-long company celebration, the North American wing of the company hosted a remote quilt-making event. The idea was to create one quilt for each office and reinforce the value of community.
7 ways to build a strong company culture for remote employees
Without detracting from the strong ethos that your company has built over the years, here are 7 ways in which you can maintain a strong culture for remote teams.
1. Have a strong interview process
These days, as a hiring manager, you have to get a sense of an employee or team’s work ethic via Zoom, Slack, or email. So it is vital that you hire people who exemplify the same values that you hold and are excited to grow with your team. Make sure to ask prodding questions in the interview and gauge the extent to which they can be trained or need mentoring. If they seem inflexible, then they’re probably not the right fit. Other critical qualities of a great remote hire include the ability to communicate well (since everything is online), and prior experience working in distributed teams.
2. Be deliberate about culture
Create culture-building moments that celebrate people’s hard work and success in the organization. Consider hosting happy hours or breakfast sessions where people from the same industry (e.g.: product development) can discuss their challenges. Encourage team leads to give shout outs to people who perform well and go out of their way to align their actions with the company’s mission statement. Promote learning and wellness initiatives and allow people to take breaks to work on their passion projects. Be clear about your remote work policies such as if there are specific working hours, or if there’s a stipend to set up a home office.
3. Understand your employees
To really define your company’s cultural touchpoints, it’s important to define employee archetypes. Whether it’s a young person fresh out of grad school, someone who has just moved to a new city, or a parent of teenage children, each person might have different sets of needs. While designing your employee experience and culture, make sure to consider all types of personas. Get to really know your people and invest in mentorship.
4. Create an environment of trust and practice open communication
In a remote setup, you need to let go of the urge to assume the worst. Instead, believe in people and teams to get the job done. Avoid micromanaging and give team members autonomy. Most people can surprise you when they learn that their leaders have faith in them. Practising weekly huddles, regular 1:1s, and establishing set “office hours” can also help build trust and facilitate conversations. Use a performance management software where teams can collaborate, communicate and accomplish work within a unified virtual space.
5. Build team camaraderie
Since working remotely can lead to a sense of isolation, you can host events or activities to foster team spirit. Thanks to technology, it’s easy to host social events like trivia games or bartending classes. You could also have a separate chat channel for non-work-related anecdotes, pet photos, music, and memes. Teams could also build rituals such as sharing funny photos on people’s birthdays or naming projects after favorite Marvel characters.
6. Keep reviewing company culture
Culture can change over time. Spend some time reviewing your values and see if they still align with your organization’s current goals. Get feedback from your employees, find common suggestions or concerns, and then, focus on addressing them. Consider having sprints or workations where the entire team comes together. That way, you get a ground-up view of company culture.
7. Leaders lead the way
Keep in mind that to build a strong company culture, you need to start with the leaders. They need to actively take interest and participate in employee engagement efforts. When your leadership is trained to be committed to building culture, your company will be well ahead of the game.
Building a strong remote work culture where your people feel empowered to do their best is a process that might take time and effort. Whether you’re shifting to a hybrid model, or letting a single team work remotely, you need a good performance management tool to make the shift as seamless as possible. This can help you build your culture and create an environment of trust for your team!