Building Culture Remotely

Shawnee Love   •   February 26, 2021

With us coming up to a year anniversary of this pandemic, the immense changes to how we work are starting to feel more comfortable. The triaging has diminished and that opens up room for employers to think about fostering their culture in this new circumstance of hybrid and completely remote work environments. This blog is focused on how employers can build culture when they have a significant proportion of their employees working remotely some or all of the time.

In this endeavour, the tech industry led the way although it is very different building culture among people who applied and were hired knowing they would be working remotely than to build culture among people forced to work remotely (even if those “forced” are finding joy in some aspects of not having to be at their employer’s location every day).

Regardless, the principles are the same, and I hope to lay them out here:

  • Communication: Communication is always number one. Future blogs will talk more about what to communicate, so I can focus on how to communicate here. With respect to how to communicate, beyond consistently, continually, and clearly, it is also important to do it in a variety of ways. Sometimes a quick text or direct message to check in, other times with a longer phone call or video conference. Group sessions and one on one as well. Additionally, culture is communicated every day by how you interact with your people and how you behave and permit them to behave, and reward and recognize them. Through intentional communications you gain the opportunity to translate the behaviours and connect them with the culture you want to create. Warning: What you communicate has to match how the organization behaves. So if caring about people is part of your culture (and I bet it is because why else would you be reading this blog), you show it by reaching out and sharing information via a variety of methods (in particular the ones your employees prefer).
  • Shared Purpose: Hiring employees who connect with what you do means they are already aligned with the job and company. As their manager, your task is to keep the purpose alive for them when it can get lost in the weeds of daily tasks, meetings, and calls.  You can keep your team connected to the mission with reminders about what you are doing and why, as well as by setting and talking about goals.  Employees who are working towards the same goals feel more connected as a team. Further, recognizing and celebrating the team’s progress and achievements on those goals will also bring the team together.
  • Have Fun: Fun is different for every team, and it is the manager’s job to ensure the fun hasn’t stopped simply because people aren’t in the same room.
  • Encourage “Water Cooler” Chats: I don’t know about you, but I find myself joining a meeting at the assigned time and if there is an agenda and schedule (as we are told to have for a productive meeting), we often jump right in to the task at hand. Add in zoom fatigue and the fact that many have a hard cap on their availability because of another meeting, and we are products of efficiency in our online meeting efforts. However, the necessary focus on the topic at hand in the meeting means there isn’t time for the socializing that used to occur before and after an in person session.  I miss the opportunity to have a chat in the hall or when grabbing coffee or water on the way to these meetings with people I don’t work with everyday. These informal chats were part of how people connected and built rapport. To close this vacuum, managers need to build these “water cooler” chat opportunities back into the workday.

This topic is really important to managers today, so I invite dialogue . If you have additional methods or means to build culture in remote teams, please share your ideas by commenting or find me on twitter or linked in. And come back over the next couple weeks for blogs which dive into these four principles in more detail.