How to create a buzzing workplace culture when you’re working remotely
“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.”
Edgar Henry Schein, organisational psychologist
Ok, so that might sound like a bit of an overstatement. But when 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to success, how far-fetched is it really?
When vacancies are at an all-time high, creating an enticing workplace culture has never been more vital. Essentially, culture is the secret sauce that makes your business unique in a crowded marketplace; it attracts talent, drives engagement, increases happiness and boosts performance. On top of all this, it creates that sense of belonging which makes staff want to stick around.
Don’t take our word for it, though. The stats speak for themselves:
Research suggests that when employees feel like they belong in the workplace, they are:
- 9 times more likely to believe people are treated fairly — regardless of their race.
- 3 times more likely to look forward to coming to work.
- 3 times more likely to say their workplace is fun.
Culture’s a complete no-brainer then, right? Absolutely.
But how do you create a buzzing culture of belonging when you’re all working remotely?
Build a strategy (then get it documented)
Culture might sound cool and fluffy. But when there are no pool tables or pour-your-own-pints to hide behind, getting it right takes some serious strategy.
So where do you start?
Well, there isn’t a standard set of rules for creating remote culture — especially when every business and set of employees looks a little different. However, you can’t go wrong with these fundamentals:
Set clear expectations
Establish clear guidelines for work hours, deadlines and ways of communicating to ensure everyone’s on the same page. Being open and transparent about expectations from the offset can also stop that sense of imposter syndrome staff get from feeling in the dark.
Prioritise work-life balance
Over 65% of UK workers are currently feeling unhappy with their work-life balance. So it’s crucial to encourage remote employees to take breaks and establish clear boundaries between work and home life. Flexible work arrangements are a good place to start but we’ve got more ideas to promote healthier working habits here.
Establish clear communication channels
Use communication tools that allow team members to effortlessly communicate with each other. Instead of reinventing the wheel, use platforms they already feel comfortable to hang out and collaborate in. Then, encourage regular check-ins to maintain that sense of connection. Just don’t make it all about work.
Foster a sense of community
Be sure to create opportunities for team members to connect and socialise outside of work-related tasks. This can include virtual team-building activities, online game sessions or even a virtual coffee hour. But you don’t have to manage this yourself; use technology to stimulate the conversation.
“To continue growing our culture while working remotely, we built Cafe Bot, which automatically connects two people from across the company, schedules 15 minutes for them to meet and suggests a topic of conversation,” recommends Chris Aitchison Head of Technology Up in Slack’s Digital HQ Toolkit.
And example question is something like:
What achievement, personality trait or accomplishment are you most proud of and why? “This shines a light on what people value most,” says Aitchison.
Celebrate their achievements
Celebrate team successes and recognise individual contributions. Not sure what the best way to reward your team is? Then collect suggestions through online surveys and start motivating employees with what they really want. It’s a surefire way to build a positive team culture where people feel heard.
And their failures
You can’t always get things right — and that’s OK. Spotify teams have regular ‘Fail-fikas’ where staff grab a coffee, jump online and share their mistakes together. But Spotify isn’t the only organisation to do something similar; these types of activities are becoming a healthy way to build safer work cultures of learning. So be sure to celebrate those accidents as much as the achievements. We’re only human after all.
Provide support and resources
Finally, be sure to provide all the necessary resources for employees to do their job properly. But go beyond the standard job spec and shared drives. Instead, give staff access to mental health resources and encourage them to take care of their well-being.
“There should be no unwritten rules in remote culture,” said Stella Treas and Laurel Farrer at GitLab. “Intentional documentation is essential to avoiding dysfunction within a remote company, and this also applies to culture. At GitLab, this begins with our company values: Collaboration, Results, Efficiency, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Iteration, and Transparency,” they say in the company’s advice around ‘Building and reinforcing a sustainable remote work culture’.
So whether that’s the number of weekly catch-ups for your team or the time that people should be tuned out of Slack on a Friday to socialise, remember: if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.
Culture: turning documented processes into daily rituals
Documenting these processes will help to turn them into workplace habits over time. But how do you ingrain everyday routines into the types of workplace rituals your staff will swear by?
For Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, it’s about empathising with your team and testing as you go.
“Rituals are most valuable around things that have an emotional component to them. Most are designed to create some emotional sense — more connection, a sense of completion and reflection. When designing a ritual think about what elements make it engaging and get people out of whatever mindset they’re in and into a new one,” he says.
And don’t worry if it isn’t right the first time — just try again.
“Think about rituals as a design problem; prototype them first. When designing a ritual, don’t overthink it, just build the first thing you can, then move on to more sophisticated versions later,” says Brown.
So what are some real-life rituals you can implement remotely? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Create a team playlist — this is a great way to get everyone involved, express themselves and share their identities. From JQBX to Spotify Group Session, there are loads of great options available for remote teams.
Meet each other’s loved ones — GitLab hosts ‘Juice Box’ chats where employees can introduce family members to each other remotely. as part of a documented ‘Informal Communication in an all-remote environment’ process. This ritual can strengthen connections and build personal relationships — wherever you are. But just because your team is remote, it doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to digital meetups.
Organise physical get-togethers — working remotely gives you an even better excuse to meet and catch up. Try and facilitate bi-annual meetups, at the very least, in order to strengthen bonds and foster that sense of community. Just don’t go back to the office to do it; it’s a brave new world and this is the time to try something new.
At the end of the day, culture is about finding the right fit for your values and team. And although creating that buzzing atmosphere is challenging enough in the office, let alone remotely, you don’t need to be in the same place to feel ‘together’.