Let’s face it: most companies have adopted some kind of remote or hybrid work model in recent years, with the pandemic only speeding up this process. And while working from home offers amazing perks, there’s one big challenge that teams seem to face; building employee connections.
Picture the office of a cool company or innovative startup; do you see a silent room, full of people ignoring each other, silently working away? Probably not, right? You might think that seems like a poor company culture - employees don’t seem super engaged and it’s all a bit… boring. Well, that’s the life for most remote employees right now, as organizations are struggling to find ways to build a strong culture remotely. A strong culture is reflected in a lively office full of communication and collaboration, where people feel comfortable being themselves. So why wouldn’t we try to create this for our remote teams as well?
So, how do you onboard remote employees to make sure they feel like a part of the team? How do you keep them engaged? What’s the virtual equivalent of that buzzy office environment? And finally, how do you make sure you’re doing everything to boost your retention in a potentially dull, lonely environment?
A great work culture has knock-on benefits for both employees and management - engaged employees are more productive, more satisfied, and have higher retention. Focusing on team building can help you achieve this valuable employee engagement. In fact, only 28% of employees without friends at work are engaged, but this increases to 69% for employees who have over 25 workplace friends. Good communication and excellent team bonding can clearly go a long way!
A company’s culture is also what makes it unique - it can make you an exciting option in a world of bland corporate jobs. There are any number of organizations offering remote roles now, so what makes you stand out? Why are your employees the happiest? Being clear and intentional about developing your culture can help show why you are special. Employees who are aware of an organization’s core values have a greater sense of accountability and belonging. For example, it’s easier to slack off in a remote position when you don’t know your team, don’t feel strongly about the company’s culture, and have a boss who doesn’t seem to care about you. On the other hand, when your co-workers are friendly and you know that your team relies on you it’s a lot easier to care about what you’re doing.
Investing in your remote culture is an asset for every business, helping to boost engagement and productivity while reducing turnover. It’s great for everyone, as employees feel more connected and supported while employers see the benefits of happier employees.
What is remote culture?
Remote culture is an extension of an organization’s general work culture. It combines everything that makes your business what it is, and how it operates: from your core business values and expectations to the way relationships are formed between employees, their behaviors, and habits. Your culture is what it feels like, day in and day out, to be a part of your company.
Of course, building and maintaining a work culture remotely can be tough; when everyone is busy working from home, interacting with each other via Slack message or email signature rather than in person, you need to go the extra mile to ensure good communication and keep everyone on board. However, remote team building can have a huge effect on employee satisfaction and transform employees into brand advocates, so we think it’s worth the effort!
How do I build a great remote culture
Feeling disconnected from your colleagues sucks. And although remote connections can be trickier to develop than in-office bonds, there are loads of ways to foster natural employee connection and team building without sacrificing the flexibility of remote working. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
1. Cultivate an environment of trust and respect
Knowing that you won’t be rejected, punished, or mocked for speaking up is crucial to feeling a sense of belonging at a company. At their core, healthy employee connections are about psychological safety and mutual respect. Leaders and employees need to join forces to grant a team the confidence to reveal their talents and feel confident in their skills. Specifically:
a. Leaders need to show up with interest, curiosity, humility, and an open mind. The best examples of company culture come from the top, so leaders need to show employees that it’s okay to make mistakes. Inviting honest, constructive feedback regularly, and actively taking it on board, can help build employee trust in your organization.
b. Employees need to feel a sense of belonging in their team - we’re all happier and better when we have a strong, friendly support system around us, so working on building this within your teams will help employees feel more secure and happier in their role, and avoid employees blaming others or making things personal when something doesn’t go according to plan. Virtual team-building activities can help build this team trust and see the team work as one to achieve common goals.
2. Communicate goals. and expectations early on
It is so much easier to build a strong remote work culture when everyone is aware of the company’s vision. Imagine working alone at home every day, with no idea why the tasks you are taking on are important - it would be easy to feel unmotivated, right? To avoid this, make sure to be open with your team and communicate your expectations at their onboarding stage. Checking in regularly to make sure everyone is on the same page and has the support they need will also show employees that you’ve got their back, helping your remote workers to stay on track with the quality of work that’s expected as well as the company’s long-term goals.
The right tools and platforms can be game-changing - using a project management platform like ClickUp gives everyone visibility of company goals and progress towards them, and startup favorite Slack is a great platform to stay in touch during the day and keep your inbox free of emails that could have been a quick message.
3. Use fun activities to boost employee engagement
Remote fun is totally possible as long as you’ve got the right tools in your arsenal to help your team engagement. We’re already spending enough time on Zoom, we don’t need another meeting on the calendar for a team quiz. Instead, try asynchronous team bonding activities that your team can take part in whenever suits them.
For example, an app for teams like SquadPal allows you to participate in challenges and competitions, play games, or give your colleagues a shoutout. Encourage your team to get to know their colleagues' hidden talents or collaborate on a shared goal. These virtual team-building activities will persuade you that physical proximity is not required to have fun as a team and that building a fun and engaging work culture is much easier than you’d think.
4. Establish regular rituals
Having your team achieve fun objectives weekly or monthly can help form regular rituals that not only help build a comforting sense of routine but also contribute towards higher employee engagement. For example, you could set a monthly challenge to fundraise a certain amount for charity. Getting the team to run or cycle to contribute to a team goal can also get everyone pitching in, feeling like they are part of something bigger. In addition, with an app for teams like SquadPal, your team can access live leaderboards to keep track of their challenges and introduce some competition by revealing the top contributors.
To go in another direction, you could have regular feedback sessions to find out how things could be improved. You could also introduce a regular pulse check survey - Spill offers a team mood survey that can be added to any meeting link, so you get a sense of the team mood before the meeting and can address any concerns.
5. Make career development a focus
Helping your team to move forward in their careers, gain new skills, and new experiences, shows that you care about more than just their day-to-day productivity. One great way to help employees grow and build connections within their team is through mentorship programs. Helping people develop their skills by learning new things from their peers not only benefits the company but also builds a solid foundation for stronger employee bonds. For example, taking time to discuss each individual’s goals through monthly sessions and offering feedback or guidance to help them grow is a stellar way to create a thriving remote culture. You could also set up regular ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions, for employees to drop into if the topic interests them. This makes it clear to your team that you care about their professional development, not just what they can offer your organization.
6. Collect feedback regularly (and take it onboard)
Managing workers through team apps and remote team socials is not a walk in the park. Naturally there’ll be a learning curve and early mistakes to improve upon. Asking employees to share their feedback and tell you what worked and what didn’t will allow you to improve your remote culture continuously. So set the expectation of regular feedback, listen to your employees, and make adjustments accordingly. Remember to always make them feel safe and heard. Try out a tool like Polly, which allows you to gather feedback via surveys in Slack, or a more in-depth employee feedback tool such as Lattice, if you really want to dig into the data.
Remote team building is possible!
Forming a team is one thing, but making it function at its best is another. To make people with different backgrounds, personalities, and experiences work together well requires hard work from everyone involved.
A strong remote culture that emphasizes trust, respect, and communication leads to happier and more efficient employees. Adding in some remote fun to the mix is the cherry on top. This may be a challenge, but with the tips we shared above and the right app for teams, you’ll be able to foster an amazing remote work culture.