With the pandemic, came a new shift in work conditions, with many businesses going to a remote work situation. This has turned out to be surprisingly successful for many companies. However, there has been one key concern that has arisen, as the remote work situation continues to persist along with the pandemic – how to ensure that strong team cultures cultivated in the office environment, continue in the remote work environment. There are some key things that can be done to help culture thrive with remote teams.
Collaboration – When employees work remotely, they can easily fall into a more isolated work habit. So, it is important to create and encourage opportunities for them to collaborate. This can keep them connected to each other, the company, and you. It can be as simple as having a small group come up with some ideas around an issue and then share it with the team. It can also help to create forums and platforms for idea sharing such as using Microsoft Teams or a discussion board on a company intranet.
Create Team Visibility –Remote employees often have a fear that they will not be recognized in the company because they can be “out of sight, and out of mind.” Managers need to make sure the entire company knows what their team is doing. They need to foster an environment where all employees (from their team to others in the company) feel like they are all working side-by-side, even when in different locations.
Managers also need to let employees to know they are an important part of the company, and that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. Managers should find opportunities to mention accomplishments or ideas of individuals, using their specific names, to foster familiarity – either during meetings or in emails to others in the company. As well, they can post employee successes or status updates on a company Intranet or in a newsletter.
Mentoring – Additional team strength is built through mentoring between its members and with other teams and managers. This can be fostered in a virtual work environment by assigning and scheduling mentoring programs that are conducted through webinar platforms rather than face-to-face. This will take management effort to make this happen, as it usually won’t happen naturally without it.
Celebrations & Social Engagements – When employees were all in the same office, it was easy to celebrate birthdays, have Halloween costume contests, and have “bagel breakfast Monday.” However, these things do not need to stop when employees are dispersed; only the format has to change. Have a team breakfast together by sending everyone a Starbucks gift card, and having them pick up coffee and breakfast, to have together during a team call. Have a costume contest by having them submit pictures in their costumes. Celebrate personal things like birthdays or children’s successes, on a group call. The goal is to acknowledge the humanity and celebrate our small victories in everyday life.
Create virtual water coolers – It is important for employees to build their work relationships by knowing about their co-workers outside of just what they do on the job. This helps foster empathy and stronger work bonds. Managers can do this remotely by creating environments for employees to have small talk. Spend additional time in all virtual meetings and 1on1 calls talking about things outside of work. Conduct monthly virtual team Ice breakers and getting to know you exercises, to take a mental break and have fun together.
Communication – Because managers don’t see their employees on a daily basis when they work remotely, they can easily feel like they don’t know what is going on. As a result, managers can feel like they miss out on coaching and feedback opportunities with limited communication.
A common misconception is that managers of virtual teams will have less communication with their employees because of their distance – since they can’t just walk down the hall to talk with them. However, successful managers have more communication with their remote employees than those that might be in the same location. Because of the distance, increased communication is needed. A good benchmark for managers is to consider how much time they would spend communicating when in the same office, and make sure that they increase that when employees are working remote. A good rule of thumb is to have a weekly team call and weekly 1on1 with each employee.
Managers also need to try to ask more questions and increase listening time. This will keep them in-tune with what is really happening with their team and will enable them to be more pro-active in solving issues or re-pointing the ship, when needed.
There is a company fear of a culture erosion with dispersed workforces. However, remote teams can have even stronger bonds and cultures than those based in the same office. Management needs to take an active role in ensuring these various key initiatives are happening, in the remote setting, to foster a strong culture.