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“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And like any great relationship, it just gets better as the years roll on.” – Steve Jobs
Thanks to modern technology, the workforce has seen a large shift to remote working in the last decade. Given the current global pandemic, many companies and organizations have been suddenly thrust into managing remote teams. What can you do, as a manger or founder, to establish a positive culture for your remote teams? Big Fish Employer Services has compiled some important considerations for fostering culture within your remote team.
Tools & Policies
Develop a day-to-day toolkit to promote a sense of company culture and synchronize work within your teams. Strive to create a virtual version of your office, through both workplace collaboration and water cooler conversations. Supply your team the necessary tools to be successful, including chat apps, video conferencing apps, and project management apps. In addition to yourremote toolkit, create new, consistent guidelines that are applicable company-wide. Adjust policies to include weekly meetings with the entire team, allowing employees to get acquainted in an informal setting, forging relationships and fostering culture beyond work. During this time of adjustment to remote work, you may also want to implement a policy requiring ‘overlap hours.’ Setting hours when all remote employees are online and working makes communication easier, especially if your team is geographically spread. It is crucial for the success of your business that your team is given the tools and policies that will facilitate effective collaboration and communication.
Tech tools to communicate about work and beyond:
- Chat Tools:
- Microsoft Teams
- Google Hangouts
- Project Management Tools:
- Video Conferencing Tools:
Rituals & Routines
Create daily routines for your employees while they’re working remotely, and create virtual company-wide rituals. Having company-wide meetings/huddles on a weekly basis is a great starting place for remote teams. If you are unable to commit to meetings on a weekly basis, try every other week. This recurring meeting will allow an expected avenue of communication that your employees can look forward to. Strive to create daily or weekly time that will allow for bonding moments within your work community. ‘Walk the virtual floor,’ by checking in one-on-one with your team as you normally would in the office, discussing both work and life matters. Get in the routine of video chatting with your coworkers while you are unable to go directly to their desks. You can even create weekly ‘pair buddies,’ by randomly grouping two employees each week and giving them time to chat, which helps to create the office social life that may be lacking in your remote team.
Guidelines & Expectations
You must set clear, consistent guidelines and expectations for your team to follow when they are working remotely. Guidelines are designed to create an even playing field, allowing remote workers to feel more productive and engaged. You want to create a sense of equality both in and out of the office. Be explicit about your expectations during this time, as individuals in your organization may have different ideas of what this working situation entails. Are employees expected to be online for a certain number of hours? Or during a specific time of the day? Be sure to communicate expectations and guidelines to create a sense of mutual understanding and preserve the working culture you have developed within your company. While remote, some employees may feel the need to immediately respond to requests to demonstrate that they are staying actively engaged. This is great for the company; however, it is also crucial that every employee can carve out time for meaningful work that requires uninterrupted attention. Be clear about the guidelines you have for your remote employees and what expectations you have regarding their performance, responsiveness, and work hours.
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Onboarding & Hiring
Your company will need to adjust hiring and onboarding processes; however, this still is an essential part of fostering culture with new employees early on. Designate one person (in most cases, HR) who will own remote onboarding to avoid possible oversights. Create a checklist to ensure that all items are collected and covered when welcoming new hires. Meet virtually to set expectations with new hires early on, establishing a sense of community by giving them goals to work toward that are bigger than themselves. Prior to onboarding a new employee, develop a plan for new remote hires to ensure they are introduced to key people, processes, and projects. Distinguish a list of tasks: what the company will do before the employee starts; a checklist for the first day; tasks for month one; and so on. Establish a clear schedule of what onboarding will look like during the first week, and the first 30, 60, and 90 days. During the remote onboarding process, it is essential to have a system that allows for electronic or paperless onboarding, where employees can view, sign and upload documents. Big Fish offers paperless electronic onboarding through our iSolved system, allowing employees to onboard remotely with ease. Big Fish provides numerous webinars demonstrating iSolved, click to watch our latest webinar ‘Using iSolved to navigate COVID-19 legislation.’ Provide new employees with the resources that are essential for success in your company, and ensure they have access. Check in regularly with new hires to be sure they are getting accustomed to their new work environment. Onboarding employees in groups, wherever possible, will minimize efforts and redundancy while creating a sense of community for new hires. Have everyone in your organization create an online bio with a photo (especially new hires), to allow your employees to get to know one another.
Communication & Collaboration
Communication and collaboration are important for any organization, but especially for remote teams. Creating a shared culture relies heavily on communication, which includes both listening and being listened to. Employees need to feel heard, considered, and respected. One downside to working remotely is that you will not run into Jeff or Julie at the coffee machine for a chat. Whether the conversation is work-related or not, we must all make an extra effort to connect with our team. Effective communication creates a company environment where individuals can bring their whole selves to work, be honest, and feel valued. It is easy for remote workers to feel isolated, and feelings of unimportance and non-belonging can lead us to stop caring about our work. To combat this, invite people to speak out during weekly meetings. Ask, ‘what do you think?’ often. Regularly soliciting feedback lays important groundwork for when employees need to speak out or be heard regarding more challenging topics. Using dialog and communication to find common ground while working remotely preserves a healthy company culture, and allows your team to effectively manage virtual collaboration efforts. Inclusivity can be difficult with remote teams, so to foster organic collaboration, be sure your people are coming together consciously and organically.
Trust & Transparency
Trust is a key aspect of all company cultures. This is especially true of remote teams where everyone must have a sense of security when relying on teammates. Working autonomously and independently are defining characteristics of remote work. However, it is possible that during this time individuals may experience a decreased sense of personal accountability. It is crucial to overcome these hurdles through transparent conversations. Employees place a high value on psychological trust and safety in a workplace, and they should feel the leadership team trusts them to make effective decisions. Trust is important in giving employees the confidence to make decisions, while transparency will make them feel equipped to make those decisions.
Feedback & Adjustment
It is highly unlikely that you will have a perfect remote working process right off the bat. Working remotely while fostering a strong company culture is a constant work in progress and requires buy-in from your entire team. No one is going to get it perfectly the first time, so ask your team how it’s going. Set up an anonymous submission form to assess how your plan is being received. Ask each employee what is working for them and what is not. Ask them if they have any ideas or suggested actions to improve the remote work process. Regular constructive feedback allows you to continuously improve and adjust in order to foster the best possible culture for your remote team. Set expectations of asking for feedback, and create a culture where employees see that their constructive feedback leads to meaningful changes.
Work & Life
As an employer, it’s important to place high value on work life balance, especially with a remote workforce. While it is essential that every remote team member does their part to make the company successful, it is important to also balance working hard and other fun life moments. Work on establishing water cooler moments when remote. This will largely take place over video, but make time to check in with coworkers about life beyond work. Find creative ways to engage remote employees over time. Try hosting a virtual happy hour or a breakfast session. Incorporate team building into daily virtual moments, like playing games or exchanging photos of kids and pets. Start a random email thread where you talk about non-work things only, and involve the entire team. Another important aspect of culture is meeting in person occasionally. Once a year, allow your entire company the opportunity to get together in person, which will solidify and amplify your company culture. Opportunities like these allow for your employees to gain experience and knowledge they could not get from a video call, and they will return to work with a deeper purpose—something we can all look forward to post-quarantine.
Strong company culture has numerous benefits to your organization, including increased ROI and lower turnover. A strong culture also benefits to your employees through increased happiness and satisfaction, better retention, and easier recruiting. A strong culture will lead to strong results in the marketplace. Culture is extremely defensible because it cannot be cloned in the same way a product or design feature may be. People make up a company’s culture, and it becomes a reflection of shared values and the mission of the company. Company culture is not about fringe benefits like free snacks in the break room—rather, it’s about a team of people committed to shared purpose, passion, and ideals. Perks exist to support culture and do not make it up in its entirety. Company culture is unique, and what works for one company may not necessarily work for another. Your culture will be unique to your company, vision, and goals. Remote culture is more deliberate in that it requires thought and proactive efforts. Even if you have just one remote employee, consider ways to engage this individual into your culture.
Ideas for Fostering Company Culture (Remotely or In-Person!)
Weekly meeting & game – Get together for a weekly virtual meeting. During this time, catch up on all things life. Consider playing a game using Kahoot software! You can use this tool to customize games, ask specific questions about your employees, and increase engagement.
Quarterly themes – Dedicate a “Wall of Wows” in your office where, every time you receive wow-worthy feedback from a customer or coworker based on quality of service or an employee’s performance, you add a post it note to the Wall of Wows! This is a visually impactful way to get the team inspired.
Cinco de Mustache – Create a competition for growing or having the most amazing mustache in the Month of May! (Fake or real accepted).
Welcome Email – Create a new email thread welcoming new hires, and have everyone on your team respond to say hi and include a small detail about themselves.
Putt-Putt Challenge – Have each department in your office create a miniature golf hole, using only supplies in the office. Award the team with the most creative setup.
Desk Decorating Contest (Virtual Version) – Host a virtual version of a desk decorating competition. Check out everyone’s home setup and give awards for the most creative, most organized, etc.
White Elephant – During the holidays, create a tradition of exchanging white elephant gifts. Get the entire team together for bonding opportunities.
Thanksgiving Feast – Gather your team around for a great meal and talk about what you are most thankful for.