Illustration of team members on computer screen

How to Build a Strong Culture Within Remote Teams

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those people for whom remote work has become the new normal. Maybe you’re even employed at one of those 16% of US companies that are now fully remote. Estimates are that around 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely by 2026. This revolution comes with countless conveniences, but many traditional aspects of work life have required a re-think as a result.

The fact is that many companies – particularly larger organization – are still struggling to adapt to the unique challenges of remote work. Whether it’s about boosting productivity from across the screen, promoting transparency, safeguarding the security of confidential data, or providing an effective remote onboarding experience in everything from sales call strategy to data analysis training – each of these tasks can be tricky for the team that has typically relied on face-to-face communication. 

Some challenges can be overcome with technological solutions and collaborative platforms that improve, scale, and simplify the way remote teams work together. But what about those intangible challenges? We’re talking about the emotional side of things. In a traditional office, a company culture and team spirit often arise naturally. Employees celebrate each other’s birthday. They enjoy team days, have regular chats at the water cooler, or attend a tipsy after-work together. But when you work remotely, every day is dress-down Friday – so how do you make actual Friday special, in a cultural sense?

How do you achieve good vibes in your team, when your team is spread across the world – and sometimes even  across different time zones? 

Remote team management is not always easy, but building a strong culture in your distance-based teams goes a loooong way toward strengthening overall happiness, productivity and team work. Here are some ideas on how to foster and nurture a distinct culture even from across the screen!

Arm reaches through laptop screen to shake hand
“Help me! I’ve been stuck inside this laptop for years!”

How to build a strong culture

Communication is key…but, like, more than ever

Good communication lies at the heart of a strong team culture. Remote teams need clear guidelines on how, when and where to communicate. Which platforms are used for emergency updates versus casual conversation? When are employees expected to turn off their notifications and focus, and during which hours do they need to be accessible? Where is the single-source-of-truth for workplace policies, documentation, or recorded meetings?

Communication etiquette is often extremely unique to each team, which is why its importance to pay it special attention. Clarity around communication helps create a strong team culture because it allows employees to engage with each their colleagues confidently and effectively.

But ‘remote communication’ goes beyond the way a team remotely or asynchronously collaborates. We’re also referring to customer, supplier, partner or clients-based communication. Here, you should have clear guidelines on communicative platforms, response frequency, escalation process and documentation protocols. Do you record all Zoom meetings with clients? Do you share transcripts of important Sales calls with managers? Do you use a hosted telephone system?

Working from the foundation of solid communication strategy means your employees are more likely to: 

  • Collaborate, innovate, and cooperate. 
  • Complete tasks and projects on time. 
  • Work together towards common goals. 
  • Avoid mistakes and obstacles arising from miscommunication.
  • Experience trust and confidence.
  • Quickly gain access to the information they need.

What are your values? 

Never overlook the importance of instilling a sense of values in your team. What does your organization stand for? What is its mission – and what principles does it pride itself on promoting?

Values can relate to the way your organization conducts business, or it can relate to its corporate social responsibility. Maybe what makes your organization unique is the attention it pays employees and their health. Establishing values is the first step – but you also need to communicate them. When recruiting, consider how new employees are to learn about, and experience, your company culture.

Remote teams are increasingly diverse due to the ease with which remote companies can hire people from all over the world. When your team is comprised of people with very different geographical locations, beliefs, cultural norms, backgrounds and lifestyles – a distinct set of values is something that brings everyone together.

So how to promote values? Start with an effective onboarding experience, and follow up with regular team days and transparent communication. A shared library of resources will also help teams understand and collect around your company’s shared values.

Encourage responsibility 

In remote teams, the leadership and responsibility hierarchy is sometimes less clear than in office-based environments. This could present a problem when teams are working on important projects and there arises a lack of clarity over who has the ultimate authority to make a decision.

Confusion over responsibility becomes a blocker. You need to establish a clear line of responsibility and leadership that ultimately ends with the manager. When employees know precisely the degree of decision-making and responsibility that is expected of them, they can go about their work more confidently.

Micromanaging every task is impossible (not to mention counter-productive). Instead, identify team leaders or senior team members to whom you can delegate tasks and have report back to you. It’s perfectly fine to assign leadership responsibility on individual tasks or projects. Not only can this style of task-delegating benefit your company as a whole, but it also gives employees the opportunities to take on challenges and prove themselves. 

Human relationships, not employee relationships 

Relationships between employees develop naturally in an office. Coffee break gossip and personal chats during lunch help strengthen team spirits in office environments, by allowing real connections to take place between team members. Remote teams need to put greater effort into creating a space for informal relationships to grow. Weak team relationships may have an adverse effect on employee happiness and productivity levels. 

Online games or Slack-based conversation starters (our favourite is Donut) helps encourage personal connections between employees. You can also arrange regular non-work-related team calls via video conferencing  or a virtual office telephone system (we recommend Dialpad). The main thing is that everyone gets to unwind, laugh, and learn a little more about the person they’re working with but who they rarely get to physically meet.

Cool guy plays with white puppy in seaside park
If you want to quickly boost team spirits, get everyone to share a picture of their pet. Guaranteed success.

 
Leverage the perks of WFH

What attracts many workers to remote roles is the prospect of setting their own schedules, devoting more time to families or hobbies, and experiencing greater flexibility in their work-life balance. If you offer all this (and more besides) then flaunt it! When employees feel they have freedom, they are more likely to be happy, productive, and loyal.

When managing a remote team, you should have clear answers to the following ‘culture’ questions:

  • Do you have fixed hours for your teams, or can they work flexible hours?
  • If flexible with work hours, how are employees expected to communicate around their particular work hours?
  • Are all employees expected to attend calls live? Or empower team mates to catch up on recorded meetings in their own time?
  • Will you allow team mates to work from locations which are not their home? For example, if an employee wishes to combine a holiday with some work days abroad – is this OK?

With clear guidelines and policies on remote working, and a good degree of flexibility, you can build a strong team culture.

Upgrade that toolbox

Effective tools, high-tech software and smarts systems boost productivity and performance, which in turn boost company culture. You don’t want employees wasting time on a task that could be scaled with the right tool, or spend their afternoon cursing at bug-infested software.

If a team member is regularly struggling with an overload of procurement paperwork, help them secure time-saving B2B contract templates. If a team member frequently has to wake up at 6am to join a call in a different time zone, let them reclaim their schedule with tl;dv. The examples of how great tools can prevent headaches are endless – and keep in mind that many of such tools are free!

If you’re not sure which tools should be added to your team’s toolbox in order for them to feel effective and empowered, ask them!

Get your team involved in the hiring process (effortlessly)

Finding the right candidate is time-consuming, and many assume that remote interviews make it harder than ever to identify a good cultural fit. It doesn’t have to be that way. When you use an interview recording software like tl;dv, you can capture key moments with candidates on Zoom or Google Meet, then share the best clips with your team for fast input on promising candidates. 

This method of remote interviewing lets team members screen several candidates quickly, which in turn allows recruiters to collect input from multiple employees and make informed, unbiased decisions with regards to a team hire. tl;dv even lets you tag specific employees at certain moments in a recorded interview, so they can quickly catch up on the takeaways in their own time.

With continued movement to remote or hybrid working, it’s essential that managers are able to either create a new (and strong!) culture for remote teams, or maintain the existing one (if moving from an office to remote environment). We hope our list helped shed light on some aspects to consider, and actions to take, in promoting a wholesome and effective remote team culture.