Maria Eugenia is a HR Business Partner with 14 years of experience helping companies hire, train, and develop their employees.
Remote Work advocate. She is passionate about helping her clients build remote teams.
I have been working with companies that hire remote workers for a few years now. Most of them contact me when they need to grow their team, and I can tell early on where remote workers will thrive and where the environment is not quite set for them to succeed.
As a result, I end up helping my clients redesign many of their SOPs so they will be conducive to successful remote cooperation, and coach managers in how to build a remote work culture.
Whether you are thinking of going fully remote, or plan on hiring a few remote employees, in this article you will find key points in how to build a remote work culture that will allow your team to thrive.
It is true that you need to provide remote workers with all the tools they need to collaborate and communicate effectively, but just giving them the tools won’t cut it. You need more strategic thinking than just taking concepts that worked well in an in-office situation and migrating them to a digital environment.
Key aspects to remember when creating a remote work culture
1. Be mindful of different time zones
When your team is very geographically dispersed, you can either require that they work on a schedule that matches your office hours or you can be more flexible as long as they get the work done.
In my experience, companies with the lowest attrition rate are the ones that don’t demand employees to be online during office hours that matches their own, especially if the employee is in a very different time zone.
I once worked with a company headquartered in New Jersey that had employees in Eastern Europe and Latin America, and never asked their employees to comply with a fixed schedule. Instead, they monitored results very closely and only asked that employees were available for meetings during a time that made sense to everyone (10 am EST worked great for everyone). This company had a very low attrition rate and a loyal and motivated team.
2. Don’t track time. Monitor results instead
I recently had a coaching session with a remote employee that told me she didn’t understand why her Manager did not trust her anymore. She used to work very autonomously at the office, but ever since going remote due to Covid-19, her boss kept asking her what she was working on and scheduling follow up calls that she felt were unnecessary.
Trying to track your team every move will result in micromanaging and will make them feel like you cannot trust them. This will diminish motivation and impacting productivity as a result. Many Managers make this mistake when going remote. The reason is that they are used to being able to see what their employees are working on. Unfortunately tracking hours is time consuming and by no means guarantees good work.
Instead, make sure your team has predefined objectives they understand, and provide anything they need to attain them. If you are not doing so already, it is a great time to start working with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).
3. Facilitate spaces for employees to have fun together
When working remotely, employees miss the day to day non work-related interactions. Those activities that help them build strong relationships with each other. Teams whose members have a strong bond tend to perform at a higher level and achieve better results.
Making room for play helps them decompress and share fun times with each other, hence strengthening their bond. You could facilitate (or have someone facilitate) activities such as:
- 2 truths and 1 lie: you ask employees to prepare 3 facts about themselves to share with the team, and the rest of the group needs to find out which one the lie is. Everyone ends up having a great laugh and get to know each other more.
- Trivia games via https://kahoot.com/: this site lets you build a set of questions and employees can answer using their cellphone. If your employees don’t have company provided cellphones, ask them beforehand if they are willing to install an app on their personal phones.
Always keep in mind that work related topics are not to be discussed during these activities for them to be successful, or else you will take fun out of the equation and lose employee engagement.
4. Make everyone feel included
This is especially important for companies who have an on site and a remote team working together. More often than not, in companies where there is not a remote work culture, remote employees feel left out of important decisions. They tend to believe that they have less access to information and opportunities than their on-site teammates.
I work with many companies from the US that hire Software Engineers in Latin America, and they have the additional challenge of cultural differences influencing communication and driving interaction: I found that employees from the same location tend to ask each other for help instead of asking their teammates in another country, even if these teammates are much better suited to assist them.
To avoid this, put special attention to implementing activities and designing processes that force employees from different locations to interact with each other. For example, you can assign one of your local employees to act as go-to person for a hire in another country, so they would help with onboarding and build a relationship with them that will foster collaboration in the future.
If you have weekly get togethers in the office, such as Friday lunch, you could set it up in the conference room and have everyone that is located elsewhere join virtually.
5. Align your hiring process with your remote culture
Remote work can be great for many reasons, but it is not for everybody. Many people believe working remotely entails a lot of freedom but studies have shown that remote employees have a harder time sticking to a healthy work life balance, which can translate into higher attrition with all the costs it represents.
I believe it is always a great sign if the employee has worked remotely before (and with the current Covid-19 situation this will be the case for a lot of people in the immediate future), but if they haven’t, you should look for this set of competences in your potential hires:
- Autonomy: your employees need to be able to work with little supervision.
- Communication: not being in the same physical space presents a challenge to communication, so you need to make sure you hire people that are naturally good at v communicating with others to not add another layer of difficulty to the process.
- Problem solving: being able to solve problems on their own is a critical skill for remote workers, since complications may arise in their day to day that should not stop them from achieving the results set for them.
It is very important to set realistic expectations as well, so be honest with candidates about how working at your Company looks like.
6. Listen, learn and adjust
Migrating to a remote work environment will not present the same challenges for every company, not even for every employee within one company. It is very important to detect any issues or difficulties your team is having as early as possible by not only keeping communication channels open but actively asking for employee feedback.
Have Managers schedule time for 1:1 meetings to ask employees the following questions, during their onboarding process and also once this process is finished
- How are they feeling?
- What are they finding more challenging?
- If they have any suggestions to make their job easier.
Actively listening to what is working for your team and what is not will let you take action to ensure you are on the right track.
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