Have you found a way to create your ideal remote work culture yet?
The upheaval of the past few years has driven a shift of focus toward more remote working. For some companies, it’s been a relatively simple transition, but for others, it’s been more challenging.
If you’ve found that recreating a shared work culture has been difficult to do remotely, this is the article for you. It covers a number of possible approaches and includes a few tips for shaping a remote work culture that works for everyone.
Of all the challenges of remote work, setting up effective communication is possibly the most important. Strong teams depend on individuals who communicate well, and in remote work culture, that means two things: strategic planning and appropriate tech.
The key point to remember here is that there are significant differences between communicating in a traditional office setting and in a remote work environment or coworking space. Although your overall work goals presumably haven’t changed, the road to achieving them definitely has.
According to a recent freelancer study, 8% of freelancers said that coworking spaces are their ideal workplace.
A vast number of tech solutions to facilitate remote communication have been developed over the past few years. From the most basic video conferencing software to much more sophisticated communications platform as a service (CPaaS) tools, you will be spoiled for choice.
However, it won’t do to just throw the tech at your employees and expect healthy remote communication to happen as if by magic. On the contrary, your entire approach will need a fundamental rethink. Here are a few things to bear in mind:
One of the aspects of office life many people find objectionable is micromanagement. Bombarding your team with messages is an excellent way to alienate them. Try to resist the temptation.
Not Everyone Is an Extrovert
Some people blossom as remote workers precisely because they don’t have to interact face-to-face. They’ll feel able to contribute more confidently by communicating in writing rather than speaking.
The wider point to remember here is that everyone needs to be managed differently. That’s as true for remote work as for on-site work. Best management practice is to actively encourage these differences and find ways the team as a whole can benefit from them.
Don’t Assume That Being Brief Is Best
In an attempt to keep it short when communicating in writing, sometimes you can inadvertently skimp on crucial details. Double-check your messages to make sure you’re not being ambiguous about what it is you’re expecting everyone to do.
For all the upsides and opportunities afforded us by a remote working environment, there’s no doubt that there are a few disadvantages too. Issues such as how to implement effective mentoring to junior staff members or how to stay mentally healthy while working remotely have emerged as genuine challenges.
From a purely work-focused perspective, the loss of real-life office interaction has meant a decline in opportunities for organic collaboration. This is something you obviously cannot afford to lose. Realistically, it means you’ll need to do something you may not have bothered with before. You’ll need to put structures in place to enable collaboration between individuals and teams.
What might this look like in practice? Well, you can start by considering two vectors of approach: project-based and employee-based collaboration.
Encouraging project-based collaboration involves putting thought and preparation into the project itself. As long as you have the relevant remote work tools in place, such as an MS team phone, this should be straightforward.
Think about whether cross-team collaboration would benefit each project. Empowering individuals to work outside of their team silos alongside others can be a good way of maintaining a creative dynamic in your remote force.
Employee-based collaboration opportunities are those that arise organically in the office. These might be the ideas that take root during a random encounter at the coffee machine, for example. They are much more difficult to replicate in remote working culture than project-based collaboration, as they depend on individuals happening to meet one another and then deciding to work together on an idea.
Nevertheless, it’s not impossible. One of the remarkable things that happens when you start thinking in more depth about how to manage remote employees is that new possibilities arise that had never occurred to you before.
The key here is to create a space where people will willingly meet up virtually. This could be specifically marked as a space for idea generation, for example. Or, it could be a virtual “break room” with no particular work-related chat expected. The exact nature of the space will depend on your organization. What works best for one company may not work for yours and vice-versa. Give it a try. You might be surprised by how well it works.
Have Regular Remote-friendly Meetings
Whether you run with this idea or not, there’s no doubt that meetings are going to constitute a vital part of your day-to-day. So here are a few tips for getting meetings right when they’re done remotely:
Start and Finish on Time
Although for many, this is important even for on-site meetings, it’s an absolute must for remote ones. In particular, don’t let tech hiccups delay proceedings; that’s nothing but a waste of everyone’s time.
It should be standard practice for anyone leading a meeting to log in early to make sure all the tech is working properly and everything is set up correctly.
Anyone who has ever attended a remote meeting knows that the conversational turn-taking rules tend to be different online than face-to-face. There’s very little body language to clue you in.
If you’re chairing, make sure the same voices don’t dominate every meeting. Go round each individual employee asking for their feedback. It’s vital that everyone has a chance to contribute.
Make Best Use of Available Tools
One of the great things about remote meetings is that there are so many tech solutions available now to help get the most out of them. And this shouldn’t be limited to just your basic conferencing software.
Think about how to integrate other tech, such as analytics tools or process mapping with Process Bliss, to really bring to life your time together.
Don’t Invite People Who Don’t Need to Be There
It’s easy to fall into the trap of inviting people “just in case.” While it’s certainly true that no one wants to feel excluded, inviting people to every meeting just isn’t necessary. There’s a healthy balance to be struck between leaving people out and overburdening them with required attendance at meetings.
Even more importantly, meetings with lots of people attending don’t tend to work very well remotely. If there are too many people in the virtual space, the conversation tends to degrade. On top of that, it’s not feasible for everyone to contribute without the meeting dragging on for hours. Remember that if you record meetings, everyone will be able to catch up afterward if they want to.
Close the Affinity Gap
While some processes are straightforward to replicate online with no problems (it’s very simple to create an online contract, for example), others are trickier. The “affinity gap” describes the feeling of detachment and distance that comes from not having meaningful social relationships. Closing it is key to capturing that sense of esprit de corps that can be a challenge to create in remote teams.
Here are a few initiatives you can try to make it happen:
Encourage Informal Chat
We touched on this when discussing how to encourage collaboration. The idea of creating a space for socializing or less formal work chat can be valuable. Regardless of whether your employees find themselves discussing current industry trends or simply catching up over the latest movie releases, if it encourages social interaction, it will help enrich your remote culture.
If it’s appropriate for your organization, encouraging informal methods of communicating in more general terms is also a good idea. Think emojis, happy birthday wishes in gif format, and so on. It’s a long way from more traditional work emails, but the world has changed. If workers are to feel a sense of community within their team, they have to be able to communicate as they might with their friends outside of work.
Host Social Events
With the advent of online phone systems and video conferencing tech, holding meetings online is not a problem. Some aspects of traditional work life need a bit more work to translate into a remote work environment, however.
In on-site workplaces, social events can happen spontaneously, but that’s not the case in a remote workplace. So, you’ll need to put some thought into organizing opportunities for your employees to socialize.
Try quizzes, virtual lunch meetups, yoga sessions, and the like — the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Don’t forget that if your workforce is spread across different time zones, you should probably vary the times when you schedule these events so that everyone gets a chance to participate.
And what about motivation by gamification? This doesn’t mean abandoning work for the latest video game releases; far from it. Instead, you can use some principles from game design to motivate your employees to go the extra mile.
This means introducing elements of competition like leaderboards, points, or badges to be earned for achieving certain tasks. There’s no need to go over the top (gold stars are not required — this isn’t elementary school). Nevertheless, a few small touches like this can make for a more enjoyable atmosphere and encourage increased productivity.
Making the Ideal Remote Work Environment for Your Business
Creating and maintaining a remote work culture takes planning and attention to detail. Each organization varies in its needs, and yours will have its own individual requirements. You may also look to recruit a virtual assistant.
But in the end, it’ll be well worth the time and effort invested. After all, you’ll have created a remote working environment that’s not only effective today but that sets your business up for long-term success.
John Allen – Director, SEO, 8×8
John Allen is a driven marketing professional with over 14 years of experience, an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs across SEM, SEO, paid media, mobile, social, and email, with an eye to new customer acquisition and increasing revenue