How to foster a strong culture within a remote workforce
THE number of employees leaving the office and deciding to work in a more virtual setting is rapidly on the rise. And who is to blame them? Working remotely brings many benefits to both employees and employers.
Remote working gives workers the autonomy to work where they please and increases motivation and productivity levels. And for employers, having a team that’s working remotely means they can save money on overhead costs by reducing operation and maintenance expenses for large office spaces. Additionally, since workers are not constrained by geographical boundaries, companies are able to recruit top talent from around the globe.
While harnessing a remote workforce undoubtedly looks attractive, it comes with its own set of challenges. One of the main barriers in the journey of running a successful remote workforce is the creation and maintaining of a strong company culture. How is this possible when your team is scattered across the globe?
Luckily, we at Tech Wire Asia have compiled a list of basic but crucial tips to help you, with advice from experienced leaders of remote-working companies.
Hire the right people
The key to creating and managing a successful remote workforce starts with the very first step of recruitment. Not everyone is cut out to work remotely; it takes a certain type of person to be able to manage their own workflow without the constant physical management of a leader.
“First and foremost, only hire people remotely if they are eager to work remotely. Even better, if they’ve had remote work experience before. Some people are definitely not wired for remote work, it will be hell for them (and for you as a consequence). Hint: remote work is NOT for everyone,” explains Emeric Ernoult, Founder and CEO of social media management tool, Agorapulse.
Communication is key
One of the biggest obstacles to creating a strong company culture is the lack of communication. In a physical office space, the passing interactions at the coffee machine, the non-verbal signals, and frequent eye-contact during daily chats forms the key recipe for healthy communication.
But in a remote workforce, these same interactions are not possible. But this doesn’t mean you cannot facilitate good communication among your employees. Fortunately, there are many ways you can work on this:
In today’s digital age, there are many tools and programs to facilitate the communication of a remote workforce.
While email and messaging platforms enable instant communication, it can sometimes be tricky to get a point across clearly. But, video conferencing allows for the best-quality interactions available next to in-person meetings.
Meetings over video enable participants to have a better read on coworker expressions and be much more engaged in the meeting. This allows them to make much more accurate decisions.
Alex Hirst, co-founder of The Hoxby collective, “a global community of talented individuals working flexibly to deliver exceptional work”, tells Tech Wire Asia:
“We interview candidates on video calls which some find quite daunting but it’s so important for the community. Video means people tend to stay more engaged than when listening just on the phone and also feels much more personal.”
Digital communication and collaboration tools
In a remote workforce, digital communication and collaboration platforms are a vital tool on which daily conversations can take place. These are far more effective than time-consuming, back-and-forth email chains.
Chat platforms such as Slack, a digital communication platform that can be used across all devices and platforms, also add an element of fun to the conversation. Real-Time conversations are much more interactive and engaging, resembling more of a human face-to-face conversation.
It is also crucial for employees to communicate work progress. Tools such as Trello enable employees to keep up-to-date with information related to a project or team’s work. The information can be updated in real time, with team members being able to access this 24/7. And with a remote team being behind the development of Trello, the collaboration platform epitomizes ease and efficiently for remote workers.
While tools are a big and impactful part of creating a successful company culture, according to Ernoult, this is only part of the solution.
“The tools are one aspect, and there are many of them. But beware, the tools are not the solution, they only help to put the solution together,” Ernoult explains.
“The real solution is to be mindful of how you want your team to communicate (you to them, them to you, them with each other). Write it down, repeat it, talk about it, be super obsessed by it. Again, it won’t happen organically and you have to constantly evaluate how communication is flowing to improve it.”
Despite its reputation for being “lame” and often followed by a wave of eye-rolls after being bought up in the office, team building is one of the most important investments you can make for your company, for many reasons.
Most notably, it increases employee engagement which has a big impact on your bottom line. Research from Gallup found that disengaged employees are costing the US economy a whopping US$500 billion per year.
Team-building allows you to build communication skills with employees, creating a warm company culture built on the foundation of trust and understanding.
But how is it possible to develop and maintain strong personal and professional relationships with individuals whom you may never have met before? Well, there are many ways!
“The main tip is to get together when you can. Do a company retreat once a year, or more if you can afford it. Do team retreats once in a while. Create opportunities to meet face to face, it’s priceless,” explains Ernoult.
“We fly our team in for training, and schedule company retreats. Being able to meet in person a few times a year is very important,” agrees Heidi Yu, CEO of Boosto, a blockchain-based influencer infrastructure.
Virtual coffee breaks:
As well as leveraging video calls for serious work-related meetings, it should also be used to have relaxed catch-ups with employees.
Oren Greenberg, the founder of Kurve, a remote-working company which works with funded startups and corporates to accelerate growth, explained to Tech Wire Asia;
“It’s important to recognize that relaxed chatter is needed for humans to feel connected. If you rule with an iron fist and fail to allow communication on this basis, the team will never gel together.”
John Pring, a spokesperson from Microsofttraining.net, also agrees that the key to creating a strong bond with employees is to harness the power of video calls:
“As awkward as team bonding can be, having a quick chat before your conference call or video conferencing can help a whole team get to know each other and break the ice. I think I’d recommend maybe not scheduling a bonding call as that can appear a bit forced, however, make sure you slip ice-breakers into the conversation before any scheduled work calls,” he explained.
Incorporate culture into communication:
“What seemed to happen naturally with our remote team is that we would start emails (or sign off emails) with words from the other person’s location,” Glen Allsop, CEO of Detailed.com, a marketing intelligence platform, told Tech Wire Asia. “I work with a man named Roberto who is Mexican and living in the US, and usually sign off my emails with something in Spanish.”
It is important to be creative and a variety of different things until you find the ones that work for your organization and your culture.