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Across the country and throughout the world, companies are digitizing. Be it individual services or day-to-day operations, there’s a pervasive practice in play for many employees: that of “working remotely.”
Among myriad other lessons we’ve learned in the past year, businesses have seen how they can shift operations online and still be productive. In fact, many companies report employees being more productive when working from home. As this trend grows and executives commit to long-term WFH models, how do we create company culture through screens? As the CEO of a company that I started five years ago with a remote workforce, these are tried-and-true foundational ways we’ve built a thriving company culture.
The case for screens
There’s been plenty written about how screens suck the life force from our professional souls, so let’s take the side of these digital dementors for a moment. Yes, Zoom fatigue is as real as dementors are not, and there is no substitute for genuine in-person interactions. There are still benefits to a digitally driven business though:
No geographical limitations when hiring, which means increasing your talent pool
Increased productivity and flexibility
Cost savings (for businesses and their employees)
Innovative adaptive measures for working from home to foster work/life balance
Related: When Was Remote Work Born and What Are Its Benefits?
Embrace opportunities instead of pitfalls
Among the marquee traits of an effective leader is the ability to weigh opportunity against challenge. Positivity will always take you further than cynicism. Match positive vibes with pragmatic ideals, and you have a recipe for success.
Working remotely comes with unique challenges. There’s the obvious — the blatant lack of authentic human contact — and the less obvious, like overworking, dwindling creativity (which, as we’ll discuss, can be countered) and, if not attended to, an ever-depleting sense of belonging and company community.
Communicate clearly through tools such as Slack and Asana. We provide an online org chart so that employees can see how they fit into the overall organization. Utilize shared Dropbox and Google Sheets so that employees can collaborate on documents, and platforms for SOPs and interactive training.
The key is to assess how the opportunities that spawn from WFH culture can rectify the parallel challenges.
Schedule times for synergy, even if it’s non-work related
Synergy makes the office go round. What is it? Think of synergy simply as the sum of all parts being greater than one single part itself. It appears during that one random meeting where a conversational tangent turns into a fantastic idea. It shows up by the water cooler as two employees talk about fantasy football and realize that the same thinking behind the tech that feeds them lineup suggestions can be applied to the product they’re developing.
How can this be accomplished when working remotely? Schedule times for these moments. Whether it’s a digital creativity sprint or virtual happy hour, give your employees time to mingle, talk and reflect. It might not feel as natural as being in the office, but the synergy can still happen.
We use a Slack channel dedicated to #Random, #Recognition and #Gratitude where employees can share personal or work-related challenges and wins. It enables employees to learn more about one another, establish deeper connections and unite in a shared purpose.
Give autonomy to your employees
Lots of employees enjoy the flexibility that comes with working from home. An easy way to destroy this flexibility, stress employees out and ruin your company’s culture is to schedule mindless hourly check-ins, constantly track employee performance and productivity and require daily or weekly deliverables (see again: deliverables).
Instead, do the exact opposite of this. Then celebrate the fact that, hey, it works. People appreciate autonomy because it says this: You are trusted and you are respected. Adding rigidity to a less-than-traditional working environment says the exact opposite.
Educate your employees with your vision and how they fit into the mission of the company. Sharing the company’s core values with employees is important in building a strong foundation. Provide opportunities for employees to recognize their coworkers’ actions that support your core values.
Empower your employees to do their jobs effectively. The result will be a culture built on trust and respect, instead of one teetering atop micromanagement and unrealistic demands. It will increase your employee retention, as well as improve overall productivity.
Related: Workplace Flexibility Can Impact How You Attract, Hire, and Retain Talent
Make meetings count; lose those that don’t
Meetings are part of any workflow, but make them count. Because of the aforementioned Zoom fatigue, many executives are shifting away from a day full of meetings. As humans, we simply aren’t wired to stare at screens all day.
What’s more, there’s an added attention factor that comes into play during virtual meetings. Looking at people directly on a screen forces your attention to said screen at all times. It’s draining, and endless meetings with little purpose is an easy way to take an ax to team morale.
Keep your team’s meetings purposeful and concise: Establish the objective of the meeting, then note the action items to follow. Lots of teams do quick check-ins with each other. Maybe there’s a longer meeting only once per week. We have semi-monthly Team Huddles where all 125+ employees join the Zoom call for company updates and employee shout-outs. Keeping meetings purposeful will give your employees the information they need to do their job, as well as more time to do the work they’re good at.
And in the spirit of synergy, remember that not every meeting has to be about work. Gather your team once a week for a virtual water cooler session. Choose a new topic each time to discuss and learn more about each other.
Think about how you can grow your company and its culture offline. As the world reopens, what opportunities will there be for your employees to congregate with each other? Until then, what can you do to spur growth and make your employees feel appreciated?
If you have an office and the means for safely inviting employees back, why not host a function for all new employees who joined your company during the pandemic? And does your company engage in retreats for teams and/or the entire staff? If not, consider how this might be accomplished in 2021 and beyond.
Send res to staff members without them asking for it. If you come across a book that you think would benefit one of your team leaders, why not share it with them? Create welcome packages for new employees and care packages for everyone. Surprise your team with tangible benefits and opportunities for growth that aren’t through a screen. Your culture will flourish.
Related: Why Remote Work Makes Teams (And Leaders Better)
The future of working remotely
Although we don’t have a holistic view of remote work’s impact just yet, the advantages of running a digital enterprise are clear-cut. As the world reopens, expect more and more businesses to either stay fully remote or introduce a hybrid model to their workflow. I started my business five years ago with an entirely remote global workforce, and can assure you that building culture in a remote company works.
Regardless how your business operates, positive company culture should always be a chief priority. Embrace the possibilities of our digital world, and continue to look for ways to celebrate your team both in-person and across the web.