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How to enable a successful remote working culture

By Diana Prodan

Intentional or not, culture is a huge part of any company, and it can have a major effect on your bottom line—companies with strong cultures experience four times the revenue growth over businesses with weak or undefined cultures.

Company culture is often thought of as those flashy benefits like a casual dress code, Friday happy hours, or flexible vacation policies, but companies with strong cultures know that those perks are just a byproduct of a strong culture.

Winning corporate cultures have worked hard to build a culture that includes defined values, expectations, and a business mission that drives every part of a business. These guidelines build the atmosphere and attitudes within a workplace that gives employees a connection to the work they do every day, and influences their productivity, work satisfaction, engagement, and quality of work.

Whether it has been created purposefully or not, every business has a culture. Some cultures are good, some are bad, but most companies just let their cultures happen.

Culture is NOT a Ping-pong Table

The past few decades have put a major focus on culture, and from that focus have popped up some really fun perks to attract young talent, like dog-friendly offices, in-office slides, and fully-stocked snack closets. What these shiny, eye-catching perks seem to miss is that true culture should be a strategic shift to running a company based on shared values. These misses are becoming especially evident as the pandemic has forced many companies to suddenly become remote: turns out ping-pong tables and slushy machines aren’t an attractive perk if nobody is in the office to use them. This highlights the need for a strong culture that can be felt no matter where employees are working from.

Creating a strong and healthy culture is difficult because it requires buy-in.

Throughout the whole organization. It is complex because every individual is driven by something different. But the core of a healthy culture is always based on shared values that guide your company’s relationships with employees, board members, clients, and customers.

Building Culture in a New World

Before the global pandemic changed the way we work, workplace culture could be expressed through office layout or perks, but the rapid shift to remote work has left company culture exposed to its bare bones. These days company culture depends on the core tenets that the business is built on and how they affect employees—companies can’t hide their culture behind shiny, fun perks. That’s why it is so important to build a strong culture.

But how can you do that in a way that will connect with employees, no matter where they are working? A great way to think about company culture is to give your company a personality. Is it authentic? Do employees and customers believe in what your company does? Certain things make a person trustworthy and someone that you want to spend time with, and company culture can be thought of in the same way. Here are a few attributes that a company’s “personality” should have to create a great, strong culture.

Be a Great Listener

Bottom line: Not listening to employees does companies a great disservice. Employees are on the ground floor and seeing the day-to-day happenings in your company, which means they might be sharing game-changing ideas to make things more productive or efficient. By lending an ear regularly, you will be empowering employees to share those great ideas, no matter what their position is in the company. Listening builds trust within an organization because people feel like their ideas are being heard and they’re not afraid to share them.

Really Care for Your Employees

Your employees aren’t just working remotely—their whole lives are now remote. That means trying to be on a work call while also juggling their kids’ remote learning their dog asking to go out, and their spouse needing to take a call in their shared home office space. Companies with strong cultures will understand that their employees are human  That means making sure employees are getting the support they need to thrive despite the circumstances. Companies that lead with empathy will build trust and ultimately have more productive and loyal employees in the long run.

Build a Foundation of Safety and Trust

Any great remote work environment should offer a culture characterized by trust and mutual respect at every level. This means employees are empowered and trusted to do their work however and whenever is best for them, but also in a way that gives them confidence that if something doesn’t go exactly right, they won’t be scared of punishment. Psychological safety is a huge benefit to a team because people won’t be afraid to speak up if they disagree with someone and aren’t afraid to bring ideas to the table.

Adapt to Circumstances Quickly

One thing this pandemic should definitely teach us is that nothing is set in stone and things can change very quickly. The best remote work cultures are those that are fluid and can adapt when things change. That doesn’t mean company values change, but the way that we express them can change. This could mean offering different perks for different employees—an “education” perk may mean going back to university for an MBA for one employee while another employee wants to attend some conferences. Adapting might mean more blanket offerings as well, maybe offering additional mental health days off or allowing employees a stipend for office supplies. Check in with your employees regularly to see if there is something you’re missing that could make their lives easier or better.

Communicate Often and Be Transparent

Communication impacts everything a company does, from how decisions are reached to how employees interact with one another. More importantly, when leadership communicates with employees and is transparent about what’s happening within the company, employees feel more connected. Honesty, transparency, and regular communication keeps employees engaged and gives them a vision of where the company is going and how they belong. Communication should be open across the board—from regular one-on-ones with managers, standups with teams, and all-hands meetings with departments or the whole company. With remote offices, it’s especially important to regularly communicate, and be obvious about it—it’s not like you can just drop by someone’s office and check in. This might mean communicating through multiple channels with someone or making sure they confirm that they’ve read or heard your communication and they’re on the task.

Take Time to Engage and Have Fun

While there are many benefits to remote work, there are some significant downsides, one being that it’s tougher to strengthen relationships with coworkers. That just means that remote companies need to make a little bit more effort to intentionally build relationships. One LinkedIn survey revealed that 50% of professionals believe that having work friends is critical to their overall happiness. That’s why this step is especially important: make time for fun. Take time to celebrate successes, encourage employees to engage with each other over a virtual happy hour or book club, or start a Slack channel to chat about anything or everything that you’d discuss over a “water cooler” in the office. People that know each other are more likely to trust each other. Make sure to take the time to get to know your employees and encourage them to get to know each other outside of work time to truly build a close-knit team that grows together.

Don’t Just Let Culture Happen

Whether you’ve been strategic about it or not, every company already has a culture—the question is whether it’s a good culture or a bad culture. A good remote company culture should always be a work in progress, and leadership should intentionally revisit how the culture is handling any company growth and business pivots. With a little focus, regular attention, and keeping true to values, strong company culture can foster teamwork, productivity, and innovation that will support growth as a business expands and evolves. Because culture is one of the best predictors of high performing teams, it will be the glue that holds companies together through constantly changing business environments for many years to come.