Seventy-five percent of U.S. workers have reported that they have struggled at work due to anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a TELUS international mental health study. Besides anxiety, isolation is another cause of mental health decline. As companies are looking to remote work as a long-term solution post-pandemic, remote work culture is more important than ever. But, how can companies create a virtual work environment that enables a successful remote working culture? Before answering this, it's important to take a step back and define what is remote working culture.
Indeed.com defines work culture as "a collection of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that make up the regular atmosphere in a work environment." Virtual culture is the digital version of these attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, so even when teams are not physically connected in one location, they still feel a sense of belonging through their shared experiences.
A strong culture is highly critical for companies to thrive and succeed. Companies with a remote work culture that is strong, invest time and resources to ensure a great remote work environment. These companies usually have more productive employees, report better mental health, and feel more loyalty from their employees.
How can leaders embrace a remote work culture? For example, the fully remote and social media company, Buffer, makes sure that their employees get more have unlimited vacation time.
They even took it a step further at the end of 2020. While Buffer ditched their physical office in 2015 and has been operating remotely ever since, stress was understandably at an all-time high in 2020. So, at the end of the year, they shut their operation down and took six days off. According to Hailey Griffis, Head of Public Relations at Buffer:
"Closing at the end of the year does not mean that our team has to celebrate Christmas/Boxing Day/Western New Years/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa to take part; this is a company-wide initiative that applies to everyone equally!"
This is an innovative way of manifesting Buffer's values, which in turn reinforced their remote work culture and even became international news.
Essentially, the work stays the same. The main difference is how things get done.
For employees who have transitioned to a remote work environment, they might experience a workplace culture shock. Culture shock happens when you are exposed to a new environment or culture different from your own, which often leads to confusion, uncertainty, or anxiety. It is similar to experiencing corporate culture shock—when you join a new company, which is highly different from your previous one. That's why remote working culture change is critical to help employees acclimate to the transition.
Now, the main question is: How do you build a strong remote work culture? Does creating a culture in remote teams happen naturally, or are there specific steps that you can take? The work culture happens organically for early-stage startups based on the founders' beliefs and the people they hire initially. However, you can be deliberate about establishing your remote company culture from day one. Here are the steps you can take to build your remote culture from the first day.
Your remote work company culture will largely depend on how your employees behave and communicate in Slack channels and Zoom calls synchronously and asynchronously. Hiring the right people is one of the first steps. And in this case, the right person for the job transcends skills and experience. You can include specific questions in the interview, so you can at least have indicators if this person would fit your remote company culture. For example, one of the most common questions to ask is, "Describe the environment where you work best." You can also ask value-based questions. If your company values creativity, you can ask how they stay creative or approach finding creative solutions.
Hiring the right people means you already have a clear sense of which values you want your employees or team to embody. For example, one of Google's values is, Technology innovation is our lifeblood. Even if you're not an employee, you instantly know that this is true about Google. Have you already written down your values? More often than not, you are already living it as one of the first leaders in your company. Now, it's time to prioritize and write down which values you want to communicate and live by. You can then integrate this document into every process, such as hiring and onboarding new employees.
How to build a strong culture with a remote team? Since there is no physical office space, most of the indicators of your work culture happen in Slack channels and on Zoom calls.
Do you want to promote a fun and creative culture? If yes, you can ask people to change their Zoom virtual backgrounds into their favorite show in your next call.
How about if flexibility is embedded into your culture? In this case, if your employees are all starting at different times in the day, have them communicate when with the team when they hop online.
How do you maintain culture while working remotely? One easy yet powerful way to do it is to make the effort to send something tangible to your team. You can't all be in the same physical space, but you can definitely send something to them that'll make them feel part of the team. For example, the TubeBuddy team sends a bunch of cool and personalized merchandise to celebrate someone's work anniversary.
Lastly, when the question is asked, how do you create a work from home culture, one of the crucial answers is to choose the right remote tools. Since there is no physical office, async remote tools serve as a digital office space. Tools not only communicate the remote company culture but also set the mood and affect people's productivity.
Now that you've got the main steps down for how to build culture in a remote team, what about how to adapt company culture for remote work? Choosing the right tools is important, but what's more, is creating a remote-first mindset centered around asynchronous collaboration.
With the rise of remote work, the number of Zoom meetings has dramatically increased as well. Zoom meetings have become the default form of communication, and in some cases, an excuse to keep the team connected. However, there are a number of other ways to engage and empower your remote team.
The answer lies in mastering when to use asynchronous and synchronous communication. The memes "This meeting could have been an email" are sadly based on harsh realities. According to a shocking meeting statistics study collated by Otter.ai, the number of meetings that American workers had on average rose by 13.5% in 2020.
An async remote work culture doesn't always default to a Zoom meeting. Instead, teams utilize a variety of async tools in different situations to collaborate asynchronously and respond at their own time.
Here are a few asynchronous tools that can help you become better at asynchronous communication and have fewer meetings:
Establishing your company's remote work culture is not a one-and-done deal. Your core values stay the same, but the tools and processes you have in place need constant review and changes. What do you think makes a good work culture? And which one step will you take today in the right direction towards creating culture in remote teams that you work with?