What do you think about when someone says they have a strong company culture? Ping-pong tables? Free food? Nap rooms?
When more than half of workers with no remote work experience are planning to work remotely in the future, it’s clear that building a robust company culture in a remote work environment doesn’t necessarily involve office accoutrement.
So what does make up a strong company culture? And why does it still matter for remote workers?
Why it's important to have a strong remote work culture
It’s hard to feel engaged as a remote worker. People who are spread across time zones often don’t feel a sense of belonging with their team members and the company at large.
According to a Gallup poll, a little more than 20% of the world's employees felt engaged at work in 2021, with only 33% of employees thriving in 2022.
This is where company culture can improve quality of life. A good company culture offers many advantages:
It explains your company’s purposes to employees, consumers, and clients
It tells your team members how your organization is different from others
It outlines how you do things as a company
It makes employees excited about contributing to goals
It creates a higher sense of team accountability
But the creation and maintenance of an effective remote team culture isn’t easy — it’s going to take more than branded swag and virtual happy hours.
Keep reading to find out how to create a strong company culture specifically for a remote workforce, starting with hiring all the way through to tangible growth opportunities people care about.
11 ways to build a strong culture within a remote team
Some people think a strong company culture isn’t compatible with a remote workforce. This is because remote work is often associated with isolation and loneliness.
With remote work, face-to-face watercooler moments and non-work-related conversations are more difficult. In an office, these interactions happen organically, and some remote workers might feel awkward reaching out to team members for similar conversation in a digital context.
But it’s not a remote workforce that kills a company culture — it’s a lack of investment. Here are 11 ways to build a strong scaffolding for your remote-first company culture:
1. Hire people with a diverse set of good values
Building a company culture means hiring the right employees.
And who are they? They’re a diverse set of people who can contribute to good company values.
Employee engagement starts with great employees. And while it used to be common advice to hire only for “culture fit”, recruitment specialists have realized that diversity creates strength in company culture.
So when it comes to hiring, focus less on a strict set of company values and more on hiring good people with good values. If your company values are worth upholding — and they will be if you’re creating a solid culture — high employee engagement will follow when you hire people with strong core values.
Who knows, they may also strengthen your company in a way you didn’t foresee, too.
2. Include your company values in all new-hire onboarding material
The onboarding process is a crucial time in the employee lifecycle. Whether you’re onboarding a remote employee or an on-site one, the time to showcase your values and set expectations for new employees is right away.
Your onboarding process should include explanations of:
Your remote and/or hybrid work policies
How employees contribute to team and company success
How you measure performance
How you collaborate as a team
Your definition of good work-life balance
3. Build a pattern of predictable communication
Leadership involves a lot of team communication, and doing it virtually asks for even more.
Some of your communication will be synchronous (real-time virtual meetings on platforms like Vowel,Google Meet, and Zoom) and some asynchronous (email, Slack, etc.). The trick is knowing when to use which one.
You want to build trust with your staff that you don’t have tough conversations over DM, but you also don’t have endless meetings without a goal. Set your communication policy accordingly and make sure everyone follows it.
Don’t forget informal communication, either. A regular schedule of informal catch-ups are a great chance for team-building because it replicates the conversations people would have on their coffee breaks.
Managers can easily keep track of communication with Vowel in shared folders for easy reference.
4. Create anti-values
One way to explain values is by showing people what you don’t want. Consider outlining your company’s anti-values, like:
Be an asshole
Don’t trust anyone
Make decisions without intention
Creating a list of anti-values can be an irreverent and tongue-in-cheek way of getting your actual values across.
5. Invest in team cohesion
If you’re working remotely, you know it’s tough for video calls and virtual team meetings to have the same feel as meeting in person.
As manager of a remote team, foster connection and invest in team cohesion with virtual team-building activities such as a virtual coffee break, monthly book club or movie night, or even just a simple chat channel on Slack.
If you have the budget for it, meeting at an in-person off-site event is the best way to boost teamwork and create a sense of belonging. Alternatively, you can encourage local team members to meet up informally (but maybe spring for some Starbucks gift cards 😉).
6. Offer development opportunities
A strong company culture means investing in the development of your employees. Employees expect such opportunities and take them into consideration when applying for jobs.
An easy way to take initiative and support your remote workforce in their professional development is to offer an education stipend. Your team members can use it to buy courses to help them grow in their career.
A few more ideas:
Q&A sessions with leaders in your organization
Mentorship programs (more on this later)
7. Show appreciation
It shouldn’t surprise you that research shows employees are motivated by praise. On the flip side, employees whose work is unrecognized are three times more likely to say they plan to quit within the next year.
Appreciation doesn’t need to be expensive or time consuming, either. We recommend setting up a Slack channel for praise, to give other team members a chance to jump in with reaction emojis. If your meeting software allows reaction emojis, that’s also a great way to show appreciation in real time.
Swag and gifts are always appreciated, too. Make sure to recognize birthdays, weddings, work anniversaries, and milestones.
8. Create non-work-related Slack channels
To make some room for remote team bonding, leverage the communication channels and collaboration tools you already use.
Add a few channels/boards/workspaces dedicated to interests. If you have a lot of movie buffs on your team, make a channel to talk about movies. And a channel dedicated to memes is always a great idea (with rules for what’s appropriate, of course).
9. Build a strong meeting culture (where it's okay to skip meetings)
Collaboration for remote teams depends largely on virtual meetings. That’s why you need a strong meeting culture.
A strong meeting culture means:
Coming to meetings with a clear agenda
Documenting your meetings so they're easy to revisit
Assigning clear action items
Not having too many meetings — meeting too often and for no good reason robs employees of productive work time.
Vowel can help you reduce your meetings and create a meeting culture where it’s okay to miss a meeting. Robust documentation like meeting recordings, live transcripts, bookmarks, and clips make it easier for people to catch up asynchronously.
10. Gather feedback and measure engagement
How do your employees feel about your company culture? The only way to know how your team feels is to ask them.
You’ll probably find some outspoken team members who will let you know their feedback whether you ask for it or not, but some people are a lot more shy. Always use anonymous surveys so people can feel free to be honest.
11. Always provide context and documentation
When we communicate online and virtually, a lot gets lost. We lost what we get from body language and tone of voice. This can lead to misunderstandings, so it’s good practice to always include as much context as you can.
For virtual meetings, Vowel makes it easy to add context. Use one of the many meeting agenda templates or make your own. When you’ve added all the agenda items, the agenda goes out along with the invitation. No need for a separate document.
Creative ideas to improve culture in a remote workplace
Working with people across different time zones has its challenges. But if you thought the work-from-home trend was for the pandemic, think again. It’s here to stay.
So, here are two things you can implement to quickly boost your remote company culture.
Run mentorship programs
The best way to build camaraderie and trust is to create an environment where team members can help each other achieve their goals and succeed professionally. A mentorship program is a natural way to do this. More experienced team members can mentor the less experienced — and both have a lot to gain. Mentors learn leadership skills while mentees get better at their job.
In addition to formal mentorship, you can use onboarding buddies, have workshops to share productivity tips, and have weekly lunch-and-learns.
Create a virtual break room
A lot of good stuff happens in the break room, but some managers don’t realize the value of what actually happens.
Don’t be that manager — re-create the break room virtually. No fancy virtual reality gear necessary, just a good meeting platform like Vowel.
With Vowel, users have their own virtual rooms where they can invite team members to join them at any time on their lunch or coffee break.
Cultivate a remote culture that makes a difference
A good company culture gets people excited and engaged about their work and their role in your organization.
As a remote team, you’ll be doing most activities virtually — so you've got to have a good meeting platform on your side.
Vowel can help you step up your meeting culture and boost your overall company culture. Robust video call quality is accompanied by tons of built-in features to make meeting prep and documentation simple. Meeting agendas, action items, recordings, automatic transcripts … it’s all built into one place.
Try it for yourself by signing up for free!