With the hybrid or remote work model, there’s always the potential of disconnect as the old ways of communication may no longer be appropriate.

Redefine the rules of engagement and evolve your company culture as it finds its feet in the ‘new normal’. 

Why it matters

Creating a remote work culture is the antidote to isolation and a primer for resilience as your team learns they can work and succeed together without being together physically. Your company culture encompasses everything you do and, if done right, it keeps teams functioning harmoniously. It also helps align employees with the brand’s ethos and values – the North Star that points everyone in the same direction.

It matters that your employees have the choice of where to work, and it’s vital to support that with a cultural framework that boosts team spirit.

Remote work culture is an unconditional feeling of connection co-workers experience when they’re bonded by similar priorities, interests, and attitudes – Snacknation

Start off by defining the accepted behaviours and attitudes that everyone agrees reflect your brand values and purpose. The key point is that there must be agreement and buy-in from everyone. Your entire organisation must be involved in the process, so that employees feel included and responsible for defining and living the ‘new’ cultural norms. Prioritising culture and making staff feel valued can boost morale and help attract new talent.

Avoiding the pitfalls

Employees tend to have more contact with their closest teammates and work friends, and have less contact with the rest. When discussions are held and decisions are made in cliques, it raises the biggest cultural challenge for remote work: feeling ‘seen’ versus ‘unseen’. Even the perception of being excluded can cause tension and stress.

Where communication is inadequate and engagement recedes, employee loyalty and retention suffer.

As we lean more heavily on online communication tools, a digital culture must be deliberately embedded, rather than assuming that everyone’s okay wherever they are.

We take a lot for granted when we’re in the same room as our colleagues and managers – it’s easy to brainstorm, share ideas and quickly deal with problems. Pumble distinguishes between synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication, reminding us that it’s not so simple to transfer our previous norms onto our present work model. Organisations must adapt and agree on the best ways to achieve goals with the most appropriate modes of communication.

Fostering a remote culture that works

  • Work- and home-life balance 

What are the agreed expectations? Should employees be available before or after typical work hours? Should they sometimes make themselves available over weekends and public holidays? If they want to work while travelling, does it matter where they work? Conduct deliberate discussions around the level of flexibility allowed, ensuring you take personal circumstances and family commitments into account. Settling on an unspoken understanding that people will avail themselves to attend to work issues can become problematic if perceived to be a top-down expectation – this should be addressed and formalised.

Agree in principle to prioritise output rather than time spent online – this is no indicator of productivity.

Document the agreed upon and accepted rules of engagement, including etiquette around internal chats and response times, how ad hoc priority tasks are communicated, and make sure that everyone’s on the same page.

  • Onboarding process

Break up your onboarding programme into chunks to give newcomers enough time and guidance through their induction and training, allowing them opportunities to reflect and formulate questions to gain clarity. Invite existing staff to participate to refresh their brand knowledge. When new and old staff share the experience, it’s an opportunity to get acquainted and helps cement a sense of belonging.

Make a point of practicing remote collaboration as a training function: create small task teams and compel them to work together on something fun or to solve a problem.

  • Meetings with purpose

When in-person meetings must happen, manage them in a way that’s convenient for everyone. For example, arrange small group gatherings in different areas. If you end up with a cross-functional team of employees who live close to each other, great! It forces them outside the comfort zone of their regular departments to engage with other colleagues. Get those teams to report back on their experience to the rest of the organisation in a large online sharing session.

Sometimes the goal should be just to connect – keep it that simple and drop shop talk from the agenda.

Establish resource groups for various learning purposes, work-related or not. Previously, we hosted ‘Adulting’ courses at Wetu offices, which included parenting tutorials, TED talks, presentations on doing tax returns, even changing a car tyre. Arrange similar group activities and help set guidelines for those meetings. How about employees doing a show and tell about their travel experiences? Send out a survey to gather topics people are interested in.

  • Communication norms

Agree on and establish new meeting rules. For example, everyone must turn on their cameras for company-wide meetings, perhaps with the allowance that it’s okay not to be dressed formally. Accommodate colleagues in different time zones by offering to alternate meetings at convenient times. When in-person team meetings are required, allow them to meet each other halfway rather than insist on their travelling into the office. Ensure that one-on-one check-ins between staff and managers are scheduled on a regular basis.

Provide a forum to raise concerns – you can create an anonymous, virtual suggestion box where staff can submit ideas on how to improve what doesn’t work with your current work model. Conduct feedback sessions with the broader organisation, so employees can see that their concerns are being acknowledged and resolved.

Centralise access to your entire team’s projects, agree on a naming convention and how work will be saved. If anyone needs anything from a colleague they can’t reach immediately, this will help keep everyone on track with historical work and future plans.

Remember that important decisions made in-office must be communicated timeously with remote staff. Recognise a job well done but do it with sensitivity – making a public fuss about some employees could make others feel ignored and unimportant. As with everything else in your company culture, consistent execution of shared values and agreed upon norms will keep your team moving forward together.

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