Despite the many negatives of 2020, one outcome that many would agree has been positive is the rapid adoption of new technology in business. In fact, a McKinsey study estimated that some companies have accelerated their adoption of technology by almost 5 years!

One of the biggest factors that has driven digitization is the requirement for much of the workforce to be remote. For many business owners, converting their workforce to operate remotely or even partially remote was never in the plans, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was little to no choice.

Surprisingly, the initial response from many executives has been overwhelmingly positive. A recent Gartner survey found that 74% of responding chief financial officers will be moving some employees to fully remote status even after physical distancing measures relax post COVID-19.

This means that the work environment post-COVID is most likely going to look a lot different than we are used to, with a lot more of us working from our kitchen tables and couches (except for the lucky ones with a dedicated home office) than a cubicle. I imagine some of you are celebrating by imagining the printer smashing scene from the movie Office Space.

It is true, having a remote workforce could mean happier employees, less unscheduled absences, a great reduction in operating costs, a decrease in unnecessary meetings, and an increased talent pool for hiring.

Despite all these positives, there are a few dangers that we need to be aware of. To do this, let’s look at a company that has had a fully remote workforce since its inception… Buffer. In their 2019 State of Remote Work report, Buffer’s remote workers said their greatest hurdle was loneliness (19%), followed by collaborating or communicating (17%), and staying motivated (8%). These findings point to how important it is for organizations to establish and reinforce a strong remote company culture if they are hoping to maintain the same (or better) level of success as before going remote.

We have outlined 5 key suggestions for how to establish and grow a positive company culture with remote teams.

  1. Refine your company values

    Most organizations establish their foundation based on their business model, revenue streams, and profit margins. Culture and values end up being an afterthought, often pushed by the HR department but seen as a distraction from the “real work”. Hopefully most of you realize by now that this mindset is incorrect. Especially now with many working remotely, it is more important than ever to refine and reinforce company values that inspire the masses.

    The process to refine your company values and culture includes:

    1. Leadership brainstorming
    2. Leadership refinement
    3. Share with all employees and encourage suggestions
    4. Refine through the feedback loop
    5. Implement and reinforce
  2. Don’t just talk about it, actually DO IT

    Updating your company vision, mission, and value statements on the official business plan is not enough. In order to ensure that your new, cool, techy, remote company culture is a success, you need to make sure to communicate the changes to ALL stakeholders and enforce the changes.

    To do this effectively, you need to figure out the following:

    1. Identify your communication mediums and define their use

      These days there are so many ways to communicate with others, including phone calls, text messages, instant messages, video calls, emails, and posting on social groups. To figure out the best mediums and how to use them, start with listing everything your company already uses. Keep the ones that are used well and often, and identify areas where communication is falling short. Here are a few of our favorite tools we use and recommend:

    2. What is your implementation and reinforcement strategy?

      How do you plan to launch and continuously promote your newfound vision and culture? We recommend not limiting the responsibility to only one individual. When we help clients launch an innovation program and create a culture shift, we recommend identifying multiple influencers and champions across the organizations. These individuals are brought into the loop and trained on the new processes before anyone else. When the changes are pushed to the masses, this gives you a group of influential individuals already positioned well to support.

    3. What is your communications strategy?

      You can’t just send a single email out to the organization with the new vision, culture, and processes and expect lasting change. In order to create a complete shift that will help both in-person and remote workers feel connected and encouraged, you will need to reinforce the messaging on a consistent basis.

      Refer to the list of communication mediums you plan to utilize. Which of those mediums can be used to periodically reinforce the new culture? We recommend a blend of social channels and reoccurring meetings. For example, you could create a card in Trello that lists the company vision, mission, and values. Nectir has leader messages that can clearly define things on the homepage. The same goes for Workplace with pinned posts. On regularly scheduled Zoom meetings, take a few minutes at the beginning or end to restate the new vision, mission, and values. In Teams, outline the new culture and communication processes in the Wiki section. There are so many methods to choose from, so just start with the lowest hanging fruit and go from there.

  3. Encourage transparency and respect

    It can be easy to get busy working remotely and not keep your employees or colleagues in the loop. We get it, out of sight out of mind, right? The problem with this though is lack of transparency, especially when remote, can cause serious doubt and paranoia. All of which end up having a large impact on productivity, morale, and employee retention.

    The good news is this can be easy to avoid. As a leader in your organization, make sure to keep employees informed about changes that impact them and the company. An obvious example is new hires or terminated employees. Don’t risk people finding out through other sources with misinformation, treat them like adults. When new employees start, welcome them and introduce them publicly to the company. With a remote workforce, this could be done through an email, a virtual meeting, or a social post.

    *We recommend creating a fun Q&A for new hires that includes a mix of professional and fun questions. This gives them a chance to be humanized beyond the title they hold and will make them feel more comfortable and approachable to others.

  4. Remember, working from home DOESN’T mean always working

    This should be an obvious one, but we can guarantee the lines between work life and personal life have become a lot blurrier since COVID-19. Just because someone works from home, it does not mean that they are reachable at all hours of the day and night. Not allowing for rest and separation from work is the quickest way to create work burnout. This is the last thing you want as it can take days, weeks, even months to recover from, and is even harder to escape during a pandemic where travel and activities are limited.

  5. Measure engagement and culture

    You’ve identified the communication mediums you plan to use, now you need to establish a means to measure and report on the status of the culture over time. Many of the tools listed above come with reporting analytics. For example, Nectir has a dashboard that measures the number of active users in a time period, the number of new ideas submitted, and the average engagement per user.

    Whatever software you choose to use, make sure to outline the metrics you plan to track and measure. Set a consistent schedule for reporting on these metrics, and then analyze the results to identify any “wins” or concerns that should be addressed.

We are extremely excited about the rapid changes that have been occurring in 2020. Many businesses unfortunately have not survived, but those who have survived are undoubtedly more resilient than ever before. As is always the case, growing pains always come with rapid growth, and culture has been one of the biggest things to take a hit. It is not too late to stop the decay of culture. Follow the above tips and you will be well on your way to a positive and productive remote team.