How to Build and Sustain a Remote Culture

Gimena Aguerreberry
August 31, 2021

Culture can be difficult to define. The easiest way to put it is that your company culture is the experience employees have worked at your company or on your team. Think of it as the user experience, but for your employees.

Thanks to modern technology, the global work environment has had a massive shift in the last few years and changes are accelerating faster now than ever before. Now it’s becoming more popular to have some of the team working from co-working spaces or their homes, whether it be in the next street or the other side of the world. In fact, there are very successful companies that have no office at all, and where their entire workforce work remotely.

Prioritizing culture is a smart business move. Companies with a strong culture and a great employee experience tend to have lower turnover, better stock market returns, and be more profitable.

According to the New York Times article, The Science of Helping Out, "Much of the scientific research on resilience — which is our ability to bounce back from adversity — has shown that having a sense of purpose, and giving support to others, has a significant impact on our well-being."

Building a culture across a company where there are no offices requires intentionality. So what can you do, as a manager or founder, to create an environment of positive behavior, and then continue to grow a positive company culture with a remote team?

When building a remote team, you’ll need to rethink all processes, from recruiting, onboarding, career paths, and performance reviews, to collaboration, tools, and project management.

The value in remote working

Many studies have shown that remote working has valuable effects on employee productivity, happiness, and general wellbeing. For example, this article on Harvard Business Review points to an experiment in a Chinese call center, where employees were given the opportunity to volunteer to work from home for nine months.

Half the volunteers were allowed to telecommute; the rest remained in the office as a control group. Survey responses and performance data collected at the conclusion of the study revealed that, in comparison with the employees who came into the office, the at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit but also more productive.

In this article on Monster, the writer shows evidence that employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from working from home; a company can benefit just as greatly from a remote employee.

Communicate your culture

Having a distributed team means that your culture is going to be more difficult to grasp for new team members when there is minimal (or no) face time with the team.

Therefore a written document becomes even more important. It should clearly articulate the company culture to everyone in your organization, new and old, right from day one. It should be clear about expectations, how performance is measured, how you assess employees for cultural fit and the like. No detail is too small to be not included.

This company culture should be constantly reassessed as you grow or change as well. Don’t just spend copious time on it, and then shelve it somewhere inaccessible by everyone.

In order to grow a positive company culture with a remote team, you need to continue to monitor your culture and values, and never stop.

Choose Tools That Match Your Culture And Foster Communication

When your team is collaborating "inside" an app rather than inside an office, it’s important that the app matches the culture you’re trying to create.

If you want to create a fun, laid-back environment, using tools like MailChimp or Slack that have that same vibe will help you. Zapier’s workforce is entirely remote, and they note this has made a large difference for them, "A co-located office develops its own personality through inside jokes, shared experiences and a collaborative environment… A remote team needs to develop something similar. The easiest way to do this is with your day-to-day toolset."

In addition to choosing remote work tools for collaboration and communication that match your culture, you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for your remote team to stay up to date. Whether it’s chat apps, the comment section in your project management tool, games on Slack, or video conferencing tools, it’s important to give your team a variety of ways to keep in touch.

Intentional onboarding

A team member's first experience with company culture is unavoidable. The onboarding experience serves as the first post-interview encounter with culture, and it is essential to infuse the importance of values into that experience.

Remote onboarding should set aside time for a new team member to read and digest a company's values, which serve as a company roadmap to culture. Consider having a mentor or onboarding buddy specifically ask questions related to values, providing an opportunity for the new team member to dive deeper into how they are lived day-to-day.

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"How to Build and Sustain a Remote Culture" by Gimena Aguerreberry is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by Avi Richards

Categorized under people.