Does your remote team have communication gaps or silos?
Are your people collaborating as well as they can be?
Are some people feeling isolated, unsupported or disengaged?
Do frequent distractions affect quality of work?
Whether your organization has always had remote or hybrid work options, or if you’ve made some pandemic related work from home adjustments, it’s important for leaders to continue to foster a cohesive remote work culture.
Pandemic aside, research shows that flexible work arrangements such as remote or hybrid remote/office options offer some benefits including increased productivity and greater employee satisfaction.
However, if personnel needs are not met and behavioural norms are not established, remote teams may become disjointed and lack cohesion.
>> Watch: How to Build a High-Performance Culture
Before diving into fostering your ideal remote work culture, consider this first:
Whether you’re newly remote or you’ve made the transition long ago, take a moment to check in with each of your team members to see if their needs have changed. Here are some questions to consider asking:
How is your workspace set up, and is it sufficient for your needs?
This may include their desk, chair, computer, keyboard, lighting, and more. If your people are not comfortable, or worse, at risk of injury due to their workspace set up, consider helping them make the necessary changes to improve their environment.
Do you have the tools you need to do your job efficiently?
This may include hardware, software, office supplies or otherwise. If you are asking your team to complete specific projects or tasks, it’s critical that they have access to the appropriate tools to meet the standards expected of them.
Is there anything getting in the way of your work?
By asking this open-ended question, you may uncover information that you can assist with. For example, adjusting work hours around childcare needs. You also may uncover obstacles that you may not be able to directly help with but help to open the door for candid conversations around the work from home environment.
Next, analyze some of the differences between your team interactions in-office and remote:
How do your touchpoints differ? These could include formal meetings and informal conversation like coffee visits or water cooler chats.
How has the workday changed? Think about increased screen time, back-to-back Zoom calls, and the structure of the work day.
What is else is different or missing? As an example, there are a lack of non-verbal cues in digital communication, such as body language, proximity, touch, tone of voice (if text based), etc..
Having a strategy session soon? Make sure you're asking the right questions first:
Once you’ve considered the above, here are FIVE opportunities for you as a leader to engage your team and to maintain a cohesive remote working culture:
1. Share (& re-share) your organization’s WHY.
When your people understand your organization’s mission, vision, values and priorities - your reason for being - and how this relates to their job, it helps to unite everyone around a common framework for success. By having regular conversations around your organization’s WHY, you will help to maintain alignment and buy-in around your greater purpose.
For remote teams, leaders may need to find creative ways to communicate and remind their people of the WHY. Some opportunities may include brief monthly vision and mission discussions at the start of a team meeting or posting the strategic plan overview on the company intranet or sharing it widely throughout the organization.
2. Clearly communicate values, behaviours & expectations.
One significant building block of culture are your organization’s values and associated behaviours. It’s important that these values and specific behaviors that accompany them are clearly articulated. However, communication alone is not enough. Leaders must also demonstrate and reinforce these values in order to foster the culture they hope to develop (otherwise, culture will develop organically from the bottom up, and it may not align with your organization’s wants or needs).
For remotely working teams who are not occupying the same physical space, this may take a little extra effort, especially when it comes to demonstrating or reinforcing values. In order to support this, make sure to be clear and articulate when it comes to sharing your expectations. For example, if your team values flexible work times, but also expects team members to notify each other if they’re starting late or leaving early, make sure this behavioral expectation is clearly articulated (especially to new staff), demonstrated by leaders, and reinforced by reminding people who fail to adhere to this expectation.
3. Have regular check-ins (1-on-1 & team).
While regular team meetings are an important part of team and project development, 1-on-1 check-ins between leaders and their individual team members opens the door for additional communication. Whether you choose to have daily, weekly or monthly check-ins, make sure to schedule a regular cadence and have an agenda to stay on track.
For remote teams, this is a great way to keep a virtual ‘open-door policy’ between leaders and their people. While an agenda is highly recommended for these meetings, it’s also beneficial to incorporate 10-15 minutes at the start of each session for general discussion to reinforce human connection and trust.
4. Connect & make time for small talk.
When we work in physical space, we have abundant opportunities for spontaneous connection. From physical interactions like handshakes and high-fives, brief discussions such as water cooler chats, or longer interactions such as going for coffee or lunch with colleagues, there are ample opportunities to interact.
For remote teams, intentional effort must take place in order to foster these connections. Some opportunities to foster casual workplace interactions in a virtual environment may include Slack channels for special interest topics or virtual coffee hours. By making the time and space for your people to connect with each other, not just about their official work, it can help to boost morale, increase trust, and enhance team development.
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5. Encourage peer learning & collaboration.
Each person on a team likely has different skills and abilities, especially if the team has multiple levels from junior, intermediate and senior roles. In addition to the collaborative benefits of connecting with teammates, peer mentorship and coaching may also reduce loneliness. Leaders are busy, and don’t always have time to deeply mentor each one of their staff members, so peer mentorship offers a hands-off opportunity for learning and collaboration without leadership intervention.
For remote teams, this may be an even more important area of focus, especially if your team has new team members or junior staff who may be struggling in their roles. To get started with a peer mentorship program (if there’s not already one in place) leaders of remote teams can start by surveying their team members on their interests, skills, and desired areas for growth in order to form peer pairings or groups.
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This is by no means an exhaustive list of opportunities to foster and maintain a cohesive remote working culture. Is your team thriving while working from home? Let us know how you lead culture development in your workplace in the comments below!