How to Build and Nurture a Thriving Remote Culture For Your Team

For hybrid and fully distributed companies, building a strong remote work culture is key to increasing employee engagement and productivity. Learn tips and best practices for building a remote culture, from onboarding to "watercooler" chats to promoting work-life balance.

Pilot Team
Pilot Team
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Just because your workers aren’t in the office — or even in the same country — doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t foster a helpful and welcoming company culture for your remote team.

In fact, 81% of hybrid employees and 78% of remote employees say they’re highly engaged with their workplace, versus 72% of on-site employees, according to a Quantum Workplace survey of over 32,000 employees on remote work. This is often due to remote work culture — the digital environment and connections forged between employees of an organization. It allows them to feel a sense of belonging and work together toward common goals, even when they’re physically far apart.

Building a strong remote culture for your distributed team can help your employees feel more connected and engaged with your company, enabling greater productivity and collaboration across the board.

Incorporate your company values into onboarding

Remote onboarding provides a unique chance for you to communicate your company values and culture, leaving a good first impression on your new team members. From the get-go, you should share your company’s values with new hires and demonstrate how your employees and teams put them into action. Explain how your company uses those values to guide their work and interactions with others. Putting your values in your onboarding process allows your new hires to understand how they fit into the company and how they can contribute to its culture.

Your remote onboarding materials should include an internal wiki or Google Docs, an employee handbook, pre-recorded videos, meetings, 1:1 check-ins, and more. Your employee handbook should also detail a remote work policy — this sets clear expectations on employee behavior, such as their work hours, which helps everyone align their work with their responsibilities.

Additionally, assigning an onboarding buddy to new hires can help them understand the team culture and acclimate to their remote work environment more naturally. Microsoft found that onboarding buddies helped their new hires quickly become more productive the more often they met, so set regular dates for your onboarding pairs to meet.

YOOO — You Only Onboard Once — so make it count!

Get face-to-face to close virtual distance

A crucial aspect of creating a vibrant remote work culture is reducing the isolation of telework, often caused by employees staring at screens all day instead of interacting with other human beings. Even if they live oceans away and may never meet in real life, your remote team can still interact regularly face-to-face. Encourage meetings where employees can turn their cameras on and laugh together.

There are countless opportunities for face-to-face interactions through video calls. You can connect individually in 1:1 meetings, greet your coworkers for weekly team meetings or daily stand-ups, or see the entire company at once at all-hands meetings. Build closer relationships through team building and dive deeper into someone’s zone of genius through “lunch-and-learn” meetings.

Warning: Avoid “death by meeting”

Remote work may necessitate meetings, but you never want employees to dread going to them. Avoid meeting-related exhaustion, or “Zoom fatigue,” by implementing these best practices for your remote team:

  • No purpose, no meeting. If you don’t need everyone to meet and discuss a certain issue or topic, don’t waste their time and energy. If you can share information through an announcement or message instead, do so.
  • Create an agenda before meetings to keep them short and on-topic.
  • Don’t schedule constant back-to-back meetings or overly long ones. Allow employees the chance to recuperate and recharge before joining their next meeting or focusing on deep work.
  • Don’t schedule important meetings too early or too late in the day for your distributed team. Be mindful of time zone differences, especially if they’re in other countries. For example, at Pilot, we have designated meeting times that are reasonable for everyone on our remote team.
  • While cameras on is a good best practice, don’t make it mandatory. Over 49% of respondents to a 2021 survey by Virtira report being more exhausted due to being on webcam during online meetings.

Leverage digital collaboration tools and strategies for effective communication

Gaining your employees’ trust through clear communication helps you build a strong culture of working together to solve problems. It’s almost standard practice to use tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to enhance idea sharing, communication, and social cohesion. In fact, nearly 80% of workers are using digital collaboration tools in 2021. They keep all your employees in the loop while encouraging open discussions about news, projects, and more.

You should specify which tools to use for which communication so everyone always knows exactly where to look for information and share their thoughts. For example, you might designate Slack for immediate concerns, Zoom meetings and emails for company updates, and an internal wiki or Google Docs for tutorials and documentation.

Your tools are only as effective as your methods, though, so it’s important to be strategic about how you use them to communicate with employees.

  • Ask how your direct reports want to be looped in, through what medium, when, or how often.
  • Practice transparency in your communications. Being honest about how things are going and involving employees in open conversations helps build trust.
  • Asynchronous communication allows everyone to look at things on their own time without disrupting their workflow. Making async comms a best practice allows your distributed workforce to collaborate more effectively. One way to do so is to encourage Slack messages or emails over meetings wherever possible. You can also set reasonable response times that allow some flexibility; for example, Doist expects their team members to respond within 24 hours.
  • Don’t bombard employees with constant messages. Send one message, and if possible, you should schedule it to send during their active hours to be considerate, especially of international employees in vastly different time zones.

Recognize employees for their accomplishments

Creating a culture of employee recognition boosts morale and strengthens their sense of belonging. Everyone loves being recognized for their hard work, and recognition is closely tied to employee satisfaction and retention: SurveyMonkey found that 82% of employees consider recognition an important part of their happiness at work. That same study showed 63% of people who are “always” or “usually” recognized at work consider themselves “very unlikely” to seek a new job in the next three to six months.

Celebrate job-related milestones like work anniversaries and promotions and personal ones like weddings, birthdays and the birth or adoption of children. Publicly recognize exemplary work, like exceeding KPIs, upselling or closing big deals, or launching a viral marketing campaign. Showcasing individual wins not only spotlights deserving folks but also helps build camaraderie, sharing those wins as “our” wins. And that warm fuzzy feeling actually translates into company gains. Deloitte found that companies with employee recognition had 14% higher employee engagement, productivity, and performance.

Happiness multiplies when shared, and praising each other publicly for the things we do right is one way to ensure more of the same and to foster strong work relationships.

Promote a healthy work-life balance

One of the cons of remote work, especially with teams distributed across time zones, is employees often feel more pressure to be “always on,” which can lead to overworking. Remote and hybrid workers are more likely than on-site ones to work over 50 hours per week.  Support your employees in setting boundaries by creating a remote work culture that encourages them to “shut off” and prioritize their personal lives for a healthier work-life balance.

Three out of four remote workers who responded to a FlexJobs survey reported they’d experienced burnout. Here are a few ideas for remote work practices that help your employees avoid burnout by protecting their time.

Embrace flexible schedules

One of the greatest perks of remote work is flexibility, so embrace it in your remote culture. Flexible schedules allow employees to pick a work schedule that aligns with their personal lives instead of being bound to the traditional 9-to-5. Let employees log on and log off whenever their brains work best. Let them go pick up the kids from school when they need to or take the dog on a walk when they feel like it.

Encourage employees to completely disconnect when they log off

Everyone deserves a break from work. It’s your job to make sure they take it, and when they do, it’s not interrupted by work. The boundary between work and personal time can be harder to maintain when we can answer emails in bed, but you can’t recharge from work if you’re constantly checking in. Tell employees to set a cut-off time for their workday and discourage responding to emails and work matters after hours or on weekends.

This applies to paid time off (PTO), too. Track employee’s accrued PTO and encourage them to take it. When employees are on PTO, they should be completely disconnected so they can fully enjoy their time off, reset and recharge away from their computers. Ensure your employee’s time off is protected by assigning a point of contact to handle their responsibilities and setting up automatic out-of-office vacation responder emails when they’re out. You can also ask employees to turn their Slack notifications off and update their statuses to show they’ll be out-of-office or on vacation until a certain date.

Invest in employee wellness

Employees who are healthy in both mind and body are more capable of doing their best work. A 2017 study found that participation in an employee health and wellness program improved productivity by 5 to 11%. Whether it’s by providing a small monthly or quarterly wellness stipend, paid mental health days, gym memberships, or more, helping your employees invest in their own wellbeing is an investment in your company’s health too. These non-insurance health benefits don’t even have to be paid: 72% of employees working remotely value having the freedom to nap or exercise just by virtue of having flexible work hours. Company nap time, anyone?

Encourage non-work banter and “watercooler” chats

We all know that not 100% of every workday is productive, but those breaks away from work are still helpful. Stopping for a casual chat with coworkers around the proverbial “watercooler” in the hallway can actually stimulate productivity up to 10 to 15%. Here’s how to recreate that “watercooler effect” for fully remote, virtual workspaces:

  • Create informal Slack channels to foster conversations around non-work topics, like pets, hobbies, kids, or side hustles.  Through these channels, employees can showcase who they are outside of work and connect with others on shared interests.
  • Encourage non-work-related team building activities, like a virtual happy hour or team lunch, a book club, a movie night, or in-person meet-ups when possible.
  • Regularly ask a conversation starter or icebreaker in a Slack channel or during meetings as long as the time permits.
  • Use tools or bots that simulate the watercooler effect. For example, Donut and Snack can automatically schedule random coworkers who opt-in to “run into” each other for a meeting, like they would in the office.

Building a successful remote culture is always a work-in-progress

Just like Rome, you can’t build a culture in a day: it’s an ongoing process that takes a lot of time to get right. You have to be willing to change your approach as the needs of your workers evolve. Conduct employee engagement surveys often to stay in tune with how your employees feel. Be sure to evaluate the effectiveness of your remote work processes and be willing to implement changes and new initiatives as necessary, especially when something isn’t working.

On the administrative side of things, Pilot has you covered. We take care of your compliance concerns and pay your remote employees on time and in their own currency, freeing you up so you can focus on building your organization’s remote culture instead. Talk to us today about how we can help you manage all your international HR concerns.


Cover photo courtesy of Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Pilot Team
Pilot Team
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