8 Tips For Building Culture Across Remote Teams

With 3.4 million Americans now working remotely for at least half the work week, managing remote teams has become commonplace. Remote team communication has become easier with the development of online tools and workspaces, which also offer opportunities to assess remote work performance.

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While many of the practical challenges of working with remote teams have been overcome, companies still struggle to build culture with out-of-office employees. Below are eight ways to include remote employees in your corporate culture.

Everyone on the same page–or spreadsheet

Ensure all employee have access to the same tools and processes, whether they’re in-office or working remotely. With the advent of online workspaces and project management systems, there’s no reason your remote team can’t access all the data and tools they need as quickly as on-site staff.

Work output is what counts

One of the most common complaints about managing remote teams is the belief that remote employees won’t work as hard as on-site staff because “no-one’s watching them.”

First off, let’s admit that just because an employee is in his cubicle doesn’t mean they’re being productive. Presence does not equal productivity. The manager who thinks they have to see employees to ensure productivity has some serious trust issues.

Instead of measuring presence, measure results–for both in-office and remote workers. If a remote employee produces the end results you need in a timely manner, do you really care if she prefers to work late in the evening? Does it make her somehow less valuable than the on-site employee who’s in his cubicle everyday but produces twenty percent less?

Provide the tools needed for success

An on-site employee can be confident his employer will pay for everything he needs in order to perform his duties. No-one expects him to haul his own laptop, headphones, office chair, and printer into work every day. The same cannot be said for remote workers, who are often required to provide the very same items on-site staff take for granted.

Seeing this as “the price” for working at home isn’t fair, and leaves remote teams feeling like second-class citizens in your corporate culture. Treating remote workers the same as other employees levels the playing field, and invests in their success. Providing them with laptops or other office equipment shouldn’t be seen as unusual.  

Remote work is not for everyone

Remote positions can help you retain valued employees when they move out of town, or attract talent from across the nation (or indeed the globe). Having said that, a large part of managing remote teams is understanding remote work is not for everyone. Some people are simply better suited for remote work than others.

Reduce the risk of matching the wrong person to remote work by clearly laying out expectations at the start of the job. Use remote team communication tools to check in frequently.

Remote teams communication

Video conferencing, Skype, texting, email, and other electronic media make remote teams communication much easier today than it was twenty-odd years go, yet it remains common for remote employees to feel isolated.

Schedule regular virtual meetings with your remote staff to keep them informed of what’s going on in the company. Ensure they have the same opportunities to discuss changes and provide feedback as on-site staff.

Not all office communication is productive, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Water cooler and coffee break chats are rarely about work, but they build important bonds between employees. Arrange time where remote teams can chat with their on-site colleagues, not about work, but about mutual interests, or have video-conferencing lunches (if you provide food for your local staff, it’s easy enough to find a local delivery service to feed your remote team).

Onboarding is extra important

Most employees are introduced to their new company’s culture while onboarding, so why not provide the same introduction for remote workers? Set up daily morning meetings to touch base and introduce the remote hire to his or her on-site coworkers (more flexible work arrangements can come into play once the employee settles into her new position).

In addition to managers and supervisors, assign the new hire a mentor who performs similar tasks and can answer questions about the company’s cultural expectations. Remote employees should know who to contact for any answers they may have.

If possible, arrange for remote employees to visit company headquarters. During these visits the focus should be on the employee forging relationships with on-site staff, rather than work.

Managing remote teams relies on a strong start for out-of-office employees. Sending a welcome package containing some branded office gear helps make new employees feel like they’re part of the company.

Remote training

Remote teams value opportunities to develop new skills as much as on-site staff. Pay for remote employees to take online classes, share e-books, or drop books you’d like them to read into the mail to help remote employees advance their careers.

Offer equal advancement opportunities

Remote staff can feel like they’re operating at a disadvantage when competing for advancement opportunities. Ensure your remote staff have access to future career opportunities to reinforce they’re as valued as any other staff member.

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