Workplace culture and remote working aren’t mutually exclusive. With 75% of employees paying close attention to a company’s culture before applying to a job, it’s never been more important to invest in your culture—even remotely. The question still stands: is it possible to create company culture virtually?
With more organizations embracing hybrid workplaces or going fully remote, it’s essential to create remote-friendly cultural initiatives. Though many companies think culture is something that only belongs in a physical office, it very much exists on remote platforms like Teams, Zoom, Slack, and so on. By cultivating the right company culture virtually, workers stay engaged and connected. However, a company’s remote workplace is about so much more than virtual happy hour events and pizza parties. It’s when you align your process and values with your ongoing strategy.
A reported 65% of employees think they will be more productive at home than in the office. Research supports this belief, so it’s no wonder so many workplaces are adapting to modern expectations. Is it possible to create company culture virtually? More importantly, how can you build culture into your remote workspace?
Defining Remote Work Culture
First, it’s important to understand what remote work culture is. Work culture refers to a lot of things under a larger umbrella. In simple terms, it’s the collection of shared attitudes, goals, and values within an organization. A strong workplace culture provides a sense of belonging and empowers workplace performance.
Though many organizations think it is only necessary to focus on culture within a physical office, it’s actually even more important for remote workplaces. Remote workers specifically face unique challenges like loneliness, isolation, and feelings of disconnect. By creating a virtual space of shared values and goals, there’s a sense of togetherness. With the national average turnover rate in 2020 at a startling 57%, it’s never been more important to keep your top employees close.
These values aren’t only expressed within the office. They can be captured in the digital space as well. Remote work culture, by definition, is the values, goals, and expectations within a virtual workplace. These guide virtual meetings, remote schedules, deadlines, and events to shape employees perceptions of their workspace.
Why Culture Matters Outside the Office
Company culture is about so much more than website “about” pages and happy hours. For those who predominantly work online, it’s a way to feel connected to one’s work, team members, and organization as a whole.
When you work as part of an office in person, it’s easy to take small interactions for granted. Things like watercooler chat, coffee breaks, and shared connections are normal daily happenings. When you work from home, these small moments need to be created in different ways. It’s undeniable that most employees prefer remote work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its challenges. Some common obstacles in regards to culture are:
- Collaboration: It’s not easy to collaborate when you’re not in an office setting. For example, how can designers work with the marketing team to get a product out quickly? Luckily, clear communication and a shared digital workspace can solve this problem.
- Distractions: There are certainly distractions in the office, but there are even more distractions at home. Creating a schedule or work-life integration that is built with distractions in mind is key.
- Isolation: Working from home is isolating, even if you’re a part of a virtual team. A reported 35% of employees feel lonely not being able to interact in person.
- Motivation: Motivation and engagement are also challenges when working from home. Though remote work leads to greater productivity, staying connected to one’s goals and achievements is difficult when you’re not physically surrounded by others in the same environment.
The good news is that a few steps go a long way towards solving these problems above. While remote working will never be a one-size-fits-all solution, many leading companies have committed to it successfully. It’s entirely possible to create workplace culture virtually, but you need to change your perspective.
How to Improve the Culture of a Virtual Workspace
Now that we’ve explained why it’s possible (and necessary) to create culture virtually, what steps can companies take to improve their virtual workspace? Many brands focus on the wrong aspects of remote work.
For example, team leaders might hyper-fixate on monitoring employees or their online hours. While this has a time and a place, it doesn’t create a productive work environment. Luckily, a few clear steps go a long way. Here are 5 ways to improve the culture of a virtual workspace regardless of your team size or goals.
1. Make sure your employees have what they need.
First, ensure your employees have everything they need to work efficiently. What specific tools, processes, and resources do your employees need to reach their goals? This is the foundational part of any workplace culture. Without the right processes in place, you can’t expect your employees to hit the ground running with their remote schedules. This means making sure your employees have a functional workspace, complete with the right tech setup and digital applications.
Don’t place the expectation on employees to get all of the things they need. Many companies are offering a home office allowance or remote work stipend to meet these needs. For example, HubSpot offers a $60/month tax-free monthly stipend to remote workers to fund office expenses. By ensuring these basic needs are met, you can focus on the cultural aspects of the remote workspace.
2. Establish clear expectations and guidelines.
Next, establish clear expectations and guidelines upfront. A lot of the frustration around remote work happens when employees aren’t sure what’s expected of them. The same expectations of a physical office don’t usually fit, and this leaves team members trying to fill in these gaps. If employees don’t know what’s expected of them, how can they ever reach these goals?
When it comes to guidelines, lead with trust. When employees are treated with trust and respect, they feel more productive. In fact, 76% of employees report feeling more engaged in tasks when management shows trust. Make it clear how you expect employees to check-in, how meetings fit into your weekly schedule, and how employees should update the team about their progress. Most importantly, trust they’ll meet these expectations and adjust as needed.
3. Ask for feedback.
Another important way to improve the culture of a virtual workspace is to ask for feedback. Transparency is key, especially during transitional times. Lines of communication break down quickly outside of an office environment, so this is something managers will need to take seriously. It might not occur to employees to speak up about things that aren’t working for them. These feelings go unnoticed, eventually developing into frustration.
Regular check-ins, team meetings, and one-on-one interactions are key. Adjust the format of meetings to find what works for you, whether that means Zoom meetings or phone calls. It’s also a good idea to create an anonymous system for requesting feedback from employees who might not feel confident speaking up. When optimizing your digital workspace, feedback is essential.
4. Create an event calendar.
When you work in person, it’s normal for events to be built into the workday. Things like meetings, town-halls, holiday parties, etc. are a way to build culture and community. Though many companies abandon these when it’s time to go remote, who said the social calendar was gone for good?
Create an event calendar and get your team involved. There are so many ways to include your employees virtually, whether some are remote, hybrid, or office-based. What events are possible? Consider these ideas:
- Lunch and learns
- Coffee breaks
- Virtual lunch
- Book clubs
While you don’t want to force employees to participate, you’ll be surprised just how many are excited to jump on board. These should be scheduled during regular office hours, giving employees a short break from their work schedules. While company events encourage inclusivity, they aren’t enough on their own to cultivate a company’s culture. An alternative to hosting virtual events could be to host open office hours or virtual meetings. The goal of these events is to give your employees the space to feel heard and included.
5. Establish traditions for your workspace.
Lastly, establish traditions for your workspace. Just as you might have traditions in the office, these can transition into the virtual space as well. These can be small things, like treating employees to lunch once a month. They can also be big things, like organizing large virtual events.
Traditions form togetherness, and there’s no one size fits all. When you build regular traditions into your daily practices and interactions, there is a sense of belonging. For example, the company Hireology uses traditions to bridge the gap between remote and local employees.
To create a sense of connectedness, Hireology implements empathy exercises in which teams swap jobs for a few hours to understand these different roles. Additionally, they bring all employees together in person for an event once a year. These traditions are a direct reflection of Hireology’s culture of empathy and openness.
Digitize Your Company’s Culture
In conclusion, your company’s culture isn’t something that lives inside an office. It’s the very real way your employees interact every day. It’s the way emails are sent between team members, and how coworkers share messages on Slack or Teams. These small interactions add up to company culture.
Aside from defining what your company values in a remote space, consider ways to create your company culture virtually. From regular meetings to trusting your employees to meet expectations, it’s your job to cultivate a productive space virtually. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to culture. No matter what suits your company, you can adapt these values and goals to suit the digital world.