How to maintain a strong company culture with a remote workforce

Remote and hybrid. Our new ways of working, which make the pre-pandemic ‘work-from-home-when-you-need-an-emergency-callout-to-fix-your-boiler’ seem like a distant memory. 

Some companies have seen the benefits of culling office space to save on overheads, while offering employees a better work/life balance and flexible working options without a heavy commute. Others have seen managers struggling to adjust to the permanent shift in remote teams, and the teething issues which come alongside significant changes. And with 69% of employees worried their employer will not adapt their workplaces, policies, or in-office requirements for hybrid work, companies are under a lot of pressure to get it right. 

And one thing that’s struggled to adapt to the new way of working is company culture. The truth is, trying to build and maintain a company culture with a remote team can feel like a pretty steep uphill battle. It’s new to everyone, so no manager is particularly clued up on what the best practice is. There’s no rulebook, and there’s this weird expectation that companies know what they should be doing tout de suite. But we’re all still adjusting, and that really is okay. 

So what can you do to help grow and maintain a really great company culture? 

Listen to your team… 

A good place to start is by getting some honest, insightful feedback from the people on the ground. And no, we don’t mean a blanket email asking for some generic comments. Start by jotting down some questions which are going to really get to the core of the issue, communicating them in a human, less formal way.

For instance; 

     

      • What are the things you miss about being in the office which you maybe miss out on at home? 

      • What do you find are the main struggles or downsides working remotely? 

      • The company culture has no doubt been impacted by us being remote, what would you like to see brought in to help you feel more connected with the team? 

      • Do you have any other comments about the shift in working which could be worked on? 

    Remember that every employee is different and after the uncertainty of the last couple of years, questions like the above may feel like a test of character or ability if they’re posed directly to the employee. 

    To overcome this, a good place for gathering feedback is a workshop or focus group style setup. You want employees to discuss the questions in small groups, where they have the chance to share opinions, experiences and thoughts in a relaxed way. Not only will this get better quality answers, but workshops will spark further debate and intrigue, it will also uncover underlying issues in a more authentic way, which you can turn into actions. Another plus is that this can all be done remotely. Video conferencing software has come on leaps and bounds due to the surge in remote working, and brands like Zoom and Google Meet all offer features which make it easy to facilitate multi group calls. 

    Overcome communication obstacles… 

    One of the biggest obstacles to overcome with remote working is communication. Everyone is working to different schedules, and it’s not always visible what those schedules are – so make sure you’re putting in clear practices to help, while encouraging smaller teams to decide on and stick to their best practices for working, so everyone is on the same page. Have a think about how to encourage teams to review what they’re doing on a regular basis, to work at building their efficiency together, as well as helping to build a level of mutual trust and transparency between one another.

    The same goes for those higher up. As a CEO or founder, it’s important you are regularly communicating with your employees. They might not be seeing you face to face, but making sure you’re showing up as a human, sharing your own experiences and setting/communicating a clear vision and values for the company on a regular basis will help to build and strengthen the culture. 

    Remote working can also leave the door open for speculation and assumption, particularly when you’re not in an office environment and able to gauge a situation face to face. Therefore, it’s important employees are kept in the loop regularly with things going well, and things that aren’t going so well, so they feel valued, respected and part of the journey – which will all help to build a strong, transparent culture. 

    Keep the brand personality alive… 

    It can sometimes feel like a company culture is lacking a bit of the brand personality when everyone is working remotely. Thinking of clever ways to keep this alive is a must for building and growing a culture. The one tip for nailing this, is to think of how something would’ve been done in the office, and try to replicate it with remote workers. 

    For instance, think of how your employees talk. Think about the transparency that might be missing, and how you can change this. E.g. if your company uses Slack as a messenger, personalise the statuses to match the company tone of voice. Things like ‘Doing the school run’, ‘Working through my to-dos this morning’, ‘No calls right now please’, ‘Not feeling 100% today’, ‘Lunch = no crumbs on my keyboard’. Not only will this help with keeping the brand personality alive, it also acts as a reminder to what the company is all about, and encourages openness amongst employees. 

    Creating some fun chat channels or groups will also help to keep a level of informality and playfulness between employees, which aim to replicate the “water cooler” or “tea point” chats from the office. It also helps with onboarding new employees, who will be able to form bonds with employees that have similar interests, something which might take a little longer to find out when working remotely. You could even set up a company Spotify account, and create a ‘Friday Feeling’ collaborative playlist with a weekly theme so employees feel connected to their colleagues (and also get a sense of similar music tastes that they can bond over). Forcing any of these things probably won’t have the intended impact but creating them and allowing employee ownership to engage as much or as little as they like can really work wonders.

    Your people truly are your power when building a strong company culture. It’s important they feel heard, respected, included and motivated. So make them the focus, always. 

    Looking for some more top tips to boost your employee motivation? Check out these 4 free ways to help you and your team out in 2023. 

    Luke Richardson

    A highly experienced recruitment leader with a background in regulated, consumer facing financial organisations, broadcasting and media, tech start-ups and hospitality.

    A serial hobbyist, lover of animals and the go-to person when looking for an “out there” idea or solution.
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