Building the Right Culture for Remote Teams

August 29, 2022

Building the Right Culture for Remote Teams

“Why is culture so important to a business? Here is a simple way to frame it. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing.” — Brian Chesky, Co-founder and CEO of Airbnb

A company’s culture serves as a compass for your team. It guides them in the right direction when it comes to decision-making and execution and provides a framework for how your values are integrated into your daily tasks, communication, and collaboration. In short, culture defines who we are as a team, what we value, and what our purpose is, and as Gallup says, it is “how we do things around here.” And it affects your business and brand from the inside out.

When you work with people in physical proximity, it is easy to convey this. You see each other every day, and leading by example is observed in real-time. With remote teams, it gets a little trickier.

You are separated by distance, and you don’t have the shared experience and context that people who work in the same office have. Instead, you see each other through screens. Even communication is different: if you pass by each other in the office, you can say "hi," have a quick chat, and build relationships. With remote teams, it has to be more intentional. If your team is based in a different country, we also have the time difference to factor in. 

The good news is, you don’t need physical proximity to build that sense of “team.” You just need efficient and effective communication, clarity on your values, the behaviors you expect to see from them, and a system in place to make everything streamlined and connected.

How do we build the right culture for remote teams?

As entrepreneurs, the first thing we need to do is to know what kind of culture we want to set for our team. How do we expect them to work together? What is the set of values and behaviors you want to see in your team that you believe will not only be productive for your bottom line but will also make the virtual workplace a safe space for your team members, where they will be able to make meaningful connections with their teammates as well as meaningful contributions to the team’s purpose and mission? How can they participate in shaping the culture that will really make them feel like “I am part of this team?"

We always hear leaders say we want accountability, we want efficiency, and we want to give our employees meaningful work, but what does that look like? We need to define them and communicate them. We need to identify them before we can communicate with them.

The next important piece is communication. How do we communicate as a team? Since our teams are virtual, most of the culture is seen in the way we reach out, communicate, and collaborate. Do you have proper collaboration protocols in place? Which tech or software do you use as your means of communication? When do you use them, and how often do you need them to check in?

Is their work the type where they are expected to give a daily or weekly update on their progress? Where and how do you want these updates to be communicated? There are several team productivity tools, such as Slack, Asana, or ClickUp, where you can see what everyone’s tasks are for the day and what they are currently working on. There are even time trackers there for accountability.

Do they need to follow a chain of command for certain decision-making? Who are their point people? How do they reach that person? Which ones are they free to decide on their own?

Aside from the communications system, we also need to watch our behavior or the language we use in our communication. Do we expect a certain level of formality? Or is it encouraged to use a friendly manner even when you are talking to, say, your boss?

Good communication and a system for collaboration ensure that everyone can get their best work in, morale is high, and everyone is in the loop on the important stuff. On the flip side of this, miscommunication leads to more mistakes, decreased productivity, inefficient collaboration, lower team morale, and probably even lower profits and higher turnover rates.

If your business is growing, you are probably going to hire more people for the team. It is important to get the culture right from the beginning. The hiring process and onboarding will set the tone that affects the candidate’s first impression of your organization’s culture.

From the start, be clear about the expectations and culture, and it will be easier for new hires to find their groove and figure out their role in the team’s culture. Set proper expectations on protocols, systems, and techs that will be used, how their performance will be evaluated, and how they are expected to collaborate and give feedback. And be consistent with those expectations.

To reinforce the right culture, you need to consistently remind them of the value of their work and their contributions. Appreciation goes a long way in terms of maintaining employee morale as well as giving them constructive feedback on their work. It inspires employees to do better, as well as gives them confidence and guidance on where they have room for growth.

Support that drive to learn by providing them with opportunities to further their professional and personal development. A team of high-functioning members, aligned on the same goals and values raises efficiency, allowing your business to scale and grow.

Lastly, this is something that I learned from my recent conversation with Melissa Daimler. You need to constantly review your culture if you want it to be able to support your business’s growth. Feedback from management and employees will help you gain a clear understanding of what “good” work and “work-life balance” (or in my case, I call it harmony) look like and how it is defined across the team.

Culture is dynamic and evolving. The core values might remain the same, but the behaviors anchored on those values might change as your business grows and your purpose (both long-term and short-term) changes. That is why constant feedback and review are necessary.

You can let culture get created organically, but that would mean, every new member added to the team will pull it along a different route. Sadly, as Scott Berkun said, “The most vocal challengers to most cultures are the first to be shown the door. It’s in human nature to want to eliminate the most disruptive people. And it’s also human nature to want to bring in more people that fit in well. Repeat these two behaviors over time and culture becomes homogeny, even if everyone still believes the culture values diversity.”

That is why it is important to be intentional and proactive about designing culture. We all know the platinum rule: “Treat people the way they want to be treated.” It applies to your employees as well as your customers or consumers. Treat your employees the way you want them to treat your best customers (Stephen Covey).

Lastly, I want to leave you with this quote.

“If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming to work in the morning.” — John Mackey, Whole Foods

Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.