In the daily commotion of managing a business, it can be easy to forget about company culture, especially if your business employs a lot of remote staff. On top of tracking the bottom line, assessing customer satisfaction with services or products, and opening new markets, culture can become, unintentionally, a low priority. That's if it even makes it on the radar. And in companies with a large telecommuting workforce, it's easy to overlook culture entirely.
But, if I may, I have one piece of advice for those looking to build a culture with a predominately remote staff: don't stop your efforts.
Simply put, if you're not giving attention to company culture, you need to re-calibrate. And that means way more than writing a mission statement that you can email to everyone or stick up on the company website.
Culture will ultimately define your employees' job satisfaction and productivity. How are you going to accomplish your goals without satisfied and engaged employees who believe in your company mission, enjoy their work, and want to be successful?
First, let's define what company culture is.
You may think it's working at some cool spaceship style building (think Apple's new headquarters) with a lush campus and on-site cafeteria serving craft beer. But don't confuse culture with perks. Culture goes deeper, and if a prospective employee doesn't buy into it, you should think twice about hiring her. Culture is how you get things done, the level of openness to new ideas, the levity or seriousness of co-worker relations, the will and drive to commit to a mission.
But in a new career-culture where more and more employees are working remotely and oftentimes seldom entering the corporate office, it can become even trickier to build company culture, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Don't presume that because much (if not all) of your team is off-site, that company culture is a luxury unavailable to your business. Not only is it available, it's critical to your business' long-term growth. If your team members feel united in a common set of goals, supported by one another, and understood, they will be much easier to retain and more willing to grow with your company.
Here are three ways to build company culture when your team is remote:
1. Make sure everyone understands and is committed to company goals
Does everyone in your company know what value your outfit brings to your customers? No matter whether it's to build the company for an IPO or to find a cure for dementia -- everyone within your organization should be on board with and, ideally, be passionate about the goals that make that value real for every day customers.
How to make it happen:
The process of getting employees to commit to your company goals really begins at the job interview -- where you can separate candidates who will likely fit into your company's culture, from those who won't.
During the onboarding process for new remote hires you should ask questions that will help you gauge whether or not the candidate really understands what your business does and why. Initial interviews are there to help you determine if a potential employee's own life interests and passions align with your company goals.
Once that new remote employee is on the job, make sure he or she can delve right into your company culture and get to know everyone. Part of that has to involve some face time that isn't virtual. If you can, bring the remote worker into the office at the start of her career; assign her a mentor, a buddy, a lifeline back to the company when she is far away. Schedule annual or biannual company retreats where the entire team can get together and build a rapport. Also, require weekly status updates and/or conference calls where everyone reports on the progress they've made toward meeting specified company milestones.
2. Establish an environment where real communication is happening
Creating real lines of communication can be tricky enough at corporate headquarters, but what about when you have employees in home offices ranging from California to New Jersey?
How do you make sure everyone feels heard? Do you have a communication system in place that allows the rank and file to make suggestions to leadership even when they won't be bumping into each other at the water cooler or at a meeting? Conversely, are their systems in place for the executive team to communicate transparently with employees -- especially those who are remote -- so that everyone stays in the loop?
If you're operating a business on a "need to know" basis (and that's particularly easy to do in an unintentional way when a lot of remote workers are involved), chances are that your company's communication is weak. But don't panic. All you need to do is reframe your approach to opening communication lines so that everyone has a place at the table--and feels their contributions and ideas are of value to the bigger purpose of the business.
How to make it happen:
Communication begins when team members feel comfortable with one another, and feel like they know one another.
This applies between employees and executive leadership, too. How do you build these bonds remotely? In a recent post on Mashable, a vice president of a human resources firm suggested having remote staff each do an online video presentation of themselves with everyone sharing their videos on a rotating basis with their team members.
If that idea doesn't float your boat, how about engaging in "connecting" activities periodically, like having everyone send in a photo of their home office, and then everyone on the team has to try and guess whose office it is. Everyone, from upper level management to the help desk, should be participating in these virtual team building activities.
Finally, make sure your team has a variety of ways to stay in touch on the business side of things. Just as technology makes the hiring of more remote employees a possibility, it also makes it easier to keep them all connected, in real time. Employ chat apps, comments sections in your project management tools, and video conferencing to pull everyone and their ideas together. Consider using real-time chat and video options like Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting. Conversely, Slack is a great option for making sure your team is constantly connected.
3. Make sure everyone has the support they need to succeed
This is even more critical to pay attention to when everyone isn't in the same office. Your company shouldn't just be a business serving businesses or customers. It should be a community of like-minded people focused on a common goal -- who are also willing to go out of their way to serve one another.
When the culture is right, nobody should be saying, "That's not my job." Instead they should be saying, "How can I help?"
If your team's data scientist is working to develop software for a potential new tech customer and you're in marketing and sales, it really is your job to make sure his presentation is just as savvy as the data behind it. If your employees aren't clear on the fact that they're part of a team and are instead jockeying for favor, careless of the big picture, it's time to do a shakedown. Everyone on your team should be using their skills and talents not just to support the company mission and goals but to support each other.
How to make it happen:
According to a recent article in Inc., building an environment of support requires trust, mutual respect, appreciation, and taking responsibility. That means if you're the boss, and, for example, you make a miscalculation that brings down company numbers, you should acknowledge it before your team, and create the example of everyone taking responsibility for his or her own actions.
Similarly, when an entry level worker makes a tough decision that is mission or customer focused, praise her for taking the chance, regardless of the outcome. These sorts of actions serve as a reminder of "we're all in this together" that helps solidify a mindset where employees support one another.
The good news is that these things can (and should) happen regardless of geography. A true environment of support exists regardless of where a co-worker sits.
Employ the tips I've laid out here to make sure your remote workers not only aren't missing out on key business initiatives, but that they also aren't deprived of the backing, responsiveness, and the camaraderie of their teammates and leaders.