Despite a historically critical attitude towards working from home, remote work has become more and more popular in countries across the globe. Research has shown a huge advantage for remote employees in terms of performance and productivity, with an almost 13% increase in performance over a nine-month period. For years, these studies continued to fuel the trend of companies moving to remote working and more flexible schedules for their employees.
Now, however, we are living in a different time. With the onset of a pandemic, many people are required to stay home unless they are deemed "essential workers." While this has led to a sudden increase in remote teams, it is unlikely to lead to an equivalent increase in productivity and performance.
As discussed by this Stanford economics professor who has studied remote working for years, there are new factors at play now that weren't around before. Children and partners are stuck in the home as well and can be distracting. Not to mention the psychological stress of a global catastrophe, which generally makes it hard to focus.
As a team leader, you may be wondering how to begin overcoming some of the challenges associated with working from home, especially when there is no opportunity for face-to-face interaction. You may need your employees to be motivated and engaged more than ever, yet don't know how to start making that happen.
Strengthening team culture is a great place to start when it comes to boosting employee engagement, and that is still true today. People want to know what the common goals of the team or organization are and how they are contributing to their success. It helps to maintain clarity in this area to stabilize performance and engagement. Keep reading to get seven simple tips and tricks for strengthening team culture while working remotely.
1. Take time for conversation before jumping in to meetings.
In the beginning of a company's life, the founder may have a specific idea of what company culture is going to look like. However, the truth is that culture is formed and molded over time by many employees who move through the organization. To continue growing and strengthening this culture, it's important to allow relationships and bonds to form between employees, whether they are in the office or not.
While these work friendships may have formed during lunch breaks or by the water cooler before, many teams are now reliant on video conferencing tools for any kind of face-to-face interaction. There's no doubt it feels different to communicate with teammates over live video. Body language is harder to read, and there can be awkward mistakes like forgetting to unmute the mic or frozen screens due to slow internet. However, there is a lot to be grateful for when it comes to tools like Zoom and Slack that connect remote teams like never before.
Overall, try to avoid jumping straight in to the meeting agenda when you hop on a call with the team. Leave some time for casual conversation that would otherwise happen throughout the workday, building those connections that ultimately create culture.
2. Have everyone listen to a podcast or read a book.
In order to build company culture, it helps to push for more common understandings, assumptions, and norms throughout the organization. One easy way to do this is to find a piece of material such as a book, video, or podcast that communicates an important message related to the company and its values. Hold a meeting a couple weeks later to discuss the content and come to a group understanding.
When everyone in a team, department, or company have received the same message in the same way, it leads to a sense of unity. This gives your team common language to fall back on, which can prove to be extremely valuable especially during times of unexpected change.
This is an exercise that can be done regardless of where each team member is located, so remote teams should take advantage. Especially for those staying at home, consuming group content is one good way to fill your free time.
3. Organize a virtual engagement event.
Pick your favorite video conferencing tool, and turn it into a fun way to get together with your coworkers. Options include everything from a morning coffee chat to Friday night happy hour to games like show and tell. It can definitely pay to get creative, so think outside the box as much as possible.
By combining "face-to-face" interaction with fun, you create space for team bonding and strengthen the culture at the same time. Try to pick a crowd-pleasing activity to get optimal buy-in. For something like a virtual happy hour, think about choosing a theme or coming with a list of party questions to keep the conversation moving.
4. Utilize tools that track and capture culture.
If you want to continually strengthen your team's culture, you're going to want a way to concretely track its growth. There are a variety of ways to do this, but the easiest is to use a tool like Preciate that does it for you.
Preciate is an employee recognition platform where you can infuse company core values through custom stickers, badges, and personalized recognitions. Then, use our reports to look at key metrics and get insight into positive and negative trends within the company. Identifying what is working and what is not is the first step to making the changes needed to strengthen company culture.
Not only can you track company culture with Preciate, but you can also showcase your culture, further bolstering that sense of community. Recognitions given and received by employees are compiled on a collage-style web page called a Portrait. Current employees can use the Portrait as a source of inspiration, and prospective hires can quickly get an idea if they will fit in to the team culture.
To get more information about company culture and employee recognition, request a demo and talk to one of our recognition experts.
5. Formally document aspects of culture for posterity.
Whether you're doing "spring cleaning" or just have some extra time on your hands, consider documenting your company culture in a more formal way that can be passed down throughout the life of the company. Document any processes related to culture-building and create an official list of cognitive and emotional core values.
Not only will this result in a stronger culture in the future, the act of writing down important elements of your culture will bring current employees together and unite them around the very values they will be documenting. Then, hiring and onboarding become even easier as culture is strengthened and defined.
6. Keep lines of communication open, and communicate availability.
While working remotely, it is particularly important to keep lines of communication open during agreed-upon times. If everyone makes their own schedule entirely, you may end up in situations where critical members of the team are unavailable when they are needed. At the least, it is more difficult to get work done when you can't get answers to questions reliably, which decreases productivity.
Communicating availability in advance is a relatively simple way to make sure everyone knows who is available when. This also gives people a chance to raise any concerns about scheduling, averting potential crises.
Some remote employees will have responsibilities like caring for a child or elderly parent, so it's important to be sensitive to their need for a flexible schedule while also maintaining open lines of communication during previously determined times.
7. Start planning an in-person celebration for when everyone is able to come together again.
Even if you aren't able to come together as a team right now, there will be a time in the future when you can have an in-person event again. If you don't know when that time will be yet, it is still possible to get started planning something for when everyone can be in one place.
For example, after social distancing measures have been lifted and travel is back to normal, there will be plenty of reason for celebration. It can be uplifting to imagine what that time will be like and start planning a fun event for its arrival. The planning itself will help bring team members together as they work together to create something positive, a reflection of the core tenants of your culture.
Whether your team is remote 100% of the time or 10% of the time, it's incredibly important to maintain a focus on continual growth and strengthening of the team culture. It is the thing that brings everyone together to work towards common goals, making it an invaluable resource for every team and company.
Using simple tips and tricks like those listed above go a long way, especially when done consistently and with the support and participation of management. Start today and see the difference it makes for your team.