June 4, 2020 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Prior to the crisis, some employees worked remotely one or two days a week. Now, because of shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders, countless more measure their commutes in steps, not miles. And they like it: A getAbstract survey shows that almost 43 percent of employees would like to telecommute more often after they’re no longer quarantined.
It is no surprise that remote work cultures have gained momentum. Under normal circumstances, telework offers autonomy and freedom. In the stay-at-home era, people can decide what constitutes the perfect work-life balance (something that 53 percent of employees value, according to Gallup research).
A new future of work has arrived. If your business is operating remotely, then you need to embrace and invest in your digital culture. I’ve been doing this for a decade, so I know it won’t be easy. Building a thriving remote company culture involves more than ensuring that teleworkers have access to computers and Wi-Fi. But with extra effort, you can improve productivity and loyalty even after the novel pandemic ends.
Embracing the best remote communication styles
Managers tasked with supervising remote teams must evolve the way they communicate. In a digital culture, all you have is virtual communication to keep you connected. The margin of error shifts, so you have to be more exact through those mediums.
When you’re in person, you can easily build or repair a relationship because you’ll see them the next day. If you’re remote, everything is segmented and scheduled. That’s why leaders typically rely on three types of communication: broadcast (sending a message en masse), community (via group chats) and one-on-one (which builds relationships).
You need to be hyper-intentional when using each method. Broadcast, for example, is the easiest to abuse. Relay information via companywide emails or meetings only when it’s necessary to alert everyone of important updates, questions or directions. All too often, leaders forget that their employees are people and send out blanket notifications. But our staff also have kitchens to clean and kids to entertain — they deserve personal consideration and empathy.
The second method, community communication, should imitate an office environment. After all, who doesn’t love watercooler gossip? Utilize this method by choosing a digital communication platform based on the technical acumen and the longevity of the participants.
And that leaves one-on-one communication. This type builds relationships, which you can’t do via the other two methods. Sharing news and being funny is entertaining, but aligned values and trust compose the foundation of a remote company culture. Facilitate this by scheduling video check-ins and encouraging people to go on virtual lunch dates.
Just set good boundaries. Clearly, I’m the master of this now — not! Truth be told, my laptop and phone constantly beg me to achieve the temporary status known as “inbox zero.” The good news is, I curbed my appetite for remote workaholism — you might even call it manager-aholism — by defining and sharing boundaries with teammates. My direct reports know how I define emergencies, and they know when to expect answers. One-on-one communication in the workplace should feel refreshing rather than frustrating.
Promoting a thriving remote company culture
Even if you’ve managed remote workers previously, I encourage you to apply three digital culture strategies to improve the way you navigate your team’s collaborative efforts:
1. Balance your methods and frequency of communication
Most leaders are disproportionately segmenting their methods of communication. They’re likely not spending enough time with their key leaders. For example, one-on-one meetings are great, but too many will spread you too thin. And community communication is handy, but it’s not always the most appropriate method.
How do you find a balance? Figure out who needs to hear what. You’ll know you’ve found it when your direct reports are saying what you say even when you’re not around. I screenshot the text conversations I have with my boss so that I know we’re aligned. This practice is beneficial to your company and employees because it helps them develop valuable managerial soft skills. According to Onalytica’s survey, nearly half of workers want to improve in-demand skills. Teaching your employees how to communicate remotely will be a huge asset to their future growth.
2. Codify digital working dos and don’ts
Every company needs a list of unbreakable digital workplace culture commandments. My company’s rule book started as a one-page Google document. People left comments and suggestions, and the most valuable ones became law. Over time, our rule book has grown to 25 pages, providing a road map for new and existing workers.
We are not the only group to publish comprehensive remote company culture regulations. Stanford University offers employees a thorough rule book focused entirely on its digital culture. Topics covered include everything from remote work tool requirements to pay guidelines to manager-employee teleworking recommendations. When everyone knows what to do, you get high-quality work with less hand-holding.
3. Problem-solve and reflect in a different environment
Innovation fails if you’re only staring at screens. You need time to work on the business, not just in it. Even during quarantine, people are heading to their patios and balconies to breathe in fresh air and relax in the backyard. Time outdoors enhances your brain’s ability to see things from different perspectives, according to a Creativity Research Journal study.
Take some time to get outside or go to your quiet place. While you’re there, ask yourself questions such as, “What is annoying me regarding our remote work culture?” and “How can I permanently fix departmental issues through stronger one-on-one communication methods?” Name your biggest challenges, then prepare to overcome them with unique solutions courtesy of your private brainstorm.
As a leader working from home, you should learn how to build a strong culture with a remote team. Practice makes perfect, so alter your approach today. Eventually, you’ll be ready to lead a virtual cadre of superstars long after the pandemic has passed.