Over the last year, we’ve adapted, learned, and transitioned our jobs in ways we’ve never thought possible. Remote work has become the norm. Teams were picked up, scattered, and put back down across cities and time zones. Physical proximity changed; but overall, teams understood their hierarchy and team dynamic, even remotely.
As companies begin to re-hire and consider permanent remote positions for many people, the bubble of employees who have worked together before and during the pandemic is being altered. Increased hiring across industries is great news. However, the remote setup that was assembled in a hurry isn’t destined for long term growth and overall success of growing teams. Great thought is needed to develop new work norms and creating a culture of fulfillment.
Keeping team members remote for the sake of being remote isn’t enough. There must be purpose and it must be sustainable. Employees who were too afraid to leave their jobs during the height of the pandemic may begin to search elsewhere, upsetting the familiar balance and bond that teams have created over the past year. It is inevitable that new people with join these teams and we must be ready for the impending change.
So, how do you create a remote culture that isn’t just about having employees at home?
Design a strategy
We sent people out of the door with laptops and well-wishes last year. But in any other circumstance, a plan and strategy would have been formulated prior to making such an important decision. Many companies are just getting back to building back their teams. This is the perfect time to take a hard look at what is working and what isn’t. Your strategy should include a basic hierarchy, even within a relatively flat organization. This alleviates any confusion, particularly for any newly onboarded employees. Who do they look to for expectations, for help, and collaboration?
Defining the type of communication that needs to be undertaken is also a critical part of building your strategy. What warrants a phone call, a video chat, or an instant message? Additionally, a system that accounts for employees in different times zones will avoid potential confusion. Communication extends to the expectation surrounding how and with whom files are housed and shared.
Transitioning seasoned on-site employees remotely was challenging, but it wasn’t impossible. Rapport already existed and managers knew their employees’ strengths and weaknesses in the office. It is difficult to imagine treating new employees the same way that as your current team. Be clear about your expectations of work hours, work-product, and goals. Set boundaries by creating check-ins that are scheduled and have a clearly defined purpose.
Individuals Make up the Team
On-site, it is easy to pass by a colleague and read their body language. You can observe if they’re sick, exhausted, happy, or struggling. A successful remote culture means finding new ways to connect with individuals. Individuals make up the larger team. Their struggles and successes need to be addressed and celebrated. Establishing and maintaining rapport with your team builds trust, loyalty, and provides you the opportunity to follow their work more organically.
In-office, you define expectations of work product. Other expectations come naturally as part of the flow of the company’s culture — working hours, lunch breaks, social events, etc. Employees, especially those joining a company now have no reference point as to what is acceptable and expected remotely. Without micromanaging, you can still set expectations from work product to working hours. Be clear about what is expected from day one. Define core hours, methods of communication, performance measurement, check-in frequency, attendance, etc. It is far easier to outline expectations from the get-go.
How many impromptu meetings did you call in the middle of your employees’ day that interrupted their work? Likely, very few. If you wouldn’t call an impromptu team meeting in-office, then you shouldn’t do it virtually either. Will an email suffice until you can get something on the calendar that doesn’t disrupt workflow? With the exception of an urgent matter, consider building in a recurring time slot on your team’s calendar that allows for unforeseen issues. You avoid disruption while also giving your team members a time slot opportunity to raise any issues or bring the group together at a dedicated time.
Build in Professional Development
Virtual professional development through webinars or workshops can feels as tangible as in-person training. But learning and training from one-off questions that occur at the desk are eliminated when the team is working remotely. It is imperative to build a well-defined professional development plan and training process with milestones, check-ins, and support. Beyond the training goals, choosing the appropriate delivery for your virtual team members is vital.
Examine the Virtual Work Environment
The right tools enhance the remote working environment. When we closed office doors last year, we left with laptops and monitors in hand. There wasn’t a second thought about other tools that would help remote workers thrive in their new environment. Examine what tools have been or could have been most beneficial to you when you started to work remotely. These tools range from file management systems, document collaboration, communications equipment, office supplies or something as simple as a desk chair meant for 8 hours of daily work. What do employees no longer have access to at home that they would have otherwise used in-office?
Every team and every team member should have a plan that guides them through remote work from day one. A clear plan defines their professional progression, outlines expectations, and supports them just as they would be supported in the office. Virtual teams need structure and goals in order to find a common purpose to deliver work product and remain engaged within their organization. A company that operates remotely is not equivalent to a company that builds a remote strategy as part of the organization’s operations.