Why Culture Matters, Even for Remote Workers

In the conversation about building cultures for remote teams, not everyone sees eye-to-eye. While some see culture exclusively as the product of an office environment, savvy companies understand that great culture is the glue that keeps remote teams productive and happy. When people work from home, however, company leaders must take more deliberate actions to ensure their cultures bridge the gap.

Defining Culture for a Remote Workforce

Leaders in the know have long moved past the surface-level cultural markers of kegs in break rooms and free pizza on Fridays. Real company culture reveals itself in the way people treat one another.

Whether acknowledged or not, company culture defines the parameters by which leaders interact with employees, employees interact with one another, and company representatives interact with clients. A company with a fun and fast culture might use casual phrasing in emails and allow employees to take extended sabbaticals. Another company might pride itself on its professionalism and posture, which could reflect through a dress code, communication standards, or the company’s mission statement.

Fun company cultures are not necessarily superior to more buttoned-up traditional alternatives. New law firms with serious-looking people in suits can flourish just as well as tech startups with sandal-wearing programmers. Great cultures make the people who participate in them feel empowered regardless of style.

When looking at a remote work culture, companies must consider whether their remote workers feel just as empowered and appreciated as their in-office counterparts. Do remote workers receive the same opportunities to grow their careers? Do the names of people working remotely regularly appear in emails expressing gratitude for jobs well done?

Without a deliberately curated culture, remote workers end up performing tasks for a company that may as well have no name. People separated from office environments already deal with connection challenges. When remote workers have no culture to tie them to their employers and peers, working from home goes from an advantageous perk to a directionless slog.

Developing Culture That Resonates Remotely

Businesses must be proactive to prevent a default (and distinct) culture from developing among remote workers. When everyone shares the same cultural norms and values, businesses thrive.

Deliberate cultural curation starts with great communication. Most businesses rely primarily on email, but for remote workers, connecting solely via email doesn’t do enough to create real human connections. Just as people in offices build rapport between meetings, remote workers need communication platforms to talk to other humans without specific agendas. Open communication channels such as Slack and Discord can help companies bridge the gap.

Culture affects work as much as it affects relationships. Businesses should evaluate their workflow systems and consider whether those systems are friendly to remote workers. Good project management software provides essential aid to remote teams, especially when companies make a point to have everyone update the status of their work in the system. When teams prioritize workflow updates, remote workers don’t feel left out of the loop on their own projects.

Businesses should occasionally bring in remote teams to spend time at the office to enhance connections and put faces to names. As beneficial as remote work can be, people still need face-to-face human connections from time to time. By facilitating those connections once or twice a year, companies can ensure remote workers always feel at home with their colleagues. Managers should also make a point to meet in person with direct reports for annual reviews.

Small gestures make big differences. A visit, a surprise thank-you gift in the mail, or a birthday phone call from the whole team can make a remote worker feel like part of the family.

The Core of Culture Is Collaboration

Remote workers treated as more than full-time contractors are more engaged and more productive. Great culture changes the remote dynamic from feeling like an add-on to feeling like a key player.

When managing or working with remote teams, trust is the foundation of the relationship. Without trust, remote workers may feel that they don’t merit the same respect as their peers who share a workspace. Project management software and best practices help, but to hammer the point home, managers and colleagues of remote workers should express their gratitude frequently.

Even in the most professional or competitive work cultures, positivity makes an enormous difference. By taking small steps to express appreciation and prioritize inclusion, companies can ensure their remote workforces feel like full-fledged members of the team.