How To Change Your Remote Organizational Culture

How To Change Your Remote Organizational Culture
Summary: It may seem like it’s hard to develop the culture of a group of employees scattered across the country, but it’s possible with a little practice and it’s important for a sustainable, effective remote work system.

Tips That'll Help Guide You To A Functional System

Remote work is here to stay. Many companies have found that remote work increases morale and productivity while reducing costs. They will be integrating some kind of permanent remote work options even as vaccines become more widely available. Some of these remote work schedules will be full-time, and some will be a few days a week. Either way, many of us are grappling with how to develop a vision for our company’s remote work protocols that align with the missions and values of the larger organization.

Remote organizational culture plays a huge role in what remote work will look like as the world adjusts to our new normal. It may seem like it’s hard to develop the culture of a group of employees scattered across the country, but it’s possible with a little practice and it’s important for a sustainable, effective remote work system.

Start From The Top

Anytime you start thinking about organizational culture, you can’t get far without leadership buy-in. Managers and executives set the tone for the company as well as teams, and if they are not dedicated to a great remote work culture, no one will be. When rolling out your remote work changes, brief leadership on what’s going on and how to demonstrate new cultural norms. Ask leadership to enforce these norms with those who work under them. And most importantly, convince them why these norms matter for the organization.

Set Clear Expectations

In order to have consistent organizational culture, everyone needs to be on the same page. Expectations for remote work need to be clear and concrete, as well as practical and enforceable. Does your team need to work the same hours to function effectively? Make that an expectation. Do you not care if your employees make their own hours? That is also important to make clear, or else employees will be uncertain of their level of flexibility, resulting in nervous employees and inconsistent practices.

Make sure expectations make sense for your team. You should be able to point to precise reasons why they are in place, or else employees could become resentful. For example, if employees don’t see the point of being available at 9 am sharp every single day, they will feel that they are being micromanaged in their own homes despite being good employees. Impractical rules may include trying to enforce certain dress codes (employees are clever enough to hide if they are wearing sweatpants) or asking employees not to be available to their children during the day.

A great way to communicate these expectations is some kind of training module that can be revisited later on or used as onboarding material for new employees. Learning and Development professionals know how to communicate information clearly and in ways that will stick so that you can avoid gray areas.

Balance Accountability With Trust

Accountability is necessary. If you have an employee who is consistently missing deadlines, perhaps remote work is not the best fit for them. However, trust is also important. Just because you can’t see your employees doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard and invested in your team. Employees who feel they are not trusted are more likely to have low morale or feel uninvested in the company’s goals. It is also likely to create a communication barrier between you and your team.

Forcing employees to keep a record of how they spend their time or asking them to state in the Slack channel every time they step away from the computer is unnecessary in most work situations and might even get in the way of productivity. Such micromanagement practices are unhealthy.

Using project management tools to track tasks and deadlines, or regular but infrequent team check-ins, are much more reasonable measures for keeping accountability without making your employees feel like you would rather be looking over their shoulder constantly.

One way to establish a good balance of accountability and trust on your team is to try out new project management tools together. Trello and Slack are not the end-all and be-all of teamwork tools anymore. Perhaps there is an option that will work well for your team and provide the right amount of accountability while giving your employees independence.

Training leadership on effective remote work management may be an important step to evolving your organizational culture. Managerial instincts may be to keep tabs on employees, but with remote work, developing trust in a team is necessary. Training can help managers quell bad instincts and learn different strategies for working with their team.

Create Boundaries

Some organizations are more likely than others to expect their employees to be on-call even outside of normal work hours. However, talking with your team to develop boundaries that make sense for your particular workflow is an important step of creating a remote work culture. If employees feel that work is infringing on their home life, they will feel stressed out and will be less likely to take organizational culture seriously in order to mentally cope and create a distinction between work and home life. Examples of boundaries that work for your team may include:

  • Setting no-email hours
  • Not expecting team members to respond to Slack messages when they’re out of the office
  • Not expecting team members to work when they are ill
  • Allowing team members to turn their camera off during low-stakes video calls
  • Not expecting team members to watch the group message or respond to emails on vacation days or weekends
  • Allowing team members to mute the group message when they are focusing
  • Not expecting team members to give out personal phone numbers or receive other work messages on their phone
  • Not expecting team members to respond to messages when they are on lunch
  • Allowing team members to wear casual clothes on internal video calls

Every Remote Organizational Culture Is Unique

At the end of the day, every organization is going to have different needs for a healthy remote work culture. These needs will depend on the organizational values, team member personalities, and industry—and each of these things should be taken fully into consideration. But without exception, the tips above will help guide you to a functional system. Leadership buy-in, clear expectations, and the development of trust and boundaries are important to any remote work organizational culture.