8 Ways to Keep Culture Alive in a Remote-First Environment

When we think about company culture, we often think of visible perks like ping pong tables, snack fridges and Friday night pizza parties.

But a company’s culture goes much deeper than these surface-level benefits. Culture is about the values that run through everything your organisation does.

It’s about how your employees interact with each other, and how they feel about coming to work. 

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A positive culture might develop organically in an in-person setting through shared experiences, collaboration and team-building activities.

But it’s a lot more complicated when employees are spread out across the country — or even further afield.

In this article, we’ll share our tips for keeping culture alive in a fully remote or remote-first environment.

Why is remote team culture important?

When it’s done right, your company culture can give your employees a sense of belonging and get them excited to contribute to your organisation’s goals.

Companies with strong cultures empower and support employees to do their best work. And employees are more likely to put in the effort when they know they’re working together towards a common goal that they recognise and understand.

Plus, a good company culture can help to attract and retain talent. According to one survey, 46% of jobseekers said culture is ‘very important’ when looking for a job.

And culture may even be more important to remote employees than those who work at the company HQ. According to one survey, more than half of remote workers report feeling lonely at least some of the time.

And 68% agree that social connection during the workday is important. Building a strong company culture brings everyone together, resulting in happier employees who are more likely to stick around for the long term. 

8 ways to build a positive remote team culture

Building a strong culture can be challenging when your team is remote — but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here are eight things you can do to develop a strong and healthy culture for your organisation. 

1. Define and document your culture

Taking the time to understand and document your company culture is an important step in ensuring it’s disseminated and reinforced across your organisation.

The simplest way to do this is to create a simple document, slidedeck or infographic that outlines your culture.

This will act as a concrete resource that your hiring managers can refer to when they’re writing job ads.

Employees can use it when they’re unsure how something works, and you can send it out to new employees during their onboarding period.

This document should include: 

  • Your brand story 
  • Your company’s mission, vision and values
  • Your company’s goals 
  • Your protocols for communication in remote teams 
  • Information on how you define a good cultural fit

Many companies share their culture documents publicly so that the general public can see what their culture looks like from the inside. For example, you can check out those from Netflix, Buffer, and Spotify for inspiration if you’re not sure where to start. 

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2. Agree on what work will look like

Exactly how employees work, collaborate and communicate with each other is an important part of a remote team’s culture.

In some companies, remote employees are largely left to their own devices in terms of scheduling and planning. Others require their remote employees to be online during certain set hours every day. 

Some companies might require regular visits to the company HQ, while others are happy for everyone to be 100% remote. And every organisation has different set-ups and rituals when it comes to communication, meetings and collaboration. 

The point is, whatever parameters you set for your remote team, it’s important to clearly set them out in writing.

By including these in your job ads, your employee handbook and your onboarding documents, you can ensure that everyone knows what to expect from day one.

3. Recreate the office water cooler

A large part of a company’s culture is made up of the parts of work that are not work. Eating lunch together. Having office drinks on a Friday night. And even just chatting with colleagues about your favourite TV shows.

To bring this part of the workplace into a remote environment, you need to create online spaces that replicate the office water cooler. That means creating places where employees can not just talk about work, but get to know each other and connect on a social level. 

One idea is to set up specific channels on Slack, your employee intranet, or another communication app, for employees to talk about non-work topics. Many companies have channels dedicated to sports, pets, or even jokes, for example. Don’t be afraid to make it fun — that’s the whole point! 

4. Rethink onboarding for remote employees

Onboarding is different for remote employees than for those in the office. Since new employees won’t bump into their new colleagues organically, it’s important to develop an onboarding plan that includes meetings with everyone they need to know.

There should also be time set aside for someone to walk them through the tools and resources that are available to them. 

Introducing new employees to the non-work parts of the company culture early can also help them to feel at home.

That might mean inviting them to virtual events, and adding them to any social chat channels you’ve created so they can start to get to know their teammates.

5. Invest in the right tools for fruitful collaboration

When employees don’t have the tools they need, this can lead to frustration, inefficiency and stress. In other words, not the sort of company culture that you should be aiming for. 

To avoid this, you need to invest in the tools your remote employees need to communicate and collaborate effectively. This might include communication platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams, and video conferencing software like Skype or Zoom.

Your teams might also need project management tools like Trello or Confluence to organise their work. 

And if you’re not sure what tools would be most useful? Ask your employees! A simple survey can be a great way to spot the gaps in your tech stack and to show employees that you value their input at the same time.  

6. Regularly measure engagement

Employees in organisations with strong cultures are more likely to feel connected to their organisation and engaged at work.

That means that a drop in employee engagement can be an indication that something is going wrong with your company culture. 

Sending out regular pulse surveys allows you to keep a close eye on engagement in your organisation, and quickly spot when it slips.

It could be a good idea to make survey responses anonymous so that employees feel comfortable sharing their real feelings. 

7. Schedule face-to-face time when you can

While you can certainly build meaningful professional relationships remotely, meeting face-to-face occasionally can make a big difference when it comes to team bonding.

Even if you don’t have a physical office, you could rent out a coworking space and bring everyone together once in a while. Some organisations even fly in their out-of-country employees to ensure everyone has the chance to meet up in person. 

But if a real-world meet-up really isn’t possible, it’s still important to get in some regular “face-to-face” time by scheduling hangouts over Zoom or Skype, for example.

Depending on what your employees are interested in, that might mean setting up virtual happy hours, coffee breaks or even a monthly book club.

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8. Collect feedback and adjust as needed

If you’ve never managed a remote team before, you’re bound to get some things wrong at first. But by seeking out regular feedback through polls, surveys or one-on-one meetings, you can find out what elements of your remote culture are working well, and what could be improved.

It’s important to actually listen to any feedback you receive, and not react defensively to negative comments.

When this is done right, it can create an open culture of two-way feedback, where employees feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions without fear of being reprimanded — and where you can continue to adapt your remote team culture until it’s the best it can be.

Compliantly hire remote employees anywhere

The increase in remote working over the past few years has opened previously unimaginable doors in terms of global talent acquisition. After all, why limit yourself to the potential employees within commuting distance of your office when you could have your pick from huge talent pools all over the world? 

Here’s the problem: hiring and paying international employees comes with a whole host of legal and tax compliance challenges. Overcoming these isn’t impossible —  but it’s much easier with the help of a dedicated expert partner.  

At CXC, we provide global payroll solutions to some of the world’s leading tech companies, start-ups and enterprises. This allows them to compliantly engage employees on 5 continents in collaboration with over 30 CXC offices. 

Want to engage remote workers?

Contact our team of experts to find out how can we help you discover and retain high-quality talent internationally.