Company Culture

How to Improve Company Culture on Remote Teams

Kathleen O'Donnell
October 31, 2023
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Do you ever have the nagging sense that your company culture is, well, not exactly where you’d like it to be? 

Maybe you feel that connections are lacking in and across teams or that your company’s stated values aren’t quite lining up with how employees work every day. Or: it’s something you can’t quite put your finger on—but you know, for sure, that something is wrong. 

And you don’t know how to fix it. 

This company culture problem can be a problem for any business, but it’s especially common in companies that work remotely or with a hybrid schedule. When all of your employees aren’t in the office every day, you lose those tangible, physical reminders of your company’s culture: the coffees you share every morning, the space you work in, and the interactions with leadership and employees you have throughout the day. 

With only 12% of knowledge workers across the globe saying they want to be in the office five days per week, developing this kind of remote-inclusive culture is something pretty much every company needs to think about right now. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t build a great company culture with remote and hybrid employees. You just need to get thoughtful, strategic, and purposeful to get it done. 

Let’s go! 

--> Start Here: [Cheat Sheet] 8 Remote Team-Building Activities to Book Today

Consider precisely what kind of culture you want to build 

When considering how to build company culture, you might need to begin with a mindset shift. Yes, creating a great company culture on a remote or hybrid team offers some real challenges. But it also offers you an exciting opportunity to build a better culture for all of your employees, wherever and however they work. And that’s a great gift. 

To start on your journey to a better culture, it helps to consider the most basic company culture definition: a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that show people what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. 

And of course, while there’s a nice simple definition, what great culture looks like is very different from one company to the next, even in the same industry. Culture is not a monolith—it’s a living, breathing thing that changes over time and with different leaders and even employees. 

So first, consider what your company culture looks like now—and yes, you have one even if you haven’t purposefully created it. Once you’ve determined where you stand, figure out exactly where you want to go. 

It’s critical to get very specific here: drill down into what “work-life balance” or “resilience and flexibility” really means for your company, your leaders, and your employees. This clarity will help you develop your own roadmap to building that culture. And don’t forget to write it all down and share it with employees once you’re done so they can help you along the way.  

Commit to continuous team-building 

Team-building is one of the toughest parts of company culture when your people aren’t all in the same space all the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! You just need to get intentional. Plan remote team-building activities big and small, from virtual watercooler chats and coffee meetups (Donut is a great resource here) to an annual in-person retreat. 

The biggest difference in remote team-building is that you must plan for these moments to happen and continue putting in effort (and maybe even some budget) since there are fewer (or zero) spontaneous in-person moments to create them. 

These bonds between people, on the same team and across the organization, are the foundations of your culture, so don’t leave them to chance. In fact, recent Gallup research says that having a best friend at work is even more critical with the rise of remote work because it offers a crucial source of connection and support that many employees are now lacking. 

--> Start Here: [Cheat Sheet] 8 Remote Team-Building Activities to Book Today

remote connection

Ensure everyone is set up for success 

You’ve (hopefully) already set up your employees so they’re physically comfortable in the remote or hybrid workspaces, but have you set everything up to build the culture you want? Communication and collaboration are important in nearly any role, but too many organizations haven’t thought deeply about how to facilitate them outside of the office. 

Don’t simply move all your in-person meetings to Zoom without considering the cadence, format, and timing to adjust to your remote or hybrid workspace. Can you cut one long monthly meeting (those are deadly over video) into shorter but more frequent chunks? Can you figure out how to use asynchronous communication tools like Loom and Slack for the tasks where they’re appropriate, instead of everything piling into email so truly urgent items get missed? 

This goes for leaders too—do they have what they need to communicate effectively with employees? Or are they still relying on the same old email templates and in-person all-hands meetings to communicate critical news and reinforce company core values? They must be purposefully set up for success just like the rest of your employees. 

zoom meeting

Get your leadership team on board… 

Speaking of leaders, they must lead the charge into this new cultural territory, both with their words and their actions. It’s easier to set the tone implicitly when everyone is in person regularly, but you will likely find that they must be more explicit in a remote or hybrid workspace. 

What does that look like in practice? Well, if one of your cultural values is work-life balance, for example, your leaders must model that and even call it out where it’s appropriate. This can mean not sending emails at 10 pm or 6 am, not responding to messages when they’re on PTO unless it’s exceptionally urgent, or signing off at 5 pm to go to their child’s soccer game. 

Leaders should make a point of living up to the culture they want to build, and even saying to employees and managers, “Hey, I’ll be unavailable on Friday because I’m taking a personal day, and I expect you to take yours and enjoy them fully as well.” Seeing that behavior actually modeled by the top people in your organization shows employees that they have true permission and even encouragement to do the same. And that’s how you build a better culture. 

--> Start Here: [Cheat Sheet] 8 Remote Team-Building Activities to Book Today

boss giving talk

But don’t forget to ask employees what they think too 

Just as recognition shouldn’t come only from the top down, your culture should come from your employees too. And no one knows your current culture better than your employees. It’s critical to check in with them to see how they see your culture right now—it might be very different from what your leaders think it is. 

Employees can give you some great ideas for the culture they would like to see, and even some thoughts on how to get there. Ask them for their opinion via surveys (with room for open-ended responses so they can tell you what they really think) and perhaps some virtual small focus groups to dive deeper. 

Plus, asking employees for feedback and putting it into action makes them feel more invested in the culture you’re trying to create. That gives you additional momentum to get any changes off the ground and into your even-better remote culture, from the ground up. 

The takeaway

Creating a great remote culture doesn’t happen by chance, and it doesn’t happen with just a strategy deck either. It requires a thoughtful assessment of where you currently stand, a commitment from leaders and employees alike to make positive changes, and a long-term mindset to keep your ideal culture alive for years to come. 

The connections and bonds between people is where your culture really comes alive, no matter where your employees work. If you’re looking for more ways to build those bonds, Bonusly can help—our employee recognition and rewards platform is designed to connect your distributed teams with the power of positivity. 

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