Remote work culture isn’t just about offering remote and flexible work options. It is about building a better way of working where employees can be their best selves — providing them with equal opportunities to collaborate and thrive.
Employees desire a remote-friendly workplace, and by taking the time to understand their motivations and needs, employers can craft the perfect set of processes, tools, and policies to bring remote teams closer together.
How do you know as a team leader if you have an engaging remote culture? One great way to start is to ask employees. Listening to your employees. The best way to do that is by showing them you care about their opinions, allowing them to open up and share their thoughts with you.
The recently conducted study revealed that around 91% of employees looked forward to a closer relationship with their colleagues, whereas 85% of employees believed they could engage more with remote employees.
This makes them feel appreciated and respected. Moreover, you build a foundation for trust by demonstrating openness, honesty, and a willingness to be a team player. More broadly, your team trusts that you will treat them as individuals, make independent judgments, and follow up on their suggestions.
While listening to your employees is a foundational step, it is important to adopt a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to employee engagement. Here are ten proven ways to build an engaged remote work culture.
1. Promoting asynchronous communication
If your team is remote, they’re likely to be indifferent time zones where it can be harder to bring your entire team together at one time.
It is essential to incorporate ways of communication that don’t require an immediate response from your team. The basic idea of asynchronous communication is that people send responses to their colleagues as they become available. To stay productive, you can share texts or share audio or video recordings with employees without having to interrupt their work.
You can make asynchronous meetings work best for your team by implementing them for weekly announcements, status meetings, document/design review meetings, and more.
Not every meeting has to be asynchronous, meetings like performance reviews, 1:1 meetings, critical incident discussions play well in synchronous mode but can still benefit from an asynchronous preparatory meeting before everyone gets into that zoom call.
Choose asynchronous tools appropriate for your meeting type. For example, daily status meetings can be simple text updates in Slack. Slack is a great platform for asynchronous text communication.
You can use asynchronous meeting apps built for Slack to automate the meetings’ scheduling, reminders, and reporting needs. The asynchronous format also allows for participants to attend these meetings at timezone appropriate times.
Other meetings like retrospectives, team pulse surveys, engineering planning poker sessions can also be conducted in this format. Read more about how asynchronous chat-based meeting tools like Troopr can help here.
Team announcements, document review requests can be shared as video recordings. Sharing video recordings asynchronously is optimal use of participant time vs. when they are forced to be in live video meetings at a fixed schedule. The recordings, when stored in a shared portal, serve well as meeting notes for delayed consumption.
When a video is not necessary, and text is not cutting it, participants can choose to drop an audio recording in team channels. Audio is naturally faster and more expressive than a simple text message and much less friction than a video recording. You can use the audio recording capabilities of your team chat platform or leverage purpose-built audio tools for this.
2. Conducting virtual team building activities
Remote work provides flexibility in the work schedule that can be a challenge when you are looking for opportunities to conduct team bonding activities. You want team members to get to know one another, share ideas, and work together to achieve shared objectives within the constraints of remote work.
Therefore, virtual team-building exercises are designed to allow remote team members to interact, discuss ideas, and build your team’s communication and mutual trust. You can make it easier for teams to participate when you conduct them asynchronously.
Some of the activities you can plan:
Create a list of mutual interests: An opportunity to know your team members is to know what their interests are. Team members can start interacting with one another and understand each other’s interests within a week’s duration.
Further, based on their interaction, they should create a list of 10 things they found in common. E.g., You may like reading non-fiction books, others may like watching thriller movies, etc.
Who is it: To boost the interaction, learn about the team by sending a picture to your moderator, e.g., office desk, view from the window, etc. Then, on Friday, the moderator posts the pictures collected throughout the week, and the team guesses which picture belongs to whom.
Scavenger Hunt: You can send each of the employees a short task every day. After collecting the clues and points, employees should be able to resolve the problem statement assigned to them on the final day and compete against other team members to win the challenge.
Such virtual team-building activities can help bridge the communication gap and help teams bond over work easily.
Another interactive way is to organize virtual trivia, a form of quiz or challenge played on Slack and Microsoft teams.
Typically, a host prepares and reads questions that can take formats like multiple choice, fill in the bank, or a name that tunes. Some of the questions can be like-
- Which was the first movie to win Oscars?
- In what country was paper invented?
- Which is the 5th largest country in the world?
These are also very effective ice breakers as they allow team members to step out of their restrictive zone and participate with others. If your team uses Slack, you can consider using apps like Trivia to conduct these quizzes for you.
3. Providing online rewards and recognition
Recognizing an employee’s contribution is the easiest way to let them know that their work is not going unnoticed. Frequent online recognition and rewards can bolster your employees’ confidence and willingness to contribute further.
You can implement online recognition programs that work on pay-it-forward philosophy and are tied to incentives that will reward employees for participation. Frequent shout-out success calls can be a strong driver to boost your employees’ morale. Be generous with public recognition in group chat or group video calls.
When employees are rewarded for their work, they feel uplifted. Find opportunities to reward your employees with virtual gifts, including office equipment, discounts on food delivery, app credits, gift cards, or items that can help improve wellness, including standing desks and laptop stands. See more ways to show employee appreciation here.
4. Encouraging employee feedback
Employee feedback meetings or retrospective meetings allow your team members to voice their opinion and increase the trust level between you and your team. It is your responsibility to ensure that your remote team has every opportunity to share constructive feedback.
How will you efficiently keep in touch and get feedback from a distributed team?
One of the best ways to get feedback is by sending out a survey with a focus on how the team can improve. Then, create an action plan for yourself and the team to improve based on the survey results. Finally, show progress on the action items.
This will increase accountability, reduce frustration and empower employees to collaboratively contribute to improving how work gets done.
You can get started with it with simple online feedback forms. You can share a link to the form in email or Slack. You could also use Slack apps that are built for asynchronous retrospective meetings. You can even use surveys to solicit feedback from all levels within the organization.
5. Setting up a great virtual onboarding process
When we hear the word onboarding, we think of onboarding kits and training sessions. It is important to redesign and personalize the onboarding experience for remote teams. You can talk to your HR manager to discuss and implement what makes the most sense for your team.
A typical virtual onboarding checklist includes:
- Sending a welcome kit
- Sharing the onboarding process
- Introducing key collaboration tools
- Conducting orientation session / virtual team lunch
- Pair with an onboarding buddy
Don’t overwhelm new hires with videos and documents. Instead, keep the process enjoyable for them, and don’t forget to collect feedback and continuously improve the process.
If your team is on Slack, use apps like Donut Watercooler App to build social connections from day one. It acts as a powerful, inclusive app for new joinees to help bring teams together.
6. Investing in tools and training
Having access to quality tools for video conferencing, instant messaging, and document management is the key to ensure efficient collaboration from anywhere in the world.
Online mind map tools can help with sharing ideas and thoughts and better brainstorming with the team. Online project management tools can organize project tasks and related artifacts for everyone in the team and are easily accessible on multiple platforms.
Using Slack apps to track employee satisfaction and motivation trends, you can use tools that deliver predictive intelligence in Slack-based apps like Qualtrics and CultureAmp to watch the insights and see what you can do differently to improve.
Sound policies and processes are fundamental to delivering success with tools that implement them. Document every policy and process and share access to online training materials so the team can learn and retain those lessons for future reference. Training should start from the time you onboard a new hire and every few months after. Employees should also be able to train themselves on company policies and processes from a self-service portal.
Want to learn more about remote work tools? Read here.
7. Allowing flexible work hours
Flexible working hours in a remote work setting have become the new normal. It allows employees to effectively carry work/life balance which will thereafter reduce their absenteeism. If your remote employees feel like you value their time, they’ll be more likely to stick around.
For employers, it will improve retention efforts and encourage a diversified workforce in the organization.
To implement a successful flexible work schedule for your employees, be sure to provide advanced notice of any restrictions to ensure everyone is on the same page. Be available for employees to talk about work-related issues and listen to their concerns 24/7/365.
While this may act as a challenge for larger organizations, employers need to determine which scheduling processes will meet the organizational needs carefully.
Employers can opt from multiple approaches like flextime, compressed workweek, shift work, part-time jobs, and job sharing to support schedule flexibility.
8. Offering location flexibility
Most successful remote companies have a mix of in-house and remote work options. However, with any work model, you can expect a trade-off between convenience and collaboration. When a hybrid remote work model forces employees to be in a physical office a few days a week, potential employees will see that as a red flag.
Ideally, you want your employees to choose between in-office and remote work options, whichever is the most productive for them. The choice should be based on the cost of living, commute, and other personal priorities of the employees. The best workplaces earn employee loyalty by allowing location flexibility.
Location flexibility also allows you to attract top talent from a wider pool across the globe. It immediately positions your organization more favorably vs. others who are unable or unwilling to offer the same.
9. Focusing on mental health and wellbeing
Remote work makes it easier for employees to have a better work-life balance. Flexible work schedules and asynchronous workplace communication allow employees to take time off to attend to their personal needs as and when necessary. This allows them to focus better and avoid stress when they get back to work.
As a team manager, you have to proactively find opportunities to avoid burnout and help employees deal with mental health issues. Here are some ways to do that:
- Allow a social space for non-work banter for your team to interact daily
- Conduct periodic virtual team bond activities
- Provide access to mental health services through employee wellness programs
- Provide access to fitness programs including access to gym, yoga, diet plans
Mental health services enable employees to connect with experts on depression, anxiety, and stress that can help prevent burnout.
Multiple studies have proven the direct correlation between employee mental health and productivity at work. Read here and here. So it is in mutual interest to address and nurture employee health and wellbeing issues.
10. Empowering teams with policy autonomy
Federated decision-making around work processes is gradually becoming the norm. The argument for employee (and team) autonomy gives them the freedom to determine how, when, and where to get work done productively.
Allowing employees to make their own decisions or to “self-direct” their work gives them the sense of autonomy and empowerment that directly impacts the pace and quality of work done.
Allow employees some flexibility to adapt and continuously improve remote work processes and policies to their specific needs. Share improvements that work well for your team with other teams so they can learn from it.
When you are an advocate for your team’s autonomy, both you and your team benefit. Make sure to communicate this clearly to the team and get them to participate.
Autonomous employees thrive as individuals and organizations as a whole. Employees will appreciate and come to respect the sense of control and ownership that comes with such autonomy.
Why employee engagement is fundamental to success in hybrid remote work
Don’t be misguided by productivity jumps when you transition into hybrid remote work, watch out for signs of burnout and dropping engagement by actively listening to your employees. Constantly measure and act to improve employee engagement by implementing policies that explicitly address issues arising out of the constraints of remote work.
Be intent in creating a flexible and healthy workplace that works for every employee to do their best work. Find and nurture those in-between spaces when people connect and bond together as a team. The more you can do this, the more engaged your team will be.
This is a guest post by Troopr.ai, a tool your hybrid remote team needs to run productive meetings. Replace or augment your traditional standup meetings with Troopr Check-ins.