So far, yet so close: Building a culture with remote teams

Remote teamsAllowing employees to work remotely can help companies attract and retain quality candidates, and an increasing number of employers have started to offer remote work arrangements.

In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management predicts that nearly 75% of the workforce could be remote by 2020. But how do managers establish a sense of company culture and team camaraderie when staff are scattered across the country, or even the globe?

Here are some tips all managers with remote teams can use to build a collaborative, supportive and enthusiastic team—even if interactions rarely take place in person.

Provide employees with access to one another. The lighting, layout and furniture in an office environment can send a message to employees about corporate culture, but the attitude a manager exudes in meetings, and even email, is far more impactful than whether an employee must wear a suit to the office, or has access to a foosball table in the employee break room.

Managers with remote teams can build a team culture that’s just as tangible and lasting as one in a physical workspace by being mindful about the tone in team meetings.

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If your goal is to create a collaborative team, for example, approach group meetings so that every member of the team shares what he or she is working on, and has the opportunity to ask for team support, or invite feedback when needed.

There may be times that you need to step in and ensure that all employees have a balanced workload, but when you empower your staff to communicate their own needs and access the knowledge and resources that other members of the team can provide, you remove the focus on siloed work and individual performance.

Lead by example. In a physical office, you’d likely take actions to help create the environment and culture you want your team to embrace with group outings, contests and similar types of recognition.

You can bring those same tactics to a remote team by controlling the pace and frequency of your group communications. Managers who want to instill a sense of humor and lightheartedness among the team, for example, might allow a few minutes at the start of team meetings so all have time to chatter about the weekend and non-related work topics.

If you prefer a team culture that’s formal and structured, ask employees to create an agenda of what they plan to discuss on team calls, and distribute it to the team in advance. If you prefer a laid-back, conversational meeting, allow employees to choose how much information they want to share, and in what format.

Invite guests from other areas of the company. Remote employees may feel disconnected from the company’s values and strategies, and have little exposure to the people involved in them.

Take proactive measures to invite relevant stakeholders from other parts of the company to join group calls periodically so they can engage your team, provide updates on initiatives that correlate to the work your team does, and answer questions on what can be done to continue a successful relationship.

The more remote employees understand how their work plays into the overall goals and objectives of the company, the more likely they are to embrace the larger company culture, as well as the one that exists within your team.

Encourage the team to interact outside of you. Remote employees may be more willing to let their guard down when you’re not involved in the interaction.

If your company uses tools like Slack or Yammer, encourage your team to use them and to hold their own team meetings without your involvement—even if the purpose is simply a forum to share frustrations, ask questions or commiserate. For all the benefits remote work arrangements can offer employees, it can be isolating.

Unlike employees in an office, remote workers don’t have the opportunity to chat in line with co-workers while waiting for a coffee, or even to gauge the reactions of others when they present in meetings and share ideas. The more opportunities your team has to interact, the more trusting they’ll become of one another.