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Working from home may sound like a luxury to some, but the reality of it isn’t all pajama pants and Uber Eats every day.
Zoom fatigue is a real thing. The end of a workday can be ambiguous and blur the line between being “always on” or “never off.” Work-life balance becomes a myth as meeting invites come in for seven, even eight o’clock at night. Not to mention the amount of technical difficulties that can pile up in a day.
And employers are paying attention. According to our recent Big Risks for Small Businesses Report, which surveyed over 500 businesses, “labor shortages and overworked employees ranked in the top 3 concerns of businesses,” spiking from previous years.
Big Risks for Small Businesses Report
Is the Current Approach to Business Insurance a Match for Today’s Modern Risks?
Spoiler: It’s not.
Really, if not constructed properly, a remote or hybrid work environment and a company’s culture can become quite toxic. But, what can we do?
What is company culture, and why does it matter?
In spite of what many job postings list as perks and corporate benefits, a company’s culture is made up of much more than a box of branded swag and virtual happy hours.
Simply put, people, their personal and professional behavior, and their overall mindsets are the driving force behind company culture. This is why the recruitment process can be so critical when building a core team or expanding your business. It’s also essential that companies continue to foster and maintain the habits that, in their eyes, exemplify the ideal ways of working for their employees.
That’s especially true when it comes to remote work.
Without a shared physical homebase, your team is really forced to rely on authentic ways to promote the attributes that your company values most. And if it’s undervalued or ignored, company culture can negatively impact more than just your employer brand, but your product or service as well.
Disengaged or burnt-out employees can lead to lower productivity, which can greatly impact your team’s potential to reach your goals.
The foundation of remote company culture
There are various things that can help build and maintain healthy remote company culture, but the most valuable component is trust.
Today, psychological safety in the workplace has been touted as a critical need and if left unmet, both teams and leaders can suffer. Without face-to-face interactions, it is increasingly important to communicate respect and appreciation with concerted effort. In doing so, you can build or reaffirm trust between leaders and team members.
Once the need for trust is established and regularly met, you can continue to develop a remote company culture in a positive way.
7 Ways to Create a Healthy Remote Work Culture
Keep the need for trust as your north star, and continue to lay the groundwork for a healthy remote work culture by practicing some — or all — of the below methods:
- Create hobbyist chat channels
Here is a simple and effective way to foster personal connections between teams and coworkers in a virtual world. Sure, employees should be focused on their work and projects, but there is a place for small talk — or perhaps more appropriately small chat — in the home office.
Consider creating chat channels dedicated to personal interests or hobbies. Think: a pet space, a foodie channel, a Tiger King thread. In doing so, you will allow a place for personal connection and expression. Employees can feel seen as individuals and not simply worker bees. You’re not only telling them that it’s okay to have a life outside of work, you encourage it.
- Establish a peer-based reward system
When employees and team members feel valued, they are more willing to trust in leadership and co-workers. But, relaying casual praise may be easier said than done in virtual settings.
While you could make an impromptu announcement in an open workspace or ring a bell in an office, time passes a bit more quickly in remote work environments. And small wins may come and go before you have a chance to share praise or acknowledgment.
That’s where digital systems that allow peers and leaders to pass kudos along to each other come in. Bonus.ly, for example, is a recognition and rewards platform that enables team members to reward their peers for a job well done. Employees can then exchange those rewards for gift cards, donations, and other things.
“Recognizing your employees’ efforts even when they are not in the office instills a sense of value in them, which is one of the simplest methods to maintain a motivated staff,” says David Wurst, Owner, and CEO of Webcitz.
When your team feels motivated, morale is elevated and overall communications become more positive and productive. In turn, you’ll be supporting a company culture that is both supportive and positive.
- Instate meeting-free days
If your team hasn’t always worked remotely, but has now made the transition, it may seem like there are more meetings than ever before. Instating a meeting-free day once a week or even once a month can signal to teams that “heads down” work is valued and respected.
This speaks volumes of your commitment to company culture. It communicates that each individual’s time matters and that their work should not dip into their evening hours because they were in meetings all day. And, let’s be honest, how many of those could’ve been emails?
On days with meetings, Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding.com shares:
“My number one tip for creating a healthy remote work culture is to follow The 8% Rule.”
Alexis explains that this rule requires that 8% — or about five minutes per one hour — of the time in any virtual meeting should be spent doing something fun or social. When done consistently across a long period of time it can help foster social dynamics, similar to the concept of personalized chat groups we already covered.
“The activities help boost the efficacy and connections made throughout the rest of the meeting,” says Alexis.
- Set group work sessions
Brainstorm sessions where every member of the team is invited to share big ideas or goals supports a company culture that is inclusive and collaborative. Consider setting regular recurring sessions on a quarterly basis or whichever schedule best suits your business.
Better yet, make it an event by encouraging team members to dress up in costumes for a Halloween brainstorm (even if you happen to be meeting in August) or think of another fun way to bring the topic at hand to life.
Collaboration tools that include things like digital whiteboards and other synchronous work features can help enable these collaborative sessions as well as make them more interactive.
- Host out-of-work shared experiences
When looking to build a healthy remote culture, it’s important to set some time to connect outside of work too. An in-person retreat is a great way to do this, but there are other more attainable options too.
You can plan a night where everyone orders in the same kind of food and connects through the experience of trying new cuisine. There are various tea tasting sets and even virtual horoscope or tarot card readers. Let your team pick a few options and vote on the activity.
Mario Cacciottolo, business expert and PR & Branding Manager at SBO shares that you can also promote a healthy company culture throughout the workday with designated “off work” or “OTL” times.
“Something we have found that works really well to create a healthy work culture is to make sure we have a set lunch break at the same time,” Cacciottolo says. “It sounds silly, and obviously nobody is forced to eat at that time, but making sure we all take that earned break at the same time means that nobody is receiving emails or messages during their needed downtime.”
- Meet the family
If you’ve been working remotely for the last two years or so, we bet you have seen a few pets, partners, and children passing behind your coworkers from time to time. You can foster an accepting and trusting company culture by taking advantage of the unexpected exposure to your team members’ personal lives.
Get to know your team’s family, roommates, and pets’ names. Say, “Hi” to the child who is peeking up from your coworker’s lap and ask them what they did today. Embrace the fact that you’re not in a stuffy office and lean into the personal side of things, even if just a bit.
But if the idea of sparking up even more spontaneous conversation isn’t appealing, that’s okay too. There are plenty of other ways to show your team that you respect their personal lives, including our final point:
- Respect off-time
Even though remote workers aren’t ever actually in a physical office, they still deserve OOO time. When you know that your employees can work anywhere, you might expect them to do so, even while on vacation. And honestly, they may think so, too.
But that would be a misstep.
“Respecting employees’ boundaries and schedules can help promote a healthy remote culture,” says Joe Flanagan, Senior Employment Advisor at VelvetJobs.
In doing so, you can again take an opportunity to show respect for your staff’s personal lives and help keep burnout at bay.
Company Culture and Remote Onboarding
It’s important to build and maintain a healthy remote company culture with the team you have, but how do you go about establishing it with new employees?
You’ll have to embrace and initiate new team members virtually, while you may never meet these individuals in person. So it can be especially important to start them off with the right influences.
Consider having a clear onboarding plan with a list of people they should meet within their first month. Further, it can be wise to assign a new employee a “buddy”. This person doesn’t have to be someone on their team, just a tenured and trusted employee who can set a good example of your company culture.
The Drawbacks to Undervaluing Company Culture
When company culture is undervalued or ignored, the side effects can be damaging both on an individual level, and can potentially harm your business. It’s important to define your values as a collective and encourage your team members to live up to the standards you set. If not, toxicity can seep in and leave room for misconduct and even workplace harassment between co-workers.
In these scenarios, it helps to have Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) to provide coverage for claims made by employees alleging discrimination, harassment, and other employment-related issues. That being said, it’s even better if you never have to use it.
Invest in your people and your team’s well-being and your company will see the reward. Not only will it mitigate risk, but reap greater success for your brand overall.
Practice good work-from-home cybersecurity hygiene to keep yourself, your family, and your employees safe. Learn more by reading our tips.