Remote teams are becoming more commonplace, especially as many employees are working remotely in response to the global spread of COVID-19. While some distributed workforces are temporary, others are permanent. Some are comprised of employees working from home, others of employees still in offices across different cities. Regardless of where employees are, it’s important to keep your company culture consistent and inclusive.

What is company culture made of?

According to The Balance Careers, company culture is “made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people.” Culture includes “language, …stories and legends, level of empowerment, celebrations, and daily work practices.” These inform your company’s external reputation, conduct, and relationships.

Here are three tips to help maintain company culture with remote employees.

1. Identify key aspects of your culture to maintain—and why.

When transitioning to a remote team, take a moment to reflect on why employees have traditionally been brought together into one workspace. What are the primary goals of people working together in an office? Transparency? Communication? Bonding and team cohesion? Liability? Privacy concerns? Some things to keep in mind include:

  • Integrity and data privacy. Your team should use the same technologies and uphold the same security standards regardless of where they are and who else is in their space. Make it a priority to correct any issues quickly, since inconsistencies interrupt productivity and in some cases break the law.
  • Appreciation of individual identities. Diverse ideas, opinions, and identities drive beneficial conflict at work and contribute to a lively workplace. When people are far apart, their personal identities and preferences are more pronounced and have more influence on how they work. Think about how these differences are used as an asset (and celebrated) in a shared office. How does this translate to distributed teamwork?
  • Communication and work styles. Do your teams joke around a lot? Maybe they’re more serious. Usually a combination of both. Regardless of how people like to interact, it’s important to be conscious of how distance affects communication. Video communication is the safest strategy, since tone and meaning can be lost over text. Think about how your people should communicate—and how often.
  • Mentorship. Fostering long-term relationships across distance doesn’t have to be difficult. If mentorship is essential to how your team connects, invest in tools and activities that can help teams do that from afar.

Whatever defines your company culture, it’s important to ensure you have the necessary infrastructure and a change management plan in place to keep this core identity intact across the distance.

2. Promote remote team building activities.

Productivity comes from more than just people’s ability to execute tasks; people need to feel like part of a team to do their best work. In a shared space, social interaction is woven in with work, whether at the office or at social events. When people are far apart, companies can achieve similar team bonding with chat and video. Below are some ideas for remote team building activities.

  • “Go out” to lunch. Whether for work or fun, coworkers should still be able to eat lunch together, even if it’s just in the video-connected comfort of their own homes.
  • Hold a photo contest. People personalize their offices at work—and at home. Celebrate the identities, hobbies, and personal lives of your employees by asking them to submit photos of their workspaces at home or “new coworkers” like pets, kids, etc.
  • Compete virtually. Whether it’s competing in March Madness, Fantasy Football, online chess, or a company-wide exercise challenge, there are many ways to promote friendly competition with coworkers.
  • Enable “chance encounters.” One element of in-office culture that affects social wellbeing and productivity is the chance encounter. Whether it’s passing someone in the hallway, chatting while filling up your water-bottles, or actually bumping into each other when rounding a corner, chance encounters can brighten your day, shift your way of thinking, and add diversity to any work routine. For virtual teams, chat add-ons like Donut meetings can randomly connect coworkers.

3. Prioritize employee health.

Working from home can make some creatures of habit feel like fish out of water. People can find themselves working longer hours, taking fewer breaks, and forgetting to eat until “work life” and “home life” blend into one. To help your team stay healthy, there are a few things you can do.

  • Encourage employees to set boundaries. If people can’t have physical separation between work and home, they should create psychological separation. This means designating a space for work separate from other activities, taking frequent breaks, resting their eyes, and adhering to consistent work hours.
  • Stay flexible. Allow employees to work in a way that fits with their other responsibilities, whether at home or in their separate time zone. Team members can have different schedules based around core working hours or vital meetings. Be realistic about productivity for those employees balancing working, parenting, caretaking, and other responsibilities during the workday.
  • Be careful not to micromanage. It can be unsettling to release workers “into the wild” and trust their ability to achieve in a different, distributed environment, but micromanaging only erodes trust.

The distributed workforce model makes use of modern technology to maintain team cohesion even at a distance. As companies continue to grow and change, it’s vital that they learn to accommodate distributed teams and remote work. Maintaining culture means turning company values into action. After all, those values are what create your identity—and your position in the marketplace.

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Paul Lee

Will Schmidt is Logic20/20’s General Manager in the Consulting practice. He has over 20 years of consulting experience, including leading the development of complex technology solutions and providing technology management subject matter expertise and assessment services to the nonprofit and financial services sectors.