The benefits of working remotely can go on and on – avoiding the dreadful rush-hour traffic, saving commute costs, balancing work and life and more. It is no surprise that Forrester predicts almost half (43%) of the U.S. workforce will be remote by next year.
But there is one major drawback. As convenient as working remotely can be, it often leads to a lack of culture that prevents it from becoming a truly desirable option. Working at home just does not deliver the firsthand experience that many people tend to seek – fun and lively ping-pong sessions, team bonding excursions, gourmet catering or even simple happy hours.
Companies big and small are investing heavily in culture to recruit technology talent, as demand for staff has surpassed supply. A recent Boston Consulting Group study found that the demand for software developers has outpaced supply by approximately 35,000 positions and is predicted to increase six fold through 2022. Culture has even been correlated to a company’s bottom line. In fact, companies with “performance-enhancing cultures” raised 682% in revenue growth and companies that did not have a culture only grew 166%, according to a research study conducted by Kotter International and Harvard Business School professor, James Heskett.
Understanding the importance of creating a sense of camaraderie for my staff, I knew I had to find ways to build culture at Unveillance, my first startup. The problem? We had a fully remote workforce. Given these unusual circumstances, it was no easy task – I had no idea where to start. However, after taking the time to get to know my employees, here’s what I’ve found to work over the years:
Bring the water cooler conversations online
The lack of face-to-face interaction can strip any kind of personality from the collaboration between team members. That’s why I started a Slack messaging channel and populated it with random articles, videos and humorous finds for the team to share. This affords us all a few (albeit remote) laughs during the day, an experience that would usually be reserved for the “water cooler” at a conventional company.
Game play: The new happy hour
If you know your technology teams enjoy video games, then encourage a weekend or off-hours virtual session to foster bonding beyond work and relieve stress. This sends a message to your tech teams that you care about their interests and genuinely want them to be happy working at your company. If your first off-hours gaming session is successful, expand it to other teams, providing employees of all kinds with opportunities to engage virtually with their coworkers by participating in activities they all enjoy.
Say goodbye to micromanagement
There is no way to micromanage remotely, so you might as well allow your team to manage their own time according to what works best for them. For example, if employees prefer to take longer lunch breaks and then clock in additional hours after 5 p.m., let them do it! You’ll likely find that your work force is more relaxed, more refreshed and more motivated to work while they are online. If you do not trust them to do great work at their own pace, why did you hire them in the first place?
Invest in face time
Having a remote workforce does not mean you should limit yourself to communicating only via Skype, GoToMeeting or other virtual meeting platforms. Every once in a while, invest in the time to meet key team players. These meetings can reset expectations, strengthen bonds and help you obtain feedback from staff to make the company culture better.? When you take the time to meet with your teams, they know that you value them and will, in turn, feel more motivated to do above and beyond for the company. In the end, nothing truly replaces the firsthand social experience of meeting up in person.
Acknowledging the importance of culture has been a key factor in my success to date – it has helped me increase productivity in a remote work setting and retain brilliant talent who played an integral role in the acquisition of Unveillance.
Now, I continue to focus on culture at my current startup, Tagspire, a social commerce platform that allows anyone to earn cash incentives when the products they “tag” have been purchased. Like at Unveillance, Tagspire has full-time remote staff working from all over Texas and the world, and I have found that a commitment to culture has been paramount in cementing our mission even further.
At the end of the day, there is no magical formula to crack the culture code in remote work. It is instrumental to pay attention to staff’s lifestyle choices, get to know their hobbies and come up with unique practices that will effectively build a culture that your staff will embrace.