With benefits like greater employee productivity and engagement, lower employee turnover and cost savings, it’s no wonder that more companies are looking to hire remote employees. But while there are many advantages to having a remote team, there are also challenges. Communication requires more planning, there’s no water cooler chats or birthday cake in the breakroom, and it can be easy for remote workers to feel like they’re not part of a team.
With careful planning, however, you can have a thriving work culture for your remote team. Here are 8 ways to boost morale and cultivate a positive remote work environment:
1. Give everyone the option to work from home.
Giving only a select few people the option to work from home will make other employees jealous, and special treatment is never good for morale. Allow everyone the same opportunity to work from home, so those who want to work remotely can take advantage of the perks that come with it, such as eliminating long commutes and being able to balance home and work life more effectively.
If your team is entirely remote, that’s even better for your work culture, because it eliminates the separation of “in office” employees and “remote” employees. If everyone on your team works remotely, the culture shifts to the cloud. Video and messaging apps like Skype and Slack replace chatting in the breakroom and in-office meetings. Plus, all employees are treated the same, ensuring that everyone feels like they’re a part of the team, regardless of their location.
“One of the main reasons companies screw up while trying to create flexible work environments is because they do it halfway (two days a week, for instance), or as an exception for some and not all,” writes Jay Friedman, COO of digital marketing company Goodway Group. “The ‘right mix’ is that there is no mix that’s right: You’ve got to go all in and commit to a fully remote culture.”
2. Set employees up for success with the right tools.
Provide your employees with the software and equipment they need to perform their job well. Buffer, for example, provides their 80-person remote team with laptops, Kindles and software. MeetEdgar provides all new employees with their own MacBook, and covers conference and education expenses. Automattic, the company that developed WordPress, offers their employees a stipend to upgrade their home office.
You can also offer coworking space discounts or memberships to team members who prefer to work in an office setting, like Goodway Group does. The digital marketing company has over 400 employees who all work remotely, and they give all workers a membership to the shared workspace community WeWork.
3. Establish constant communication.
Remote teams don’t have the luxury of poking their heads into each other’s office every day, so having consistent communication systems in place is vital. Choose one mode of communication that everyone will use daily, whether it’s email, Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype or an internal message board or app.
In addition to the emails and messages that you send each other throughout the week, have regular meetings with your team in the form of a video chat. Ideally, these meetings should be once a week, but you can also meet biweekly or monthly. However often you choose to meet, make it a regular routine for your team. This is where you’ll get the chance to touch base on projects, ask questions, raise concerns and just get to know each other.
Make space for “water cooler chat” by creating a separate channel in Slack. As Zapier CEO Wade Foster writes, “Slack is our virtual office. If you're in Slack then you're at work. It's the online version of the water cooler. Where random work discussions happen, but also where news, jokes and pop culture are bantered back and forth. The best part of Slack is that our water cooler discussions are recorded. Nothing gets lost. And there's no ‘behind-your-back politics’ that happens in many co-located offices.”
Ask your team what they’re excited about in their lives, pair random team members up for a weekly catch up chat as Zapier does, conduct team building exercises, trivia games and quizzes, or just share cat memes. Just be sure to communicate regularly with your team, on both work and non-work topics.
4. Schedule regular one-on-ones with your team.
Alex Turnbull, CEO of customer support software company Groove, attributes one-on-ones for “saving” their company culture. Every two weeks, Turnbull schedules an eight-hour block to have a brief, individual calls with every person on the team.
“I noticed an interesting trend once we started these one-on-ones,” Turnbull writes. “I asked people to be more open about how they were feeling, and extended an invitation to be honest, even with negativity: that openness began to extend to Slack, and to the rest of our team communication.”
“Slack became more than just a collaboration tool and an occasional water cooler; we began to have honest, substantive team discussions where people felt safe enough and empowered enough to voice their opinions.”
5. Hire people who work well in a remote environment.
Remote work is not for everyone. It requires discipline, motivation, drive, dependability and independence. To build a successful remote team, hire people with these key qualities.
Groove looks for employees who have a successful track record of working remotely, are mature in their decision making and are “extraordinarily communicative.” As CEO Alex Turnbull says, “Remote working is a skill like any other, and sometimes an employee who isn’t at their best simply hasn’t focused on working on that skill yet.”
You may also want to ensure that the workers you hire are a good fit for working remotely (and your team) by establishing a trial period.
6. Welcome new employees.
Just as you might walk a new employee around the office and introduce them to everyone, be sure to give new remote employees a proper introduction. Send an introductory email, welcome them to Slack or invite them to introduce themselves in your next video chat.
7. Get together for a special event annually or quarterly.
Many remote companies host special events or retreats, which allow their employees to meet face-to-face at least once a year. Automattic gets together in for a “grand meetup” once a year, Buffer employees meet at a retreat every five months, and Zapier, Baremetrics, Help Scout and CloudPeeps all meet regularly for team retreats.
Encouraging your team to come together for a memorable event will provide benefits for your team that extend beyond the duration of the trip. “Once you return home, the conversations you have with team members are enhanced,” writes Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer. “You know the tone of somebody’s voice and the way they approach problems and discussions. You read their emails differently. This changes things, and is why we’ve found retreats to be not only a fun part of our culture, but an absolute necessity.”
8. Give employees perks.
All employees like perks, and companies with remote workers are no different. Give your employees a few perks, such as allowing them to set their own schedules, as Automattic does, or giving them unlimited vacation time, as Netflix does. Treehouse offers their employees a four-day workweek, paid sabbaticals and a lunch stipend, and MeetEdgar hires a monthly house cleaning service for all of their employees. Feel free to get creative with the perks you offer. Your employees will appreciate it!
Creating a thriving work culture for your remote team is not difficult, but it does require establishing strong online communication, hiring the right people, giving them the tools they need to succeed and making everyone feel valued and included. With all the benefits remote workers already receive, implementing these tips will lead to a stronger, more productive and happier team than ever before.