Before 2020, having an exceptional workplace culture was synonymous with sprawling campuses and high-end amenities. But once people experienced the possibility and benefits of remote work, many had no desire to return to the office. Looking ahead, the ability to accommodate remote work may prove to be an important competitive advantage.
Creating a remote-first culture is not second nature to most. But when implemented, organizations are able to tap into talent across the country while reducing employee attrition. Building a remote-first culture is possible, but it won’t happen overnight. That’s because it requires new ways of thinking about connection and support. With that in mind, here are five things that will help a remote-first workplace culture thrive.
1. Prioritize flexibility
The main benefit of working remotely is flexibility. Thus, to promote a remote-first culture, every event should have a virtual equivalent, and there cannot be any stigma attached to someone who elects to join remotely. This means creating a digital HQ and having all-hands meetings done remotely.
Leaders must get comfortable with the idea that connection will just look and feel different in a remote-first culture. So, you should also be flexible and realistic with regards to how you define connection. People are more mindful about the time they’re giving to their jobs these days. While a virtual happy hour may seem to check the box of supporting connections, most people don’t want to be logged on at 6 p.m. Ask yourself instead how you can help employees connect throughout the workday and make activities meaningful.
2. Empower your employees
Learning culture has been a great means of fostering connection during regular work hours. Offer optional educational courses or micro-learning units (MLUs) where employees can go through curated resources on a particular topic at their own pace, then come together in small cohorts to discuss. MLUs subtly reinforce the importance of connection in promoting these courses to employees.
Still, the success of a remote-first culture is largely due to the willingness to empower employees to define and create connections for themselves. Offering tools and resources required for meaningful interactions is vital to the success of a remote-first work environment. If employees are working on several different projects and each team does things a little differently, it is important to allow teams to figure out what works best for them. This is key to the success of a remote-first work environment.
3. Embrace new ways of working
While employees should be empowered to figure out what works for them, the company should also suggest and promote new ways of working. In addition to MLUs as a new way to promote learning, create regional hubs via online collaboration platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams and an initiative to enable remote co-working. These hubs let employees who live nearby easily plan get-togethers on their own.
Additionally, remote co-working, where people log into a Zoom meeting to work (cameras on, audio off) for 30 minutes or an hour, has been getting a lot of attention of late as a way to help improve motivation and focus. This can be helpful for anyone, but may provide additional benefit for neurodiverse employees. These types of activities can also help employee productivity and connectedness by reinforcing a sense of teamwork and solidarity, even when working on different tasks or projects.
4. Seek continuous feedback
As you’re trying new ways of working, it’s also important to get a pulse of how these new programs and tactics are impacting employees. Having an ecosystem that values surveys allows you to continually assess the efficacy of your approach. Conducting an annual engagement survey, monthly surveys, and team focused surveys can help you to best assess the progress of the culture you are building. The bulk of these surveys are quick check-ins that ask, among other things, whether employees feel they are establishing meangingful relationships in your organization.
Connectivity naturally ebbs and flows over the course of a year, and that’s okay. The point is to support employees so they can be as connected as they want to be. Connection is never static.
5. Do what works for YOU
Because so many companies are embracing a remote-first model, it can be tempting to compare your efforts to that of your competitors. But success comes when you think about your business, your industry, your unique situation – and most importantly – your people. Don’t get caught up in the comparison game. Instead, trust yourself to know your company’s needs—and trust your employees to tell you what’s working and what’s not.
All in all, having a remote-first workplace culture can set organizations apart when trying to attract talent, which is why the time to start investing in it is now. Try new things, don’t be afraid to fail, and keep a pulse on whether employees feel supported and connected. With the right effort, your remote-first culture will be thriving in no time.
Donna Platon is Engagement and Communication Manager at Excella.