7 ways to build team culture in a remote workforce

7 ways to build team culture in a remote workforce

According to UK Government research, employees believe the greatest challenge with remote working is collaboration (mine was fridge snacking). The struggle to effectively collaborate affects remote team culture, especially among younger staff. So, we’re sharing 7 ways to build a connected homeworking team.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the results of a survey they conducted during April-May 2021 (Business and individual attitudes towards the future of homeworking). It makes surprisingly interesting reading.

The greatest advantage was a better work-life balance (no surprise) and that 24% of organisations intended to continue using remote working in the future (Information & Communication firms were the most likely to stay remote – 49% of them).

Advantages & disadvantages of remote working by age group

But note in the chart that while all age groups stated collaboration was the main disadvantage, 16–29-year-olds were 50% more likely to struggle with teamwork.

The good news is the enforced remote working during 2020-2021 has accelerated our understanding of remote team culture. The challenges and the solutions. Take a look at our 7 Cs (not Seven Seas, that’s something else).

#1 Communication via the right channels

Remote working can create a sense of virtual distance. Staff feel both physically distant as well as a lack of affinity with managers and colleagues. The best way to communicate depends on your audience.

Approximately 50% of the world population are introverts and the other half are extroverts. Introverts will typically prefer digital comms (email, text, etc) and extroverts want to talk (phone, video, etc). Choose your communication method accordingly.

Be aware that email, text and chat all lack tone of voice, and that can lead to misunderstanding. Sarcasm doesn’t work in an email. Keep your messages short and pause before you send – check for tone of voice.

Also, be aware of your digital volume – don’t bombard your team with digital messages. Sometimes its better to get out of digital and give someone a phone call (or even better, meet them in person).

#2 Collaboration inside and outside your department

Remote working can create information silos. Your team shares information only with other team members. People outside of your team/department may be unaware of your projects and how they can help.

A lot of information is shared in an office through ‘accidental conversations’. Conversations that happen by the water cooler, in the lift or on the way to work. To recreate these conversations, organise ‘coffee roulette’. The idea is simple. Two people are randomly selected to share a virtual 15-minute coffee break. There is no agenda. They just have a chat.

It’s also a good idea to do an email update on a Monday. Just 5 lines in the email (no more!), listing things your team are doing or have done. Even people within your own department may not be fully aware of everything that is happening.

#3 Contributions need to be acknowledged

Remote staff can sometimes feel forgotten and disconnected when working from home. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind is a common theme.

Occasionally praising their contribution is an effective way of making them feel valued. Monthly awards for a variety of achievements or just a call to say “well done” can work wonders.

This can be organised by the HR Manager or Team Leader, but it must be scheduled in their diary or it can easily drop off the radar.

#4 Catch-ups with senior leaders

Remote workers often don’t get the opportunity to casually meet their leaders or someone in authority. It’s another example of how ‘accidental conversations’ in the office are very beneficial.

This lack of interaction can easily cause them to lose self-esteem, believing their role is unimportant. A lack of recognition from their boss may lead them to question whether they are doing well in their job. Recognition can be as simple as the boss remembering their name and asking about their family.

Although HR Managers and Team Leaders can issue the praise outlined in item #3 above, sometimes it requires a more senior person to pick up the phone. A simple 10-minute call from someone in high authority (starting with the question “how is everything?”) can make some feel valued and build a strong connection to the organisation.

#5 Clarity on the goals

When working in the office you can feel immersed in the organisation’s culture. The purpose, mission, and vision. Often there are statements and posters on the wall reminding staff.

That’s missing when you work remotely. Without clear goals and a reason for working hard, staff can drift into a malaise.

Remind staff of the company vision, and why you are all doing what you do. Update them on how close they all are to achieving the company goals (and congratulate them).

Consider sending something physical in the post (keyring, mouse mat, laptop sticker, etc) with the purpose, mission, and vision statements. Physical items are tangible, more valued and have a longer life than an email.

#6 Circumstances will vary for each staff member

Understand the home circumstances of your team members. Their family commitments may mean they cannot do the standard 9 to 5. They may not have the luxury of a home office and spend their day on the sofa or in their bedsit. Plus, not everyone has a happy home life.

Appreciating their home environment and how it impacts their work will be… well, appreciated. Empathy builds a strong bond and creates a positive team culture.

#7 Confidence in their work ethic

Trust is a big part of building a team. It’s been shown that people working at home actually work longer hours. They are not all watching daytime TV (who would want to!?)

Constantly checking up on employees erodes team culture. Staff dissatisfaction quickly spreads.

Concentrate on setting clear goals and reasonable deadlines for each member of the team. Congratulate them when they hit target. It’s the best way to motivate them. More carrot than stick.

So, to finish, the 7 Cs for improved remote team culture are Communication, Collaboration, Contribution, Catch-ups, Clarity, Circumstances and Confidence.


Photo by Pascal Swier
Graham Smith
February 22, 2022