Before the pandemic, 17% of U.S. workers worked from home 5+ days a week. Now? That number has nearly tripled to 44%. Part of the struggle when a huge amount of companies across the globe had to pivot overnight from requiring employees to work in the office full-time to 100% remote, was figuring out how to navigate the new, remote, company culture. And while many managers figured it out, I’m sure we can all agree that many did not. In fact, just months into the stay-at-home orders, ⅓ of managers reported that maintaining company culture was a problem for them. Now, with the majority of American workers wishing to stay remote, at least part-time, we’re all going to have to level up our remote company culture game. 
Over the past seven years, I’ve remotely managed a team of 12. I’ve also consulted with hundreds of business owners, helping them to build their own remote teams. As you can imagine, I’ve picked up quite a few tips and best practices from my work. The benefits of working remotely can be enjoyed by both employer and employee as long as expectations and values are shared. Remote work can still be satisfying and you can still be part of a work community. That’s where company culture comes in. 

Why Is Company Culture So Important?

There are so many elements that factor into a company's culture - a company’s mission, management styles, environment, benefits policies, and more. But when we really think about it, it all comes down to how happy the employees are. Does the company foster a sense of togetherness? Do employees feel heard? Is there diversity and inclusion? What values does the company hold and do employees embrace those? So often, all these things are measured when you can see your team in person. So when your team is remote, it’s harder to judge what is working. 
So what needs to change when you are placing a “remote” in front of the company culture description? Well, first of all, it’s not just in what you add, but also in what you remove and the boundaries you set to help everyone maintain a work/life balance. Do you remember that feeling when everyone went remote last year and we couldn’t leave our houses? It was more like “live at work” than “work from home” for many. And while that’s fantastic for productivity in the short term, it isn’t sustainable and it isn’t going to be a good thing long-term for your team or company overall. 

Setting Boundaries

First of all, it’s important to set specific boundaries in order to respect everyone’s time. As the CEO I make a point of not messaging, emailing, or using Slack after 5 pm ET, Monday through Friday, and I encourage my team to do the same in their respective time zones. Yes, sometimes there are exceptions and special events, but for 99% of the time, we observe normal hours. I also encourage my team to take a break on the weekends. This doesn’t mean that team members (or even myself) aren’t catching up on the weekends. But if I do reach out to someone for something on off hours, I always include “I’m just catching up on work today after being off on XYZ, no response expected or needed until Monday!” 
It might be tempting to not set office hours. And really, you can encourage your team to set their own hours. They will likely appreciate it. However, you don’t want their coworkers to constantly feel like they are working around the clock. It’s especially important to observe these rules with globally distributed teams working in multiple time zones. I have team members in 5 different time zones and another 5 different countries. There’s no way we can all be “on” at the same time. Set the tone as the leader and have your managers do the same so everyone else on the team can feel comfortable following suit.

Consider Making Your Company a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)

To many of you, especially the micro-managers out there, this is going to sound bananas. Brace yourselves. We don’t track hours for our team or punch in and out. My team has expectations and goals for their specific roles and they focus on that instead of getting their hours in. I sense some resistance. Hear me out. 
I’m sure most of the places that many of us have worked measure our productivity mainly by the hours we keep. But with a remote team, there’s really no good way to hold people accountable for how many hours they are putting in. Yes, you can use hour tracking software, but imagine how empowered your team would feel if instead of asking them to punch that clock, you focus instead on what you need and want to be done. So you set specific goals and they focus on meeting those. At the end of the day, I don’t really care how many hours my team works as long as the work is getting done well and on time.
Imagine how empowered your team would feel if instead of asking them to punch that clock, you focus instead on what you need and want to be done. 
In the end, you have workers that feel more autonomous, in control of their work and results, and more engaged because they have ownership over their work (rather than a boss and time clock owning them).

Work on Building Relationships

Between ROWE and the boundaries I set, my team is a lot happier and they have the capability to live balanced lives.  But there’s still a big missing piece. How do you replace the company “water cooler” in a remote work setup? Many managers might not think this part is important, but people like to work with people they like. And when they have relationships? They collaborate. They share. They tackle problems together. The good news is, believe it or not, there are ways to build relationships virtually, you just have to get creative.  
Perhaps you have a weekly team meeting dress-up theme with prizes? Or maybe you create a channel in your team communication app for personal updates and pictures (ours is called #friendsIRL). At my company, we schedule quarterly just for fun online team events. We’ve done virtual Airbnb games and hired team trivia companies that run it over zoom for us. It’s fun and also a great way to get to know each other. Finally, we schedule real-life events like retreats that everyone is working to put money toward based on the company goals and how they contribute to them in their own way. 
Creating an amazing corporate culture with a remote team is completely possible, it just takes some intention. Realize that at the end of the day, you’re looking to both reinforce your company’s values through your employees and also create a positive environment very similar to one that you would work to create in a physical office. It is possible to foster relationships, collaborate together and find balance and happiness at work.


Esther Inman