Is it possible to set and advance company culture in a remote-only startup?
Yes, managing the attitudes and behaviors of your staff has little to do with where their work location. You can manage company culture just as well with all remote staff as with all your staff working under the same roof!
However, fostering company culture in a remote workplace is a different challenge to doing so in the workplace. For example, scheduling an impromptu video conference meeting takes more effort than just walking out to the floor and announcing to everyone there’s a meeting in the boardroom in 5 minutes.
Tacking the need for improvements or changes in worker behavior however is no less challenging in person than it is via a Zoom call. It may actually be easier to deliver the unwelcomed news that change is needed via video as you’re not being eyeballed in close proximity.
Only 16% of companies are fully remote, meaning the vast majority of organizational culture issues arise from hybrid or in-office work arrangements.
Furthermore, according to Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workplace report, only 20% of employees are actively engaged in their work.
Therefore remote work may be a factor in a drop in communication but it is unlikely to be the only reason there is a lack of company cohesion. There are plenty of toxic workspaces so embrace remote work as it can be the answer to getting everyone in your business on the same page!
The Value of Remote Work
Harvard Business Review examined a study where participants at a Chinese call center were allowed to work from home for nine months. The study concluded that their remote employees were happier, more productive, and less likely to quit than in-office workers.
Global Workplace Analytics’ Agile Work study found remote work:
- Saves employers money
- Reduces unscheduled absences
- Improves employee satisfaction
- Reduces unimportant meetings
- Greatly expands skills and talent
- Increases teamwork and collaboration
While these benefits are impressive, employers need to encourage communication in their teams to see them come into effect. If your culture could use some improvement, read on.
Improving Remote Start-Up Company Culture
Maximizing cohesion and worker satisfaction will require acknowledging what to improve on at work. Starting out as your business means to carry on requires clear and concise direction.
1. Live Your Company’s Values
Employers don’t always know their company culture is not as it should be.
The warning signs may not be obvious until productivity takes a dive. It’s feasible owners and senior managers keen to attract long-term hires oversell their company environment and togetherness.
When this happens management has lost touch with staff sentiment. At any time your company mission and vision can be revisited, rewritten, and communicated with staff.
Take ownership of your company culture and regularly reiterate the reasoning for your company values which should include diversity and inclusion.
Support bottom-up collaboration i.e. all staff gets a say in what values make the business special and meaningful to them. While it’s great to end up with a list of values, it’s especially important that remote teams document what they get from the business beyond their salary.
Distributed team means tend to rely more on written communication due to little face-to-face time.
Your culture document should be clear, concise, and articulate changes made to the company. It should state your expectations, discuss how you’ll evaluate and assess your team, and declare how you’ll measure performance. Refer to this document and constantly reassess it.
3. Onboarding Remote Staff
A challenge for remote teams is a lack of everyday familiarity. There is less small talk, and light banter. Go further with your onboarding to personalize the staff introductions. The welcome email can include some light humor and sharing of personal preferences e.g. likes, dislikes etc.
Plus host social video team meetings with the business paying for each worker’s drinks and snacks. If your team can not meet in person you can create almost the same ambiance with online events. Introducing a new team member can be a fun experience.
Being aware that communication is limited in remote teams will make the need for these meetings more apparent. Not only will these brief introductions help new team members feel more comfortable, but they’ll also establish familiarity and company-wide team bonding.
4. Encourage Feedback
Employees are afraid to speak up because they don’t think their opinion will be heard or fear it may backfire. However, if their employers encourage feedback, they’re more likely to give it. At the same time, employers can’t just praise the loud extroverts or force introverts to contribute.
Startup owners can encourage participation from all employees by putting the more opinionated speakers in a note-taking role because it encourages them to listen. A more casual, laid-back approach in meetings will also help quieter employees become more open and transparent.
5. Set Expectations
Certain communication methods, like email, are meant for professional communication, whereas Zoom and Slack are typically assigned for casual conversations. That doesn’t have to be how you separate communication channels, but you’ll still need a space for both.
In a regular office setting, your employees will talk about their days and indulge in a bit of light gossip. If you put rules in place that discuss what tools are for collaborating and communicating, your team members will be able to create their own social culture that inspires teamwork.
6. Measure Engagement
Startup owners can’t create a collaborative environment and take their hands off the steering wheel. You have to take the time to monitor and measure engagement every quarter. By using anonymous surveys, you’ll have an easier time acknowledging the team’s overall sentiments.
Don’t focus on work-related topics in your survey. Asking about general happiness and mood encourages openness and can alleviate feelings of isolation. Plus, your employees will feel more connected to you and your business because they’ll feel that you care about them.
Startups already have a lot going for them in the employee engagement department, which makes developing a strong company culture a less intimidating endeavor for business owners.
At the same time, startups have to overcome challenges that come with distance, like communication and consistency. It may be hard for startup owners to keep their employees engaged without a document that describes their company values and their follow-through.
If startup owners are able to live their company values, they’ll attract more top talent and increase trust throughout their business. When trust is established, employees will be happy to speak up about their grievances, make friends with their co-workers, and accept feedback.
To make sure your employee engagement strategy is working, hand out anonymous questionnaire surveys that ask about individual happiness and motivation. With this data, your organization can adjust its strategy or continue to foster excellence throughout the workplace.