We live in a fast-paced world that’s in a constant state of flux. With the pandemic changing the rules of the game, remote working has now become the norm within companies around the world.

Even though work still gets done, distributed teams often feel disjointed. Managers have a tough time fostering a sense of community within the company, and employees feel drained and unappreciated.

Building a strong company culture is hard. Building a strong remote culture is, well, even harder. But first things first: why is it important?

What is company culture and why does it matter?

If a company is a ship, then the company’s culture is its engine. It lies at the very heart of the business, determining the company’s values, goals, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour. It’s in the way managers treat employees; the way employees treat customers and each other. It’s in the way that the organisation gets things done. Think of company culture as the shared ethos that propels the ship forward.

Ships with great engines are better equipped to make it through stormy weather. Healthy company culture:

As you can see, the benefits of great company culture aren’t just theoretical; they're real and tangible advantages that help firms grow and thrive.

Company culture is more than just beer fridges and banter

Make no mistake - just because you’ve set up a ping pong table and installed a beer fridge in the office, it doesn’t mean your cultural work is done.

For maximum impact, culture-building activities have to be meaningful and, most importantly, organised with your company’s specific core values in mind. To succeed, you’ll need to be both creative and adaptable with your approach.

Steps to building a company culture remotely

Teamwork and collaboration take a hit when face-to-face interaction is removed from the company’s equation. That’s not to say that remote teams don’t work; it’s just that everything requires a lot more effort.

This is why building a remote work culture is so challenging. Team-building activities and experiences that reinforced positive culture now have to take place in a digital world. The problem is that humans don’t thrive through virtual meetings. We crave real social interaction. We rely on body language to gauge reactions, alleviate stress, and build trust with those around us.

Remote employees still have to work all their hours, but on Zoom. Fun patter is hard to find, and morale is low. Team leaders struggle to keep everyone motivated, and that sense of purpose slowly deteriorates until the mood becomes flat.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. With a few strategic tweaks, you can keep your remote workers happy and unified. Here are some of the best practices for building a thriving remote company culture.

Communicate (and uphold) your mission and values

Without clearly-defined values, employees mindlessly complete tasks in a workplace that has little to no meaning to them. In other words, there’s no clear vision.

To communicate and uphold your mission and values:

  • Make sure they’re clearly defined from day one. Yes, that means putting your vision into words. Your mission and values should appear as often as possible (e.g., on your website, newsletter, emails).
  • Incorporate them into your job postings and mention them during your interview process. If one of your core values is “honesty,” you can include questions such as: “Describe a time you had to admit a mistake to a coworker.”
  • Find fun and creative ways to develop these values with your virtual teams.
  • Make a habit of talking about your values during online meetings.

When working remotely, you need to let employees know exactly what’s expected of them. Never assume people know what your company stands for.

Cultivate an Environment of Trust

Trust is earned. With no opportunities to physically spend time with colleagues, bonding suddenly becomes so much more difficult. That being said, perfectly functional, fully-remote teams do exist. These are teams that often:

  • Start building trust early on. When you’re hiring new people or assembling a new team, it always helps to have clearly-defined roles. Ensure everyone knows exactly what they’re bringing to the team—and how important they are for the team. New employees will open up if they’re treated with the respect and attention they deserve.
  • Keep communication channels open. There are hundreds of tools you can use (e.g., Slack channels, Google Hangouts, Zoom) to stay connected and pass on important information as quickly as possible.
  • Are responsible and reliable. When working remotely, chances are not everyone will be working the same hours. Make full use of calendar, schedule-sharing and annual leave planning tools to reduce unpredictability.

You need to be proactive and give it time. After all, trust is built in drops and lost in buckets.

Invest time in non-work meetups and casual conversations

In traditional settings, camaraderie is built organically, without too much forced effort. But remote employees can’t really spontaneously engage in small talk during coffee and lunch breaks.

This is exactly why plenty of time should be devoted to non-work meetups and casual conversations. You can try:

  • Non-work chat channels. You can make use of Slack, Discord, and Microsoft Teams to create fun channels based on your co-workers’ mutual interests (e.g., movies, video games, pets).
  • Happy hour virtual socials (e.g., game nights, trash reality TV specials).
  • Bonding activities that promote wellness, such as yoga, pilates, and meditation.

Remind people that they are valued and appreciated

Your employees are your most valuable asset, and you need to make sure they feel appreciated. When working remotely, interaction is limited, and it’s easy to lose focus of what’s really important: the people that work for—and with—you. Don’t forget to reward those who go above and beyond when it matters most. It really does make a difference.

Building a remote company culture isn’t easy. If you want to create an enviable working environment for your employees, you must put their needs first. Define your values, keep communication channels open, and use digital tools to nurture success and promote a healthy work-life balance within your team.