Back in the day, companies sought to build a sense of camaraderie and support through things like corporate retreats, ropes courses, and trust falls. Nowadays—as more people continue to work remotely—leaders must find new ways to unite employees who are spending an increasing amount of time apart. Developing a strong virtual team culture needs to be a priority
Last year 43 percent of Americans spent some time working remotely—a stat likely to increase steadily as younger generations enter the workforce. In fact, studies show nearly 40 percent of today’s employees work offsite on a regular basis. While that’s great when it comes to saving on company overhead, it does present some challenges for leaders in terms of creating a singular culture that all employees—regardless of location—can rally behind. Indeed, as I wrote in my article Digital Transformation Cannot Succeed Without the Right Culture, culture and vision are what hold companies together in times of change and perceived chaos. Ironically, digital transformation is also making it increasingly difficult to build those bonds. Luckily, there are things leaders can do to foster a strong virtual team culture, despite differences in location and time zone. The following are just a few tips:
Use the Technology Available
The digital transformation brought us mobility—including the tools we need to do it well. As a leader, it’s important for you to “walk the walk” and take time to use new technology like telepresence robots, chat apps, video conference, and other unified communication channels to get your team on board with communicating this way in their daily lives. After all, that’s what it’s there for. And a strong tech leader needs to model the virtual team culture they’re trying to create.
Make Time for Homeroom
Even with many remote employees, you can still create consistent communication standards throughout the enterprise. I have a friend whose company instituted “homeroom meetings” every morning at 9 a.m. All employees, regardless of whether they were onsite or conferencing in, were expected to attend. The purpose was to allow everyone to connect, discuss the day’s goals and capacity issues, and ask for help where needed. The best part: teammates were empowered to call their own homeroom meetings if needed, throughout the rest of the day. It doesn’t matter if you call it homeroom, all-hands, or daily update—the point is, consistent communication is a must for virtual team culture survival.
Be Clear About Availability
The fact that employees work offsite does not preclude them from being available when the team needs them. It’s possible to allow for flexibility while also establishing clear virtual “office hours” for remote employees so your in-house workers know they can rely on their entire team to be available via chat or telepresence when needed. Doing so will help establish trust and consistency across all departments.
Get to Know Employees as People
It can be easy to forget to involve your remote employees in impromptu onsite conversations, or to forget that they also have lives, interests, and strengths outside of their initial job functions. Take time to get to know your remote employees as people, rather than just task managers. No one wants to be a cog in the wheel of an organization—no matter how much flexibility they have. They want to be recognized for their skills and what they bring to the team. Telepresence robots can be especially helpful in this area, allowing or virtual “presence” regardless of how far an employee may be.
Meet Face to Face
Lastly, never forget the strongest communication tool we have is face-to-face contact. There’s nothing better than putting a face to a name—no matter how much easier it is to text, email, or chat about what we need. I know of at least one company that has established “unplugged” days where people are required to speak in person rather than via technology whenever possible. You’d be surprised how many people who worked in the same building ended up meeting one another for the first time.
Even companies with all employees working onsite experience challenges creating effective employee culture. And though it may be difficult, it is not an insurmountable task. Involve your employees in the process. Empower them to use their voice to make a difference. Use the tools available to you. Developing a strong virtual team culture is the way of the future. That’s the only way your company will succeed in a mobile working world.
Additional Resources on This Topic
Digital Transformation Cannot Succeed Without the Right Culture
Six Ways Leaders can Build a Culture of Innovation
What Comes First? Culture Change or Tech Change?
Data in New Report Signals that Culture is Critical to Digital Transformation
This article was originally published on Future of Work.