As enterprise organizations shift towards adopting more permanent remote work environments, business leaders increasingly recognize that culture—not productivity—is the real challenge.
There are unmistakable benefits to shifting to a remote workforce, including increased productivity, talent pool, and improved customer service.
Without a strong emphasis on establishing and maintaining resilient company culture, building a remote workplace can be a challenge.
Corporate culture starts from the top and must be communicated from hiring to onboarding to long-term employee relations.
Business leaders looking to build and nurture their remote workforce should consider:
Establishing a trusting work environment that empowers their staff.
Investing in a Talent Management System to foster connection before hiring.
Developing a highly structured onboarding process to reduce friction for your team and prospective employees.
Working with employees to set clear KPIs aligned to business goals.
Committing to upholding company culture and communicating it to your team consistently.
Corporate environments were forever changed in 2020. Because of the pandemic, work-from-home policies became the norm overnight, forcing enterprise organizations to rethink everything from workflow processes to employee management tactics. As more employees moved to home offices, many companies discovered a remote workplace was not only doable but had measurable benefits.
Despite initial concerns about maintaining productivity in a remote work environment, the pandemic has provided indisputable proof that good work can be performed as easily from a home office or kitchen table as a corporate boardroom. In fact, a McKinsey survey from May 2020 found that of the 2,000 employees it surveyed, 41% reported that they were even more productive than they had been in the office.
Wider talent pool
Being able to hire across geographic regions is a huge benefit when searching for someone with a specialized skill—a benefit that DemandLab has taken advantage of to the fullest. Because we provide marketing technology management services for clients, it is crucial we are able to hire professionals with highly specialized tech skills. Being able to recruit top talent from anywhere in the world enables us to find the exact right candidate. Right now, our team is spread out across the globe, with C-level executives in the U.S., Europe and Canada and a work staff distributed across multiple time zones.
Better customer service
Another key benefit of a distributed staff: We can support our clients nearly around the clock. With team members spread out across regions, service delivery can easily be handed off between employees in various locations so that work continues between time zones.
But while there are clear advantages to maintaining a remote workforce—even after the pandemic subsides—there are also challenges. And as businesses learn to trust that their staff are ready and able to get work done without in-person oversight, they are recognizing that there is a bigger challenge to solve—maintaining a strong and healthy workplace culture.
My team has been partially remote for more than a decade and fully remote since 2018. During this time, we have had time to experiment and discover what helps us maintain (and retain) a close-knit highly engaged team. Here are a few lessons we learned along the way.
Culture starts before the employee starts
We realized quickly that we needed to communicate our company culture long before the employee's first day. We begin fostering a connection with our employees while they are still job applicants, and we have found that a Talent Management System (TMS) is a critical engagement tool. This type of platform (we use Workable, but there are many great options out there) allows us to build and automate multiple touchpoints throughout the hiring process so that candidates know what to expect at each stage and we know what we need to do to keep top candidates energized and committed. Thanks to our TMS and the process we've been able to create with it, our new hires already feel connected to the organization on the first day they show up for work.
Onboarding is critical for remote teams
It’s one thing to find the exact right candidate for your team. It’s quite another to onboard them via a remote work environment so that new hires feel fully supported from the start.
Like our hiring process, our onboarding process is highly structured and is guided and automated by technology. We built our process in Asana to itemize and assign the hundreds of tasks that each of us needs to complete to fully onboard, orient and activate a new team member. Among other things, we ensure that hires meet with multiple team members during these first few weeks. We make an effort to conduct these meetings on video (unless there is a reason someone prefers not to be on camera that day) so that new employees can see some friendly faces and feel more connected. They also get an opportunity to meet with each member of our senior leadership one on one for an introduction to our company’s culture, values and work standards.
Junior and entry-level staff are paired with other team members during their onboarding period and encouraged to ask as many questions as possible. No question is too small, and there are no limits to what can be asked. We also have training programs in place for new hires based on their specific role.
Measure, don't monitor
When you are in a remote work environment, it is especially important not to focus on the minutiae of work but instead focus on the outcomes. While monitoring day-to-day behaviors and micromanaging employees is counterproductive in a physical office, it's downright destructive in a remote work environment.
By defining the organization's overarching goals and setting clear expectations, you empower team members to find their own way to complete projects and solve problems. We work with our employees to set clear KPIs that not only define the desired work output, but align that output with the company's overall business goals so that they can see how their work drives success for the team, our customers, and our company.
Build culture from the top down
Building a strong, resilient culture across a distributed workforce—especially one that spans multiple borders and countries—requires a strong leadership presence.
As the leader of a remote workforce, you have to be completely committed to your company’s values and authentic in the ways you lead, manage, and practice those values. Communication is crucial: I send a biweekly company-wide email to share information on things like the company’s vision, growth, and customer news. I also hold an all-hands team meeting monthly where I and the leaders of each division share updates on company sales, marketing, operations, and other functions. And finally, I make sure I set aside time for one-on-one meetings with key staff to better understand what’s working for the team and identify any problem areas that may need to be addressed. If you feel as though you're overcommunicating, you're probably doing it right: leaders of remote teams need to be more present and more vocal.
It's time to double down on culture
In 2021, a growing number of companies recognize that partially or fully remote teams may become a permanent part of their work environment. As companies become more confident in the ability of remote teams to maintain productivity, it's time to shift the focus and ensure that companies are equally capable of maintaining the culture that makes employees want to get up every morning and dive into their work—wherever in the world that work takes place.
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