Fostering a Strong Company Culture in a Distributed Team

by Jason Richmond, CEO & Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

There has been a tremendous shift in working practices in recent years, with increasing numbers of employees working in distributed teams.

According to McKinsey, 58% of job-holders in the US are able to work from home some of the time, and 87% of people choose to work flexibly if they have the opportunity to do so. Flexible working is also one of the top three reasons for accepting a new job.

Clearly, the workplace is experiencing a significant, long-term change. So, how can you foster a strong company culture when your teams are more likely to meet in square boxes on a computer screen than indulge in spontaneous in-person chat around the water cooler?

How a Distributed Team Can Impact Your Company Culture

If you’ve adopted a hybrid or remote work model, you may already have seen some positive changes to your company culture. Employees are happier when they have some flexibility in where and when they work; surveys have found that they value this flexibility as much as a pay rise of 7 to 8 percent. It also has an impact on staff retention, with employees in a distributed team less likely to join the Great Resignation and quit their jobs.

Aside from encouraging a healthier work-life balance, successful remote working requires a higher degree of trust between workers and managers, creating a virtuous circle that has a long-term positive impact.

There is also evidence that a hybrid office can be a factor in driving diversity and inclusion, tipping the scales of the work-life balance to make it easier for people to enter and remain in the workplace. The most recent snapshot by Slack’s Future Forum found that underrepresented groups expressed the strongest preference for flexible working practices. It’s also valuable to working parents, with 60 percent of working mothers and 50 percent of working fathers wishing to work outside the office three to five days a week.

However, remote working also brings new challenges. Human beings are social creatures, and we all need to interact with other people. The pandemic demonstrated the flipside of the remote-working boom, with the isolation of lockdown impacting people’s mental health. Recognizing and adapting to these changes is the key to creating a healthy company culture.

5 Ways to Foster a Strong Company Culture Among a Distributed Team

The challenge for leaders is to build a company culture that pulls teams together and creates shared experiences. Here are five ways to encourage a sense of collaboration and belonging among your distributed team:

1. Adopt Instant Messaging

While not quite the same as bumping into someone in the office kitchen and having a chat, instant messaging can be an effective way to build relationships and camaraderie in a remote office.

Less formal than email, instant messaging applications are the on-screen equivalent of wandering up to someone’s desk with a quick question or even a shared joke. Dedicated channels that allow different teams to celebrate successes, organize someone’s birthday, or even share pictures of their pets can all help create connections.

2. Create A Great Onboarding Experience

An employee’s experience with your company culture starts on day one, and you can set the tone even if they’re working remotely. You might want to consider a physical welcome pack, complete with a branded water bottle or coffee mug. Small but thoughtful details go a long way.

Making sure that they can log into company email systems and shared drives on their first morning, setting up welcome video calls so that they can ask questions and compare notes, and scheduling individual introductions across the company for their first week will all communicate that this is a business that cares about its culture and employees.

3. Hold Regular Social Events

Technology offers plenty of solutions for remote and hybrid teams, from video calls and instant messaging to email and traditional phone calls. However, even a small amount of in-person socializing can bring incalculable benefits.

Whether it’s a monthly all-hands meeting, a Monday morning standup to set the tone for the week, or more ad-hoc get-togethers throughout the year, encouraging your teams to socialize will help to break down silos and foster a sense of inclusion.

4. Support Your Managers

Managers have seen their roles turned upside down with the rise in remote working, so it’s no wonder that companies are increasingly appointing managers to Head of Remote Working roles. However, there’s a balance to be struck between checking in with your team remotely to make them feel included and checking in so often that they feel micromanaged and disempowered.

By developing best-practice guidelines, for example, on how to run an effective video meeting, and offering ongoing training to your managers, you can help them adapt to new ways of working.

5. Take A Flexible Approach

Some employees like to ditch the commute; others might prefer the camaraderie of coming into an office, and not everybody has a suitable space where they can work quietly from home. Different teams might need different policies in place—a creative team, for example, might benefit from assigned days in the office or a shared workspace to hold regular brainstorms.

Juggling everyone’s needs is certainly more complex than it is for the traditional five days a week in the office, but take the time to get it right with regular check-ins and feedback sessions and you’ll develop a happier, healthier culture for everyone.

Tailored Solutions for Your Distributed Team

The most important thing to consider when creating a strong company culture in a distributed team is that there is no blanket solution. At Ideal Outcomes, we help businesses create a competitive advantage and improve their business performance through culture evolution. No matter what your working practices look like—full remote, hybrid, or an ever-changing landscape —we can help you find the solutions and strategies that foster a healthy culture within your unique business.

If you’d like to find out how to get the most out of your hybrid and remote teams while building a strong culture, contact us today.