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How to Build a Thriving Remote Culture (Overnight)

As COVID-19 has the world on lockdown, employees around the world are getting a taste of what it’s like to work from home. While it may sound like a dream come true to commute to your couch or kitchen table, most will soon discover that there’s a darkside to this newfound freedom. A study by Buffer found that loneliness (21%), collaborating and/or communicating (21%), and distractions at home (16%) are some of the biggest challenges remote workers face. Many of these will be exacerbated by the added element of “social distancing”. 

Two years ago, Purpose Generation transitioned to be a fully remote organization. We still travel to client meetings and gather together in person when we can, but most of our days are spent at home. Some of us have home offices, some are members of co-working spaces, and others open their laptop wherever they can in between school drop-offs and pick-ups. This transition wasn’t without its hiccups. Each of us has learned to master the art of #WFH as well as managing a team from a distance without losing our connectivity (or sanity).

In an office environment, it’s easy to create a sense of belonging. There’s also a constant stream of information, even if it’s not being communicated intentionally. Sure, Slack and Zoom are excellent technologies, but they don’t replace the overheard phone calls, quick life updates over lunch, and watercooler conversations in the hallways. It’s not necessarily worse to be remote (in fact, there’s plenty of data suggesting people are more productive and happier when they have this type of flexibility), but it is different. It requires a novel way of communicating, managing, and interacting. So in an effort to do what we can during this uncertain time, we decided to share some of our favorite hacks for building a thriving remote work culture: 

1. Add video to your virtual meetings. 

This not only gives your team the opportunity to have some social interaction throughout their day, but it will also encourage them to get dressed (at least from the waist up).

2. Don’t be afraid to get personal. 

Emotions are running high and everyone is likely feeling a little on edge as the situation continues to unfold by the hour. Start your calls by asking how everyone is doing and open it up to people who may feel called to share. If this virus has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all human, so lean into this notion and take advantage of this opportunity to build deeper connections with one another. 

3. Introduce the idea of “separation rituals”. 

When you're working remotely it can be especially difficult to know when to power down your laptop for the day. Remote workers will often find themselves putting in more hours than they did in the office, simply because they become accustomed to working anytime, anywhere. To avoid unnecessary burnout, it can be helpful to establish some type of ritual that separates your work day from your personal or family time. This may include going on a walk, getting a workout in, watching a TV show, or cooking a meal. Ask your team to share their favorite separation ritual(s) so you can make this practice a habit. 

4. Stay disciplined about scheduling. 

Keep regular meeting times in place, even if they happen virtually. Moreover, even if you don’t have much to discuss during this time, it may be worth jumping on a call for a few minutes to check-in. Cancelling calls can become a bad habit and while it gives people “time back” in their day, it can also be isolating. While we’re on the subject of scheduling, make sure everyone is powering down at the appropriate time (see previous tip).

5. Address the importance of TRUST. 

When you’re accustomed to face time at the office, you may find yourself wondering: “Is everyone working as hard as I am, or are they playing hooky?” Instead of letting these thoughts turn into resentment or result in a stream of Slack or email messages if someone doesn’t respond within 5 minutes, have a conversation with your team. Let them know that your collective success will depend on your ability to trust one another. You understand that working from home comes with a whole new set of distractions, but you trust them to prioritize appropriately. Ask them to communicate when they’ll be out of pocket (since you can’t see that they’re not at their desk) and do the same in return. 

6. Celebrate wins. 

This is more important than ever when working remote, because an email or Slack message does not always convey how impressed or appreciative you really are. Call people out when they go above and beyond and get creative about how you reward your team. Consider gifting everyone a subscription to Udemy or Skillshare, so they can invest their additional downtime in learning new skills; or send everyone one of your favorite books to read. These are small but essential ways to keep your team motivated. 

7. Find other ways to stay connected. 

Ask every team member to share one non-professional goal they’re committing to working on during quarantine (i.e. learning a new instrument, mastering a language, etc.), ask them to share whatever new show they’re loving on Netflix, their favorite recipe, or digital workout apps. Start an email chain or Slack channel where people can exchange ideas and recommend products to support one another. 

8. Keep calm while you carry on. 

One of the most effective ways to manage anxiety in the midst of a time like this is meditation. It has not only been proven to reduce stress and depression, but a regular practice is also linked to improved productivity, focus, and immunity. Even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, consider offering weekly virtual meditations for your team so they may be better equipped to process the constant stream of updates in the media while balancing home and work life without much separation. If this is something you’re interested in, please reach out and we can connect you to our favorite corporate meditation teacher.

As these hacks suggest, making a remote culture work comes down to communication. Your communication cannot be clear or frequent enough in a mobile working environment, so be extra thoughtful about how and when you express yourself. We also encourage you to find the silver lining in this difficult situation: how might your team become even more efficient, inspired, and connected as a result of the new normal? 

Stay safe and distanced. We’re here for you if we can support you in any way!