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Building A Remote Work Culture, Even When You’re Wary

Employee engaging in remote work from a mountaintop.
© AdobeStock
This CEO wasn't wild about going remote before the pandemic, but she's become a believer, thanks to a multipart strategy.

When a company with a high-performance culture goes remote, will teams lose their collective drive toward greatness?

It’s a question that leaders of many household-name organizations will wrestle with in 2023, and prior to Covid-19, I did as well. Although we were experimenting with hybrid schedules, we were cautious about untethering the team as a whole. We needed a cohesive strategy to ensure that people would embrace our shared mission, and their own contribution to it, wherever they were working.

But once the pandemic forced us out of our offices, I had no choice but to adapt, and now I’m a true believer in the remote workforce. Post-pandemic, every member of our team has chosen a hybrid or fully remote working arrangement. That’s on trend with earlier Gartner research suggesting that nearly half of all employees would work offsite after Covid. ZipRecruiter research reveals the pent-up demand for this option; job seekers are willing to cut their pay by 14% on average to enjoy remote-work opportunities.

Still, offering this benefit is different than shaping a remote workplace culture that engages employees toward excellence. It takes effort and intentionality to prevent “quiet quitting” or high turnover. Indeed, research reveals that in the typical workplace, 76% of employees are “up for grabs”—neither fully committed nor fully uncommitted to the organization. Companies must elevate their leadership skills to engage everyone, and it’s inherently more challenging when you can’t see them on a day-to-day basis.

In 2023, it’s especially important that our teams be 100% on board with the mission as we execute a planned expansion. Here are the approaches we’ll work hard to build on, as we have improved through the school of hard knocks.

• Equip your senior team. The six traits of an effective remote cultural leader include:

• Being intentional in driving the culture

• Sincerely caring about every team member

• Understanding each individual’s goals and aspirations

• Following a personalized leadership process

• Modeling excellence

• Having predictability and consistency

• Know your team’s hardwiring. Workplace personality assessments will help you uncover what truly motivates each person and how to adjust your communications. Do they derive the most satisfaction from influencing others or being a great team player? What kinds of strategic communications and rewards will inspire them (daily check-ins, public celebrations of wins, surprise voicemails for individuals who’ve performed well, etc.), and what will inadvertently demotivate them? In an in-person world, when you have frequent social cues, it’s a little easier to decipher this (though people can be chameleons, scientific assessments are more enlightening). In the virtual world, these assessments are even more useful and critical for engagement.

• Start the engagement process when individuals accept an employment offer. Don’t wait until their job begins; find out more about their hobbies and interests, and encourage “can’t wait to work with you” phone calls from different individuals on different days. New team members will have strong bonds with their colleagues before they even start work, no matter how many miles away they sit.

• Get creative with remote recognition. We just held a one-year anniversary call for a team member, who beamed as we went around the virtual room—with each colleague saying one word that epitomizes her. We constantly recognize our people in these fun and heartfelt ways, from awards to random meals delivered to their homes.

• Meet and trust. I am not a fan of the “keyboard checks” of remote employees to ensure they’re working because you must inherently trust them. I also know that they own their responsibilities along with the fact that their managers/leaders are meeting regularly with them—weekly, biweekly or monthly (never less frequently than that) to ensure that everyone is happy and aligned on goals.

• Craft every message with care. Leaders must know that their words matter even more in the remote world. Parents teach their children that every word matters and the same lesson applies to communications with hybrid/fully remote teams. It’s more challenging, though, when leaders are communicating with devices and their tone can be misinterpreted. As my teenagers helped me learn, a misplaced exclamation mark can make a great deal of difference.

• Pick up the phone. Calling your people regularly is critical. When leaders don’t take time for a real conversation, their colleagues will assume they don’t care.

• Turn videos on. We have an unspoken rule that during Zoom/Teams meetings, all cameras must be on and cell phones far away. Some people are naturally fearful of cameras, but they’re integral to collaborative, accountable and people-oriented cultures.

In 2023, more of our work may be virtual, but our performance goals are very real. In person or remote, skilled leaders are well positioned to motivate everyone toward new heights.


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