4 Strategies That Build Effective Remote Team Cultures

There’s a universal reset underway as companies shift to a remote-first or hybrid virtual work arrangement. This shift, however, isn’t just at the corporate, operational levels. The changes are also happening at the virtual team level.

I’ve long maintained that the company culture is the shadow of the CEO. However, a team’s culture is more influenced by the immediate manager. After all, it’s the manager who has the most significant influence on a team’s culture.

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Yet, amidst the dynamically shifting influences on how businesses operate in these COVID days, it’s the company that needs to change how it supports its leaders. Without an intentional plan to equip leaders with the know-how to create effective team cultures, chaos, and confusion dominates the employee experience. What, then, can the company do to help the managers in the trenches leading virtual teams?

Strategies for Effective Remote Team Cultures

Grow Managers’ Foundational Skills to Lead Remote Employees Effectively

Leading teams today cannot rely on “how we used to do things.” Company execs need to ensure that training budgets are available for managers’ growth. The focus needs to be on foundational skills, or otherwise known as soft skills. Foundational skills improve relationships, how we interact with one another, and how we handle ourselves.

Executives model the way and signal to the company’s management ranks that adapting how we meet and treat one another must now evolve to digital interactions. This isn’t a short-term view. In fact, foundational skill sets are already in short supply. No matter what your company’s take is on working from home, allocating budget and planning virtual workshops for managers to grow their interpersonal and social skills is really a long-range view beyond COVID.

While not a comprehensive list, these foundational skills are crucial for a leader’s positive impact on the digital team culture.

  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Showing empathy
  • Creating a psychologically safe team environment
  • Being adaptable
  • Inspiring a sense of belonging (feeling valued, wanted, welcomed)
  • Knowing how to virtually onboard new employees
  • Promoting team purpose
  • Focusing on well-being
  • Collaborating

Invest in Productivity Technology Solutions for Remote Teams

Just as inspiring and motivating employees are important, so, too, are managements’ tech-savvy skills. The nuance here isn’t solely about knowing how to navigate technology that promotes productivity. It also includes digital savviness.

Effective virtual team cultures are supported by a tech stack that helps individuals and teams seamlessly contribute while virtual.

Where the corporation comes into play, is investing in platforms and tools.

Virtual Work Platforms

A significant shift for virtual workers is that work is no longer contained between 9-5. Mature remote-work viewpoints amplify the benefits of asynchronous workflows. In other words, companies can use technology, like Bluescape, that helps employees work at their peak performance times while producing high-value deliverables. Instead of emphasizing butts-in-seat, it’s aligning with this belief: productivity is king.

A virtual work platform helps teams work and collaborate securely. With Bluescape, for example, a project team can hold a meeting using Zoom, review project documents, brainstorm using a virtual whiteboard, all in one workspace. For team members that couldn’t attend the meeting, they can access the workspace, review the work that was done and add their input. Progress is not sacrificed. Instead, progress is promoted. This is an essential experience for virtual teams.

Digital Savvy Documentation

At GitLab, a wholly remote-first company, “a bias for documentation” is central to building virtual remote teams. From GitLab’s blog:

“Transmitting expectations, updates, and feedback through text is highly respectful. It enables a direct report to ingest information at their own pace, and it removes margin for misinterpretation. Written words are more easily questioned, thereby creating a more direct path to absolute truth and understanding.”

The documentation should be stored in a virtual work platform where it’s always available.

Remote Home Offices

As companies come to terms with the remote-work reality, their leaders should redirect budget dollars to help employees build their remote offices. The money will help standardize ergonomic home workspaces, gives Wi-Fi hotspots to improve bandwidth constraints.

As an example, productivity software maker, TodoIst, allocates $2000 every two years to improving employees’ remote home offices. This is a powerful and straightforward way for a company to signal that the digital employee experience is a priority. It gives everyone what they need to be successful. It removes tech distractions that interfere.

Establish Remote Workforce Communication Practices

In a recent Deloitte tip sheet, the global human capital consulting firm, this vital piece of advice stands out: Increase communication in disruptive times.

Whether you hold monthly company-wide town halls, or expect managers to hold weekly team meetings, do not worry about over-communicating to the workforce. With so much uncertainty, it’s best to rely on a multiple-channel communication approach.

  • Make sure access to any recordings of digital meetings is conveniently available
  • Have a tiered communication plan. This is an explicit strategy that ensures information from upper-management cascades down through the management ranks to employees—document this. Evaluate management performance against this. Get employee feedback on the effectiveness of this approach.
  • Vary the use of communication tools. In other words, rely on the varied types of technologies and tools and push out information to employees: mobile, wearables, laptops, apps like Slack, for example.

Double Down on Clarifying Leadership Expectations

Finally, for teams to experience a positive culture, management must be held accountable for modeling the way. It’s the companies’ leadership ranks that will either mature or implode a remote team culture.

Starting with the executive team down to supervisors, hold all people leaders accountable to these principles.

  • Support remote work (hybrid, remote-first, temporary) arrangements
  • Find virtual replacements to in-person team practices: recognition, in-person town halls
  • Establish OKRs (objectives and key results) and hold employees and teams accountable to them
  • Have regular one-on-ones with employees
  • Have conversations with the team about how they are navigating shelter-in-place orders

Regardless of how the company views the longevity of remotely working, it is here. It is the new normal. The executive team can help the company and its managers build effective remote team cultures by growing leaders’ foundational skills. These skills need to be reinforced by clear expectations of leaders and technology that facilitates collaboration. What’s more, the company’s communication practices help influence productive and engaged teams.

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About the Author

Shawn Murphy
Director of Organizational Behavior, Bluescape
Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes is out now. Shawn's first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.

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