How to Build Culture in a Remote Team

By
Leela Hopkins
VPM Staff
Updated
July 30, 2020

A good company culture (we’ll define this later on) is vital to every successful company. Think of it as part of your company DNA. It's what makes your business unique. Culture is the character and personality of your organization. It is the driver of decisions, actions, and ultimately the overall performance of the organization. So what can you do to help foster a strong sense of culture in your company, especially if your team is partly or entirely composed of remote workers?

Now, you might be thinking does culture even matter as a remote team? Answer is yes! Culture is often misunderstood and it is difficult to build and especially more true with a remote team, but it’s essential to your business success.

When building culture within a workplace remember it’s always about action, not location. This is why with the right approach, combined with the right tools, you can build a strong culture within even the most remote of teams. But first, it’s important to understand exactly what culture means.

What Company Culture Actually Is

The best companies recognize that there are three elements to a culture: behaviors, systems, and practices, all guided by an overarching set of values. A great culture is what you get when all three of these are aligned with their values.

A company’s culture is made up of shared values, goals, attitudes, practices, and behaviors, these all make up your culture. These all define the way a company operates and how they approach teamwork and have an impact in guiding employee decisions and how employees interact with others.

TIP: Think of this as your company identity. One of the first steps to building a great company culture is knowing how you would describe your organization's identity.

A good work culture is one which encourages employees to behave like a family and watch each others' back. This culture can only be built by pursuing ethical role modeling values and walking the talk, but there are other types of cultures that might fit your business model better (later on this).

Company culture often develops naturally and organically over time, and therefore cannot be forced upon a workplace. However, there are things you can do to promote a preferred workplace culture and nurture it so it grows over time toward the type of culture your company is trying to achieve.

At VirtualPostMail (VPM) we include our culture into every part of the business. Why not start from the beginning right? From the job description to the interview questions our culture is head of mind for every interaction point. We look for individuals who will enhance the company culture and teams. And that’s not all. We include culture training as part of our on boarding process (more on how to do this later).

What Company Culture Is Not

There are many misconceptions when it comes to company culture. It’s important to remember that company culture is not something that can be changed quickly.

Some confusions surrounding what company culture is include the following.

Core Values

Let’s build off the VPM example under what “culture is”. You're probably familiar with the concept of hiring for cultural fit. But to hire the "right talent", you need to define the company values you stand for and make sure that the candidate you're about to hire shares the same values. In other words, building a strong business starts with building a company culture that reflects your core values.

These still sound the same...what is the difference?

Culture is the collection of business practices, processes, and interactions that make up the work environment. Company culture can be defined as a set of shared values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterize an organization. It's the way people feel about the work they do, the values they believe in, where they see the company going and what they're doing to get it there.

EXAMPLE: Let’s describe VPM’s company culture. It is Collaborative, Nurturing, Curious, and Transparent.

Now compare it to company value...

A company's values help to shape your company culture. Company values create a purpose, improve team cohesion, and create a sense of commitment in the workplace. The core values of a company should never really change. They are the uncompromising core principles that your company is willing to live and die by.

EXAMPLE: Let’s describe VPM’s company values. It is to Keep Improving, Pursue Learning, Respecting Others, and Taking Ownership.

Do you see the difference?

Benefits and Perks

The benefits and perks make a workplace more attractive, welcoming, and enjoyable, but are not your culture. Having a ping pong table, game room, and pet friendly office are not the core reasons why you run your business.

CHALLENGE: Can you define your culture in 5 words? What makes your company culture distinct?

Cultural Hierarchies - What Are They and What Are The Options?

Culture is difficult to define and even more difficult to correctly create. If you at least have an understanding of what culture is and what culture is not this will help you build a stronger culture. Next, is determining what kind of culture you want to have.

First, it’s important to understand what type of work culture already exists within your organization.

1. Clan Culture

This type of culture is particularly close, and the employees refer to each other like family members. There is a focus on group mentoring and working together to achieve goals. There will be a friendly, collaborative, almost informal environment.

VPM is an example of clan culture. We focus heavily on a friendly and collaborative environment. Additionally, in the past we’ve held dedicated mentorship training focused on the Gallup Strengths for team members to develop and improve their personal strengths. It’s all about personal development!

Do you have this kind of culture?

If your employees collaborate more than they work separately, then you may have a clan type of culture in your business. Barriers between leadership and employees will be thin or practically non-existent so that employees feel free to provide feedback to employers whenever they want.

Leaders in clan cultures are usually mentors and teamwork and communication are the foundation.

How to achieve this kind of culture

If you want to nurture this kind of culture, the best and first thing to do is make it known that you welcome honest and direct feedback from employees. Engage in team-building activities and group lunches. For instance VPM has held “game lunches” where team members could spend their lunch hour mingling and laughing all while playing Candy Land or Jenga. Make communication a guiding principle in your organization. Know and understand what your workers value, and pivot future working methods and practices towards those things.

2. Adhocracy Culture

The word comes from the Latin phrase ad hoc”, meaning “for this (purpose)”, with an extended meaning of improvised or impromptu. Thus this kind of work culture is focused on risk-taking in an entrepreneurial way. Being the first to do things is important. In these types of businesses taking chances is rewarded and encouraged and seen as having initiative.

Do you have this kind of culture?

If your organization focuses on new products, revolves around current trends, emphasizes flexibility, creativity, and adaptability, then you may have an adhocracy. In these models, employees are encouraged to take risks, think creatively, and their leaders are praised for being innovators. Crucially, there is more focus on the individual.

How to achieve this kind of culture

This can be a difficult change to make if you don’t already have it. The first step would be to create a customized recruiting process with an emphasis on professional development. Have team brainstorming sessions where big ideas can be floated. Reward individual ideas that are successful to encourage individual creative thinking.

3. Market Culture

This type of company culture is results-focused. There is often a competitive quality to coworker relationships. They emphasize competition and meeting deadlines as well as achieving goals.

The most important factor in these cultures is to beat every rival. An example of a company that encourages this kind of market-oriented culture is General Electric. The ex-CEO Jack Welch told every G.E. business to rank first or second, at the risk of being sold off.

Do you have this kind of culture?

If your team puts winning and results as your number one priority, then you may have a market-oriented workplace culture. Often, these cultures will focus on profit and success rather than personal satisfaction. There is an emphasis on meeting goals, targets, and stretch-goals.

How to achieve this kind of culture

If you want to encourage this kind of workplace company culture, then ensure you learn about the strengths and contributions of each worker and their corresponding position. Work out the return on investment of each position and assign suitable targets accordingly. This culture prioritizes performance.

4. Hierarchy Culture

Hierarchy cultures are very structured and possess a rigid leadership structure. The focus is often on stability and following the correct protocols, with a focus on efficiency, stability, and precise business practices to “do things right”.

Organization is central to a hierarchy oriented culture. A few skilled leaders are assigned to the top of the organization who direct strategy and operations. Then, the strategy and operations trickle down to various levels of authority beneath them such as managers and workers, who carry out the leadership's instructions.

Do you have this kind of culture?

A good indication that your company has this kind of culture is whether or not there are many levels of management. Hierarchy cultures tend to involve a large amount of management. There will be leaders for each department and area, and everyone will have assigned managers. There will be many rules in place to ensure mitigate mistakes and risks. Another easy way to spot this is to see how employees are promoted, i.e. manager to senior manager to assistant director, to director.

How to achieve this kind of culture

An effective way to implement and nurture this kind of company culture is to ensure that a strict leadership structure is in place. Make sure there are also plenty of rules and procedures. Give every team goals, both short term and long term.

What Defines a Good Company Culture?

Phew….now that we’ve covered all those types of culture here’s the good part.

Good company culture creates an internal coherence in actions taken by a very diverse group of employees.

A positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances retention of the workforce.

Having a remote team of employees working in your business should not affect your company culture and here are signs you can virtually watch for.

Signs of a Good Company Culture

External Value

If your culture is bigger than yourselves, emphasizes the greater good, if employees feel that their work has external value, this adds to a positive sense of company culture.

Clear Mission and Values

A company with a positive workplace culture will have clear overall company values at its core. They connect employees to an external sense of value and worth. These values articulate the purpose and mission of the company simply and clearly and add to a sense of purpose for everyone working there. A positive company culture has values that every employee knows by heart. These values and the company mission are accessible and branded into all of the company’s internal and external communications.

Long Term Employees

A low rate of employee turnover is often an indication of a positive company culture. Companies with a negative workplace culture tend to have a high rate of turnover. Happy, fulfilled employees are less likely to quit!

Friendships

If your coworkers form friendships and spend time together outside of work, it’s likely an indicator that your workplace has a strong, positive company culture.

Participation

If employees feel motivated to participate in every aspect of work possible, this is also an indication of a positive working environment.

EXAMPLE: At VPM we have many team members across all departments and time zones that participate in the culture task force team. This is outside of their dedicated “job duties” and they do this in order to help the company and people.

Transparency

Employees who feel like they are in the loop with your business and their jobs, generally have a sense of investment in the company as a whole and therefore are more committed to their work. This is also an indicator of positive company culture. A lack of transparency, in both directions, from top to bottom, leads to a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity.

Diversity

Healthy companies embrace diversity in hiring, in approaches, and in their attitudes. This makes employees feel welcome, is refreshing, and supports inclusive ideals.

Recognition

A company with a strong employee culture recognizes achievement no matter the position of the worker. A company that celebrates the successes of everyone in the workforce, recognizes that when one employee wins, the whole company wins.

EXAMPLE: At VPM we have a peer recognition board where team members nominate other team members for something awesome they did. It’s a great way to remotely recognize your coworkers from afar.

Strong Leadership

Leaders who respect their employees, are in turn respected themselves. If employees feel united with their leaders, then they are much more likely to respect them and work hard to achieve the shared goals of the company.

How to Onboard New Employees into a Company’s Culture

Now let’s bring this full circle!

What is on boarding? On boarding is the process of bringing new employees into a company. It is the entire process of hiring, leading right up into the absorption of the employee into the company culture.

It is important to offer your full attention to new employees, to ensure they are completely familiar with the company culture.

What can you do to help this process go smoothly?

Onboard before the starting date

A good way of streamlining the process of on boarding a new employee is to start the process before their actual start day, which can help to ease their first-day nervousness.

Start right from the initial job offer letter. It should be written in the voice of your company, and be friendly, warm, yet professional. It gives an indicator of the type of workplace you have and should include a list of answers to common questions such as:

  • What time should I arrive?
  • Where to park?
  • What to wear?
  • What should I bring on my first day?

Having already received these answers can help the new employee feel as prepared as possible.

Next, allow the employee to complete as much of the necessary paperwork as possible before the start date. This can ensure that the first day is focused on feeling comfortable and understanding the company.

Introduce the team creatively

This process can be the most awkward and difficult for new employees and the existing team. Meeting new people can be challenging, so make the process as interactive and easy as possible.

Finding fun activities and creative ways of introducing everyone to each other can help alleviate the awkwardness, and give people the opportunity to share information about each other to help form bonds. Set up opportunities for questions such as:

  • What’s your name?
  • What’s your role in the company?
  • How long have you been with the company?
  • What are 2 things people don’t know about you?
  • Do you have any hobbies outside of work?
  • What are your life mottos?

These questions are open-ended, and leave room for a conversation to start and therefore personal bonds.

HOW TO BREAK THE ICE: As part of the new hire process we use Asana to have all team members ask unique questions about the new hire. It’s a great icebreaker, helps them get familiar with the software, and we can read all of their answers to other team member questions. Definitely, a fun way to break the ice remotely.

Add a personal touch

Make sure you treat the whole process of on boarding an employee as a part of your brand. The experience of working for your company should reflect the image you want to portray to the public. If your company values don’t do this, then they might appear hollow and as a facade.

Include things like gifts for the new employee. For every new hire at VPM we include a note from the manager and a gift card….small, but effective. This does not have to be much; it could even mean simply including the new employee in inside jokes. It’s important to be thoughtful and inclusive. Also, if you have company swag use that in your welcome kit. Who doesn’t like a good t-shirt?

Spread out the on boarding process

The process of on boarding can include many events, which can be overwhelming for a new employee, and they therefore, do not effectively absorb all the required information. There is no harm in spreading out your on boarding processes over time to ensure a gradual absorption of the workplace culture.

Consider the following ways to break it up:

  • Taking them out for lunch.
  • Shadow a coworker.
  • Providing training days

Tools to Help Build Company Culture in a Remote Team

With remote work on the rise, it is vitally important to continue building up your company culture. However, it can be difficult without the right tools. Here are some tools we use to help the process.

Slack

Slack can be used as a kind of “water cooler” situation to help encourage dynamic conversation. Slack is a platform that hosts conversations and can be used for group social activities as well as work.

For instance we’ve created custom channels for our remote teams to converse. They are for random conversations or topics and for sharing your GIF game! We’re big fans of GIFs at VPM!

Zoom

Talking face-to-face is always important in teamwork, especially a remote team. It fosters social ties and makes group work easier and more effective. Zoom is a great piece of software to enable powerful and easy group video conferences. It includes plenty of features to make these video meetings dynamic and fun, as well as productive.

Asana

Asana enables remote teams and distributed teams to stay focused on goals, projects, and tasks. How we use Asana in terms of culture in the following ways.

  • You can use a project board to create a people directory with fun facts along with roles and departments.
  • Asana allows the ability to use project boards and forms to create a recognition board to allow peers to recognize others on stellar things unseen, perfect for the remote team.
  • You can create a suggestion box through Asana.
  • Our culture task force team uses Asana for agenda planning.

So much to do culture wise we could go on, but you can use Asana in multiple ways for culture.

15Five

15Five is a software that helps ensure that the important management role of checking in personally with each employee never gets forgotten, whether remotely or not.

Building Company Culture is Definitely Possible in a Remote Team

Building a good company culture takes effort as well as time and consideration. These are vital components of all successful businesses, and therefore should be nurtured and fostered right at the heart of your company’s values and goals.

While remote working has introduced more challenges you can use our tactics to decide on your company culture fit, view signs of a good company culture, onboard new hires with culture, and find tools to help you build an effective company culture.

Hiring Remotely?

Now that remote work is becoming more common, you may find yourself having to hire new employees remotely, and integrate them into your company culture. There are actually advantages to hiring this way.

Without location restrictions, employers can choose from a much wider pool of candidates, however, there is likely a much higher number of candidates to choose from, potentially making the process longer.

Remote working does require some specific skills and qualities in an employee, including:

  • Self-motivation
  • Effective Communicative
  • Organizational skills
  • Reliability
  • Trustworthy
  • Sound technical knowledge
  • Collaborative ability

Follow our Ultimate Guide to Hiring Quality Remote Workers