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How to Build a Strong Company Culture With a Remote Team

Welcome to the future, everybody!

Things that seemed like the domain of sci-fi movies are now commonplace: We can chat with each other over video, information flows all over the world instantaneously, and you’re no longer limited to doing your work at a desk. You might attend a department meeting from your kitchen, your garage, or even your couch.

Almost everything has changed. It’s a brave new world. Well, mostly.

One thing that hasn’t changed despite all our technological fast-forwarding: The importance of a strong company culture.

It’s become a mainstay of job descriptions. Companies everywhere want potential applicants (and their employees) to know about their awesome culture and how hard they work to maintain it. Everyone they hire needs to be a cultural fit.

We loosely define culture itself as the behaviors and values your company endorses and operates by. More broadly, it’s the experience of working at a company. Do you go to work eager to see your coworkers and happy about the work you do? Is everyone in the company on the same page about how they handle certain issues or face potential problems? Those are signs of a strong culture.

But if you decide to go fully remote, you give up on all that, right? Not necessarily. You can still build a strong company culture even if your team never sets foot in the same office. Here’s how to go about it.


What goes into a strong culture?

You can’t spell culture without value.

Well...yes you can, but let us explain.

Your values are what set you apart from other companies. They dictate what you will do for customers, for each other, and in some cases for the world. Even if you’ve never written your values down, you certainly have them. Maybe you won’t work for a client who berates and belittles your team, for example (translation: you value compassion and calmness). Or you believe your employees when they come to you with a potential problem (translation: you trust them and value their contributions).

See what we mean? A strong company culture is built on strong values. Here are some of the values we’ve seen across the board in company cultures we admire:

  • Trust As humans, we don’t always trust freely. That’s unfortunate, particularly in an interconnected community like an office. The act of hiring someone indicates your trust in them and it’s up to you to maintain that trust and do right by your people. If your employees don’t trust you, they aren’t going to come to you with problems that could rapidly spiral out of control. If you don’t trust your employees, you won’t listen to them or heed their advice if they do come to you.

  • Communication This is typically a byproduct of trust. It’s not just about being willing to go to a higher-up about a problem, or discuss the latest product with your department. Do you confide in one another? Do you talk about things unrelated to work?

  • Accountability Those who contribute to a strong company culture usually aren’t just in it for the paycheck. They care for their work and their colleagues; as a result, they’ll have high standards for themselves and their coworkers. That means holding each other accountable.

  • Shared leadership Yes, the top brass will always be the top brass. But a strong company culture allows everyone to take initiative and voice their thoughts, ideas, or concerns. This creates a sense of ownership. If everyone has a stake in things, the entire company will mean that much more to them. It’s deeply impactful not only on their state of mind, but also on the product or performance they end up delivering. People who care about a place—who feel that ownership—work much harder to help it do well.


What culture challenges does a remote company face?

Historically, companies have built their cultures after long hours spent in a shared space together. A fully remote team doesn’t have that option. It’s still entirely possible to craft a culture you’ll take pride in, but first, let’s acknowledge some of the challenges a remote team will face:

  • Highly reduced facetime—or no facetime at all We admit it—there can be something comforting in meeting with people face to face, whether it’s in a room or at the water cooler. Remote teams can do a lot with video chat, and software is getting better all the time, but there are far fewer spontaneous interactions.

  • Pitfalls of written communication The reality is you won’t be on video chat at all times, and thus will be communicating important information to each other through emails and chats. Sometimes things can come across poorly or be misinterpreted, spawning hurt feelings and resentment, eventually leading to problems within a team.

  • Reduced collaborative efforts If you’re all remote, there’s no way you can work closely together on a project, right? You’re missing that spontaneous element, that ability to stop by Julie’s desk and say, “I had this amazing idea for this campaign, can we sketch something out?”

  • Onboarding/training difficulties There’s no real way around it: A lot of workers are used to face-to-face contact; being introduced to a company virtually, and being relegated to virtual onboarding, can inadvertently lead to a mental disconnect. It’s often easier to keep people engaged when you’re in the same office space; will they be motivated enough to keep learning if you aren’t in the next seat over to help? Are they going to be comfortable “pinging” their coworkers for assistance instead of, say, poking their heads over a cubicle side? And what if you already have a really awesome in-person onboarding program that your entire staff raves about—can you adapt it for a digital workspace? Should you try? And that’s just scratching the surface. What happens when someone’s computer locks up, or their email malfunctions? “Technical difficulties” takes on a whole new meaning when you can’t dispatch an IT person directly to a desk to fix this issue or that. If your tech support people are remote, too, they’ll be troubleshooting from a distance, which can lead to slower resolution of problems.

  • An uneven playing field This tends to crop up when part of a team is remote and part of them are still going to the office. It ranges from a piece of news hitting office workers first to the in-house team being able to air concerns in real-time to the VP of Operations. This can lead to remote workers feeling like an afterthought, which in turn can pave the way for resentment and schisms between the company’s departments.

Whoa. That’s a lot of potential roadblocks you need to get around.

But have no fear! If you build out your company values and live by them, there are ways around these issues. But it all has to start with defining your culture.


How to define your culture

What do you stand for? What change do you want to see in the world?

Do you need a moment to think about it? Go ahead and write down your thoughts (really, write them down). We’ll wait a few minutes.