As the world battles a global pandemic, several businesses across different sectors and industries have been forced to adjust their workflows and operations in response to new challenges. Many of these challenges have pushed managers and executives to shift their business models to include work from home (WFH) setups, which have proven to be a viable alternative to traditional work settings. However, while WFH settings can be effective, they require a different approach to work and management because in such an environment, businesses need to establish relationships and communication structures that allow for effective team collaboration and coordination. Without such collaboration, there is a risk of reduced productivity, missed deadlines, and other related problems. This article will examine the different strategies and tools that businesses can employ to sustain and maintain a healthy remote-to-first workplace culture.
The Onboarding Process
The onboarding process is an essential component of a remote-first workplace culture. The onboarding process is an opportunity to welcome new employees into the company and establish a strong foundation for successful collaboration. A comprehensive onboarding process should include the following:
Orientation and Overview
The first step in the process is to provide new employees with a comprehensive orientation of the company. This orientation should focus on the company’s values, culture, and goals, including the company’s mission, vision, and values, so that employees can align with the company’s objectives.
Digital Orientation Package
A digital orientation package should be developed that includes all necessary information and orientation materials that new hires will need to get up to speed quickly. The package could include information on the company’s policies, the organizational hierarchy, office culture, and other essential resources.
Video or Virtual Meetings
Video or virtual meetings should be held with the new employee to help them familiarize themselves with their colleagues and establish connections with those they will be working with. It can be helpful to consider pairing them up with a mentor, in case they need any support beyond the onboarding process.
Emphasizing Clear Communication
Clear communication is a vital component of any successful remote-first workplace culture. The responsibility for effective communication falls on all parties involved. When communicating with colleagues in a remote-work setting, it is imperative that everyone is on the same page. Some strategies to facilitate effective communication in a remote workplace include:
Establishing Clear Communication Guidelines
Guidelines and protocols that ensure clear communication should be established. These guidelines should include:
- Preferable modes of communication – whether through phone, email, messaging, or video conferencing
- Availability – indicating the hours when staff are available for communication
- Response time expectations and guidelines- specifying the period in which an employee is expected to respond to any message or communication
- Regular check-ins – settling regular meetings that will keep everyone updated and progress reports submitted.
Emphasizing Decentralized Communication
The fact that there are no physical offices in a remote-first workplace means that communication with colleagues is less centralised. Team members should know who they need to contact and be provided with the appropriate communication channels to communicate effectively. For example, collaboration software, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, can help team members stay connected and work together seamlessly. These platforms offer features such as instant messaging, video calls, and file-sharing, which enable team members to communicate and collaborate effectively regardless of their location.
Establishing Team Collaboration Software Guidelines
Guidelines or rules should be established for using team collaboration software. Collaborative platforms can become distracting when individuals fail to distinguish between professional and private conversations, causing significant disruptions. Guidelines should stipulate that these platforms should be treated with the same level of respect and professionalism as in-person office conversations.
Building a Virtual Watercooler
Watercooler conversations are spontaneous, informal conversations that employees have at the office. They often happen without structure or intention, creating opportunities for employees to exchange pleasantries, learn more about colleagues, or discuss matters unrelated to work. Water cooler talks play a role in shaping office culture and building relationships between colleagues. Remote work calls for a different approach to watercooler conversations. To create the same effect in a remote-first workplace, businesses should establish a virtual water cooler through the following strategies:
Virtual Happy Hours
A virtual happy hour is a great way for remote team members to socialize, have fun, get to know each other, and create social bonds. These virtual events are held at the end of a workday, allowing colleagues to unwind and have a little fun together. With the shift to remote-first work, happy hours have become more frequent, given that colleagues can log out of work and log back in as soon as they are done socializing.
Gamification is the application of gaming principles to non-game settings. Adding games to the remote workplace can be beneficial in recreating office watercooler conversations. Quiplash, Jackbox, Among Us, and virtual quizzes are some games that can be played online with colleagues, hence helping establish relationships that extend beyond the workday.
Fostering a Culture of Trust
In a remote-first workplace culture, micromanaging can lead to reduced morale and a lack of motivation among team members. Micromanagers also create productivity bottlenecks, limiting the creativity and initiative of the employees they manage. A culture of trust is vital to creating a positive remote work environment. Strategies that businesses can employ to develop a culture of trust in a remote-first workplace culture include:
Establishing Clear Expectations
Establishing clear expectations reduces the need for micromanagement, builds trust, and motivates employees. The expectations can be made clear via written communication, phone or video conferences, or other collaborative software.
Giving employees the autonomy to manage their own tasks can help build their confidence and sense of responsibility, while freeing up time for managers to focus on essential leadership responsibilities.
Building Strong Relationships
Strong relationships between employees are vital to creating a culture of trust in a remote-first workplace culture. Managers should prioritize establishing strong relationships between team members, as well as with team leads or managers. Strong relationships and trust can be achieved through virtual team-building activities that encourage collaboration and communication.
Prioritizing Employee Wellbeing
Employee wellbeing should be a priority for managers and executives, particularly during a pandemic when stress levels may be high. Strategies to prioritize employee wellbeing in a remote-first workplace culture include:
Offering Mental Health Support
Mental health support and resources should be provided to employees in a remote-first workplace. Such resources could include online therapy sessions, access to mental health helplines, and mental health wellness programs.
Flexible Work Hours
Flexible work hours can help employees balance their work and personal responsibilities, reducing stress, and promoting wellbeing.
Recognizing Unique Challenges
Various unique challenges are associated with remote-first workplace cultures. Some employees may struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness, while others may struggle with creating boundaries between work and their personal life. These challenges should be acknowledged, and support should be provided to employees to mitigate their influence.
Working from home can provide employees with a level of flexibility and autonomy not found in a traditional office setting. Strategies to embrace flexibility in a remote-first workplace culture include:
Offering Part-Time, Reduced Hours or Flex-Time Arrangements
Flexible work arrangements, such as part-time or reduced hours, can enhance work-life balance and ease the pressure of work responsibilities. Flex-time arrangements provide similar benefits, allowing employees to work outside set traditional office hours, and hence work when they are most productive.
Compressed Workweeks or Job-Sharing
Compressed workweeks or job-sharing arrangements can be implemented to provide greater flexibility to employees with personal obligations that would otherwise prevent them from performing work-related duties.
Investing in Technology
Technology is an essential component of any remote-first workplace culture. The right technology tools can facilitate communication, collaboration, organize workflow, streamline processes, and enhance productivity. The following technology investments are crucial for any remote-first workplace culture:
Collaboration software like Trello, Slack, and Asana allows team members to communicate effectively and coordinate tasks without affecting each other’s productivity.
Video Conferencing Tools
Video conferencing tools like Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams maintain a face-to-face connection between co-workers, replacing the human interaction lost in remote work settings.
Providing ergonomic office equipment ensures that employees work productively without risking their health. This equipment includes comfortable chairs, desks, and the right person.
While remote-first workplaces are becoming an essential part of today’s workforce, businesses must create a culture that fosters communication, collaboration, productivity, and employee wellbeing. Creating such a culture requires an understanding of the unique challenges of remote-first workplace cultures, as well as the methods, strategies, and technology investments needed to encourage a positive work culture. By establishing an effective onboarding process, clear communication guidelines, and building a virtual watercooler, fostering a culture of trust, prioritizing employee wellbeing, embracing flexibility, and investing in technology, businesses can create thriving remote-first workplace cultures.