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Remote-First Culture: Steps for Building and Maintaining a Thriving Distributed Team

In recent years, remote work has become an increasingly popular trend, and for good reason. According to a study by Global Workplace Analytics, remote work has grown by 173% since 2005. This setup can offer numerous benefits such as increased productivity, improved work-life balance, and reduced expenses for both employees and employers. However, remote work can also present a unique set of challenges, including communication barriers, feelings of isolation or disengagement, and difficulty in building a team culture. In this article, we’ll explore in depth the steps you can take to build and maintain a thriving distributed team.

Hire the right people

Hiring the right people is the foundation for building a successful remote-first culture. Unlike traditional in-office work, remote work requires a different set of skills and personality traits. Here are some characteristics to look for in candidates:

Self-motivation: Working remotely requires a high level of self-motivation because remote workers must manage their own schedule and stay on task without the in-person accountability of an office.

Proactivity: Remote workers should be proactive in seeking out information, asking questions, and identifying areas where they can contribute.

Independence: Remote workers must be able to work independently without constant supervision.

Excellent communication skills: Communication is critical in remote work, so look for candidates who are comfortable with video conferencing tools, instant messaging apps, and other communication platforms.

Comfort with technology: Remote workers must be comfortable with technology and able to troubleshoot their equipment without much assistance.

Create clear systems and processes

Clear and well-defined systems and processes are essential to a successful remote-first culture. Without them, remote workers may feel confused or unsure of what is expected of them. Developing clear guidelines for communication, project management, and performance evaluations is crucial. These guidelines should be documented and easily accessible to all team members. Having a single source of truth creates transparency and establishes accountability among the team members.

One way to ensure clear communication and project management is to adopt a standard process. Standardizing your work ensures that every team member knows their responsibility, as well as others’. It also improves operational efficiency by reducing rework and eliminating redundancy of effort.

Creating a process also allows for continuous improvement. The process can be refined over time, with inputs from the team members, to make it more effective and efficient.

Invest in the right tools

Remote work requires a different set of tools than traditional in-office work. Effective communication is critical in remote work, so it’s essential to invest in tools that allow for seamless communication, such as video conferencing software and instant messaging apps. Project management tools like Asana, Trello, and can help keep teams organized and on track. File sharing tools like Google Drive and Dropbox can also make it easy for remote workers to collaborate on projects.

Tools should be evaluated based on:

  • Security features: Working remotely requires proper Cybersecurity measures to ensure data and information are protected. Ensure that the tools you use are secure and meet privacy requirements.
  • Accessibility: Remote workers should be able to access their work tools from anywhere and any device.
  • Collaboration features: Remote work requires collaboration beyond traditional face-to-face interaction. The tools you use should promote collaboration and team communication.

Define clear expectations

Clear expectations are essential in any work environment, but they are especially important in remote work. Remote workers should know what is expected of them in terms of work hours, communication, and deadlines. Managers should provide regular feedback and performance evaluations to ensure remote workers are meeting expectations.

Clear expectations help remote workers avoid unnecessary stress, miscommunication, and conflict. Establishing regular check-ins and setting expectations at the outset of projects helps ensure all team members are aligned and can make informed decisions and take actions.

Foster a strong team culture

A strong team culture is essential in remote work, where team members may never meet face-to-face. Remote work can easily lead to feelings of isolation, disengagement, and lack of accountability. To foster a strong team culture, leverage technology to foster a sense of community among remote workers. Regular team meetings, virtual coffee breaks, and team-building activities can help remote workers feel connected to their peers. Encourage remote workers to share personal anecdotes and interests to build relationships and rapport, even if they are working in different locations or time zones.

Creating a positive team culture also requires being open and transparent during communication. The team should celebrate milestones, learn from failures and be candid in their communication.

Provide opportunities for professional development

Remote workers need opportunities to learn and grow, just like in-office workers. Providing remote workers with opportunities to learn and develop may help keep them engaged and fulfilled. Virtual training sessions and online courses can be valuable for remote workers. Encourage remote workers to attend industry conferences or events, and offer reimbursement for travel expenses if applicable.

Creating a culture of continuous learning and development helps remote workers stay engaged, motivated, and valued. When employees feel valued, they are likelier to stay engaged, and retention improves.

Prioritize work-life balance

Remote work can blur the lines between work and personal life, making it important for managers to prioritize work-life balance. Encourage remote workers to set boundaries between work and non-work hours and to take breaks throughout the day. Managers should also be mindful of sending work-related messages or emails outside of regular work hours.

Encouraging remote workers to take time for themselves, promoting work-life-balance, and ensuring that they have the support needed to manage their work-life-balance is a priority.

Practice empathy

Finally, practicing empathy is crucial in a remote-first culture. Remote workers may face unique challenges, such as difficulty accessing reliable internet or balancing work with family responsibilities. Being understanding of these challenges and offering support and flexibility when possible can promote a positive and supportive work environment.

Empathy goes beyond developing solutions; it means putting yourself in the shoes of your team members and understanding their perspective. It entails treating your employees as human beings and acknowledging their personal struggles while providing the support needed to achieve clarity, balance, and resolve positively.

Encourage healthy communication

Effective communication is the lifeblood of remote work. Encourage the team to have open and explicit communication channels. Encourage the use of visual aids to explain complex ideas or project concepts specific to remote work, and use tools like screen sharing to help team members with technical issues.

The importance of communication goes beyond keeping the team informed; it also helps build your company’s culture. Encouraging feedback, active participation, and two-way communication builds trust and helps recognize the employee’s contributions. However, be mindful of over-communication; it can lead to wasting time and hamper productivity.

Establish a work schedule

Remote work often comes with the flexibility to work whenever you want, which can be a double-edged sword. Without a structured schedule, employees may struggle with time management and end up working long hours or irregular schedules, leading to burnout or exhaustion.

Establish work schedules that suit your business needs and encourage the remote employees to stick to the schedule. Encourage them to take regular breaks, and track their working hours to ensure that their work-life balance is not disrupted.

Provide the right resources

Remote workers need access to the same resources as in-office workers to perform their job functions. This includes access to necessary software, hardware, and infrastructure. Remote workers may face unique challenges, and as the employer, you should provide the necessary assistance to ensure that they have everything they need to be productive.

This can mean providing hardware and software solutions, as well as collaborations tools, like access to cloud services, virtual private network connectivity, and more. Having a well-established IT support system to resolve their issues with tech and infrastructure is vital to eliminate frustration and boost productivity.

Conduct virtual team-building activities

Given the large geographical distance between team members, building unity can be challenging. Performing virtual team-building activities can help remote workers feel connected to their peers while also breaking the monotony of remote work.

Encourage virtual happy hours, remote office anecdotes, and social media groups that promote team communications. Virtual work-related games or as simple as icebreakers can promote team communications and foster a sense of belonging to the greater team.

Encourage remote team members to take ownership of their work

Effective remote teams depend on a culture of personal responsibility and ownership of work. Remote workers are entitled to more autonomy because remote work habits and schedules often require increased flexibility. As the manager, you must provide a supportive work environment, but the employee should take control of their work responsibilities.

Provide remote team members with a clear understanding of their roles and expectations. Then, trust them to follow through; let them work independently while setting up clear goals and KPIs tied to results. Encouraging ownership equips the team members with the autonomy to innovate and operate independently.

Encourage Flexibility

Flexibility is one key characteristic of excellent remote-first culture. Remote workers have different roles and responsibilities than their counterparts working onsite. Encouraging this flexibility ensures that they can complete work or fulfill obligations outside of work while completing their assignments.

Remote workers have unique challenges, especially when it comes to managing family time, co-working with family members, and exercising. Encourage them to work the hours that suit them best or fit within their personal schedules. Establish guidelines that encourage flexibility and are mutually beneficial to both the employee and the business.

Encourage mental health support

Remote work has become more popular, but it comes with specific challenges, and the remote employees face more mental health issues than onsite employees. What can you do to help support their mental health?

Establish programs that encourage support and encourage taking breaks, setting up consistent working hours, and providing access to mental health professionals. Providing support for mental health conditions during the pandemic can make remote workers feel appreciated and valued.


In conclusion, building a successful remote first culture involves setting up clear communication channels, providing the right infrastructure support, encouraging responsibility, and promoting two-way communication. It is not just about being accommodating to employees’ needs, but also about acknowledging that remote work has unique requirements that require careful attention across all organizations.

Adopting these best practices will promote productivity, accountability, trust, and camaraderie among remote workers. Most importantly, it can support employee health, happiness, and satisfaction while driving business results. By implementing these strategies, you’ll find yourself with a highly-engaged and productive remote team capable of achieving their goals with high levels of satisfaction.

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