Building a Strong Remote Work Culture in 2021

If the workforce was on its way to embracing remote work, the pandemic accelerated it. With isolation measures in place, companies were forced to move their employees from the offices to their homes, investing in communication channels to keep tabs on productivity and deadlines.

Many believed that once cities emerge from isolation, people will be slowly returning to the workspaces, and remote work would return to its low, pre-pandemic figures. Now, almost a year into the health crisis, studies show that remote work is here to stay. 

Remote Work in a Post-Pandemic World

Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, estimates that up to 30% of the workforce will still be working from home by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, the Harvard Business School reports that at least 16% of employees will remain in their home offices long after the threat of COVID-19 recedes.

These surveys have a huge impact on HR departments across the country. If remote work is more permanent than temporary, then it is vital to forge a positive work culture among its far-flung employees.

Remote work culture refers to the feeling of belongingness and connection with other workers in the company. It’s an environment that makes people feel they have similar priorities, attitudes, and interests. And if employees feel like they belong, they are more motivated to deliver excellent work, collaborate with their teammates, and achieve organizational goals. 

Why Should We Focus on Remote Work Culture?

Unlike sales and productivity goals, the benefits of remote work culture are not easily quantified, which is why it is often overlooked by leaders. However, a strong remote work culture goes a long way in forging trust and satisfaction among employees.

    • It Builds Long-Term Relationships — Work culture reinforces communication, which, in turn, enables employees to build positive relationships with mutual respect.
    • It Fights Isolation — It’s easy to feel isolated and detached when working remotely, but with a strong remote work culture, everybody feels connected and part of a group.
    • It Boosts Productivity — Because collaboration is fluid and easy, people work together to quickly solve problems and reach productivity targets. 

Establish a Strong Workplace Culture

Here are a few ways you can lay the foundation for a strong remote work culture in your organization.

Support Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is the feeling that an employee’s voice is welcome and heard. Anyone should feel safe pitching ideas, asking questions, and raising issues without negative consequences. Such an environment breeds trust and mutual respect, and each one is confident that they will not be embarrassed, punished, or rejected immediately when they choose to speak up.

To establish psychological safety, the leaders must embody humility and interest in what their subordinates have to say. They reiterate that it’s understandable to make mistakes, especially if it will help the worker grow. Moreover, the feedback that is given to the employees must be objective and focused on learning. Unbiased critique makes employees feel more at ease because they are given concrete ways to rectify the situation. 

Communicate Your Work Policy

Remote work often has different meanings for different companies. Some organizations require their workers to be online for a certain number of hours each day, while others simply ask to be online for a specific shift. Others still just set deadlines that have to be met by the employee, so much so that they have the ultimate freedom to choose when they will work.

Be explicit about your work policy. If the work policy is not explained clearly, there’s a lot of room for misunderstanding and wasted time. It could even breed contempt between workers who expect their teammates to respond immediately. So make sure that the remote work policy is clear to everyone in the department.

Be firm about your meeting policies, too. Some organizations have regular rituals to keep in touch with their teams, like short weekly huddles and one-on-one meetings just to check how each other is doing and to resolve non-urgent issues. 

Let the Water Cooler Effect Happen

The Water Cooler Effect occurs when employees gather in one area during their breaks — usually around the water cooler — and talk about things outside their job responsibilities: anything from saving undercooked salmon to the newest shows on Netflix. This not only helps them recharge for the rest of the day’s responsibilities, but it also forges bonds between the workers.

It’s hard to replicate the water cooler effect on a remote team, but it’s not impossible. Many organizations create separate chat channels, where people can start non-work related conversations. During a collective lunch break, people can talk about their latest hobbies or what’s new in pop culture, just as they would in an office water cooler. 

Remote work culture goes a long way in creating motivated and satisfied employees. With all these measures in place, you are poised to create a strong and productive remote team in 2021.

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