How to Build Culture When Managing Remote Teams

The nature of work is changing. Remote capabilities are becoming more than an added bonus but an expectation in the eyes of many. Millenials are at the helm of this movement, often measuring career satisfaction by levels of autonomy rather than upward mobility or salary.

In fact, according to Deloitte, 16.8% of millennials evaluate career opportunities by good work-life balance and 11% seek flexibility, like remote work and flexible hours. But millennials aren’t alone in these desires. Nearly half of American workers say they would forgo a top-level job and high salary to gain more flexibility in their schedules. 

Companies who respect the need for work-life balance tend to be rewarded — their employees work 21% harder and stay with their companies longer than those who don’t offer flexibility. 

Though remote work can boost rates of productivity and employee retention, managing remote teams comes with a plethora of challenges. Meetings held over the phone are great for translating information, but they can fail to capture the nonverbal cues that comprise up to 93% of communication effectiveness. Remote teams also miss out on the regular, often impromptu, check-ins that allow their office-based teammates to express feedback, and establish rapport and trust. Collectively, these challenges can impede the connectivity and the retention of cultural harmony across locations. 

Unfortunately, these are no small concerns: cultural cohesion and shared goals serve as the backbone for an organization’s topline success. 

Managing Remote Teams Begins with Understanding Company Culture 

According to data collected May 2019 from the Culture Advantage Index, 63% of employees said there is not always a clear plan/vision to successful execution. Ambiguity surrounding company goals is particularly common among remote employees, who often feel disconnected from their colleagues and leaders in both geography and understanding. Employees need to feel connected to — and aware of — the goals and expectations of their leaders and teammates if they’re going to remain engaged and accountable for driving company-wide success. 

Without clear direction and meaningful alignment around company agendas, teams fall into patterns of low engagement. Disengagement leads to apathy, and apathy hampers the ability to execute strategic objectives, deploy change and improvement initiatives, and successfully deliver on expected outcomes. As such, unifying and managing remote teams must begin with establishing a high performance culture that fosters positive attitudes and proactive behaviors. 

How to Catalyze a Culture Shift That Unites All Employees

Establishing and maintaining a thriving culture that unites employees across geographic locations begins with identifying Key Results: the three to five meaningful, measurable, and memorable topline organizational results that define organizational success. 

Aligning teams and their daily to-dos around Key Results necessitates a shift in beliefs, attitudes, and actions. To enact these changes, leaders must create experiences that shape employee’s beliefs and motivate them to take action towards achieving desired results. 

How exactly leaders catalyze the shifts needed to achieve Key Results depends on the type shift that must occur. It’s up to leaders to pinpoint the specific beliefs and behaviors that must take hold — from cultivating collaboration to encouraging greater accountability

Define the mental and behavioral shifts that must occur across the organization and enact those changes by creating experiences for all employees that propagate those changes. Some of those experiences may include offering focused feedback to individual employees on the ways in which their attitudes and actions reflect the desired culture shift, sharing stories that convey instances of the culture shift taking hold effectively, and championing specific employees for their unique contributions to Key Results. 

All of these best practices can be expressed digitally or in-person, making it easy for leaders to cultivate the beliefs and behaviors necessary for achieving results across a dispersed workforce. 

Regaining Competitive Footing Through Effectively Managing Remote Teams

Consider an example: a health insurance organization had thousands of employees, from nurses to salespeople, working in homes and offices across the country. When leaders noticed the business losing footing on its competitive advantage in fast-paced markets, they teamed up with Partners In Leadership in the hopes of uniting the dispersed teams and driving improved results. 

The leadership team at the organization set out to define new Key Results that would put the business back on track. They then identified six cultural shifts required to pivot employees’ actions towards the new Key Results. 

The leadership team then began practicing focused recognition and storytelling to build cultural cohesion. Employees across the country dialed into regular, virtual team meetings in which individual employees were championed in real-time for their success in enacting the culture shift. Teams were encouraged to share stories highlighting examples of the desired culture in action in their own day-to-day practices and communications with others at the start of every meeting. 

The outcome? The company achieved a sense of organizational unity and witnessed higher levels of employee engagement and accountability at work. At the same time, it regained its hold within the competitive landscape of health insurance.

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