Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have embraced distributed work environments as the new norm. This has created a dramatic change in the daily routines of many Americans. No longer required to report to an office, employees suddenly have more flexibility regarding where and when they can get their work done — changes many workers have gladly embraced.
The rise of remote work, however, has also meant new challenges for companies, who have had to rethink how employees best relate, collaborate, and succeed together as part of a bigger team. HR leaders today have to answer pressing new questions: How can companies nurture their company’s culture and values when employees are working remotely? How can workplaces provide working environments where remote team members feel they belong?
Building, maintaining, and strengthening company culture in a distributed work environment is very much possible, though it does require careful attention and planning. Here are answers to common questions that come up for HR leaders who want to nurture a positive culture for remote workforces.
What Is a Distributed Work Environment?
A distributed work environment refers to any employment setting in which team members do not share a common physical location. As such, many different types of distributed work environments exist today. Some fully-distributed companies don’t have a physical office at all, and instead expect each employee to work from a different location, whether that’s a home office, coworking space, or coffee shop. Other distributed companies might have some employees working remotely while requiring others to report to offices some of or all of the time.
Who Can Benefit from a Distributed Work Environment?
Many organizations have much to gain by going partially or fully remote. The top advantages of a distributed work environment include:
Reduced costs. Commercial real estate prices are high in many American cities. By reducing office space needs — or doing away with it altogether — your company can save on a variety of related expenses, such as leasing fees and utilities.
Bigger talent pool. Finding the perfect candidate who lives in the exact location the company office happens to be can be a difficult task. By opening your talent pool to prospects around the country or even the world, you improve your chances of landing the employee with the qualities you seek.
Happier employees. Many American workers prefer working remotely for various reasons, ranging from disability to caretaking duties to simple personal preference. Giving employees location flexibility can build goodwill and trust, resulting in better performance and lower turnover.
How to Create a Shared Understanding of Values
Shared values are a set of common principles. In order to identify shared values for your company, involve your employees to understand what principles they hold in common and will rally around. Make sure employees get a chance to share their opinions on key questions that define the company culture, such as:
What do we believe in?
How would our lives be different if we didn’t believe this?
How would the world be different if people lived the same way?
Once you have identified the shared values, put them into action. A value of diversity, for example, can be demonstrated by putting strong diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in place.
How to Maintain and Support a Culture of Trust
Trust is a vital component of a strong company culture. To breed trust, create clear communication channels across all levels of the company. In addition, make it easy for team members to reach out to you and your HR team whenever they need help or have questions.
Once those communication lines have been created, keep employees informed. Encourage transparency and openness to reduce the possibility of misunderstandings and unfortunate surprises. Letting team members know about critical company-wide decisions — and sharing the reasons behind those decisions — will help employees feel invested in the direction the company is taking as a whole.
How to Create a Sense of Belonging
While values and mission statements are important, company culture encompasses a far larger entity: the sum of your employees' experiences. Thus, it’s essential to create a work environment in which team members genuinely feel like they belong — not just as colleagues, but as individuals.
Create an Environment Where Everyone Has an Equal Voice
It's impossible for every employee to feel heard at all times, but you can create policies and procedures to ensure that each team member feels like their opinion matters. Employee surveys and roundtables can help gauge individual opinions on everything from compensation and benefits to management styles and career advancement opportunities. Create avenues to collect, listen to, and learn from employee feedback. Then, take action based on that feedback to show employee input leads to positive changes in the company.
How to Rally Your Team Around Goals
All organizations have common goals. To achieve them, make sure these goals are SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timed.
Specific. Include concrete details that define the company goal.
Measurable. Define a measure (such as revenue targets) for when a goal has — or has not — been reached.
Action-oriented. Link your goal to a specific action that must be taken by your team.
Realistic. Your team should be able to achieve the goal, given the time and resources allocated to them.
Timed. Create a reasonable deadline for when the goal should be accomplished.
What Does the Future of Work Look Like?
The future of work will be highly distributed. For many businesses, a distributed workforce is more cost-effective and flexible. Already, many companies have gone partially or fully remote, allowing them to easily extend their reach across state and national borders.
That’s why it’s essential for HR leaders to invest time and energy specifically in strengthening company culture for remote workforces. Distributed teams require different forms of communication that often benefit from more advanced planning and creativity.
Benefits and Challenges of Working Remotely
Just as employers can benefit from a distributed work environment, employees have much to gain from working remotely. From choosing where to work to reducing travel expenses, remote work has many positives for knowledge workers.
That said, distributed work comes with challenges too. Employees who work remotely may feel isolated or lonely at times because they don't get to interact with their coworkers in person. To help bridge communication gaps, offer and encourage conference calls and video chats for both official and social activities. Simple social activities, such as Zoom or in-person happy hours, can also be tremendously helpful in bringing team members together.
Is a Distributed Environment Right for Your Business?
Not all companies benefit from a distributed work environment. After all, doctors are needed to treat patients in emergency rooms, while chefs must be present to prepare food in restaurants. However, for many businesses, a distributed environment offers strong advantages by reducing company expenses and providing more freedom for both the organization and its team members.
To determine if your workforce would benefit from a distributed environment, consider the pros and cons and weigh them against the needs of your organization. Should you decide to embrace a distributed work environment, put the right tools and processes in place to nurture a strong and positive company culture for your employees, no matter where they may be located.