Five ways corporate culture works for remote teams

Vinod Chandramouli, Head ASEAN Business, Freshworks

Back in the days of pre-COVID 19, the strategy to embed corporate culture in hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings had long been encouraged. In fact, tech companies have advertised free food, informal dress codes, play areas, unwind zones, and other perks that outsiders often interpret to be their culture. While those perks make for vibrant and desirable workspaces, they do not define culture.

Culture is about the values and codes that instruct a company’s approach to work—attention to the quality of their products or services, how they engage with their customers, with their employees, their appetite for risk. While remote working certainly presents some challenges, culture, approached this way, has the ability to direct focus on efficiency and delivering high-quality work. Especially for distributed teams.

Getting on with remote culture

The government lockdowns pushed people to go remote, and while working as such, companies had to forgo the illusion that building a company culture is just about in-person social activities. Now, businesses can get on with the actual work of defining and practicing it instead.

According to McKinsey, companies with deeply embedded agile practices largely have been able to cope better against the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. “The pandemic has shown that agile teams can be highly effective in a remote setting,” the consulting firm says in a report. “The critical success factors have been a stringent adherence to the agile cadence, efficient use of remote-collaboration tools, and the creation of a virtual co-location.”

In another report, McKinsey underscores purpose as a driving force. It says that a sense of purpose can help employees navigate high levels of uncertainty and change and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the highest-value activities.

The point of dredging up all these viewpoints and of discussing organisational culture in these unprecedented weird times is that business organisations are in the process of tweaking and refining the culture code. 

Effective remote culture tips to follow

As such, here are key operating guidelines for business organisations to cultivate effective company culture in remote work setting:

1. Establish organisation’s mission

This can put employees in the driver’s seat, each headed in the same direction from wherever they are. It is easier to manage a distributed workforce culture when the employees have clarity about the company’s purpose and are guided by defined ways and means of bringing it to life.

2. Communication is key

Constantly reiterate company’s culture values by emphasising their importance to the organisation’s growth. Use virtual town halls as a platform for C-suite executive to “show” how culture can make a difference to employees as well as customer, encourage culture dialogues among teams, and periodically host culture workshops, especially for managers.

3. Celebrate employee champions

Establish digital channels where all employees – and not just managers – can give a shoutout to colleagues demonstrating high-quality work. In the absence of on-floor celebrations, such channels will not only encourage and motivate employees but also serve as a demonstration of corporate culture in practice.

4. Train and retrain

An organisation’s culture instructs its approach to work – including how they develop and improve their products or services, and how they engage with their customers and their employees. Periodic online training and workshops, apart from improving efficiency, can help align even remote employees to the company’s work culture.

5. People, processes, tools

This trifecta is a crucial component of organisational culture. With digital transformation making significant bounds amid global pandemic restrictions, it is important that the employees are equipped with appropriate workplace tools and adequately trained in using them to carry out their work effectively.

Ultimately, no matter what the guides are, culture is how people experience the company. It is nurtured when when employees are able to build emotional bonds with their colleagues and with the company, that is truly when they are engaged employees. In a remote or distributed work setting, there is still a big question on how you build that emotional connect.

It may be a while before we have an answer to that question. For now, the corporate world is in an evolutionary phase that’s upending several hallowed beliefs and traditions. Culture, though, is proving to be a tenacious bedrock of great companies, whatever form they take.