The remote workforce may be the future of business: it allows employers to dip into a talent pool much deeper than the locality supplies, and it gives workers the autonomy and productivity that is fast becoming the right of many forward-thinking employees. In fact, the number of US workers who telecommute has increased to 37% in recent months, and continues to rise.
But remote working comes with its challenges. There are many pros and cons of working remotely, and as HR leaders it’s part of our responsibility to ameliorate the negatives, and augment the positives the best we can. At the foundation of an effective, productive, and happy remote workforce is a strong company culture.
However you define the ‘culture’ of a workforce, the inescapable truth is that it is often an intangible quantity, difficult to measure and even more difficult to manufacture, growing organically from the parts that make up the sum of an enterprise. That being said, there are measures we can take to address the challenges of creating a strong positive culture within a remote workforce.
Lack of communication
Despite the fact that a virtual working environment represents the culmination of a technology driven by a desire for effective communication, one of the biggest obstacles to creating a strong company culture is a lack of communication. The passing interactions, non-verbal signals, and frequent eye-contact with and among employees is at the heart of effective communication, connection, and a sense of ‘togetherness’ which is crucial for a team spirit to emerge.
The solution to this issue is intentional communication: structured, mandatory meetings at regular intervals, preferably with video conferencing, which begin to build bonds between employees and encourage relationships to form. Ensure you have a channel or thread in your virtual office software reserved specifically for non-work-related chat; and organise regular ‘for fun’ activities that create camaraderie and connection.
Lack of accountability
Company culture must also be based on each team member owning their responsibility for their outcomes, and remote working is the perfect way for an evasive or non-committal employee to avoid this. Although remote employees should be chosen on the basis of their ability to work autonomously and without a manager breathing down their neck, the lure of ‘signing off’, making convenient tech-based excuses, or simply performing a series of evasive manoeuvres to get out of holding themselves accountable are occasionally inevitable.
In order to nurture a culture of accountability, create concrete goals that are results-, not time-based, and have a clear set of consequences for these not being met. Create a continuous feedback loop that operates on transparency and communication, without micromanaging. Produce a hierarchy of feedback, which can be flattened if this suits your vision, which makes the chain of accountability clear, but always places the focus back with the individual.
Poor talent retention and development
Holding on to talent in a remote workplace can be a challenge, often as a result of the lack of engagement employees feel due to the first two factors that we’ve mentioned above. One Gallup poll showed that 22% of employees who spent more than 50% of their time working remotely felt actively disengaged.
The solution to this is clear cut: don’t neglect your coaching simply because you’re running a remote working environment. Nurture your talent, organize peer-to-peer coaching and assessment, and help employees create clear and tangible goals that boost their motivation. Don’t forget to structure in concrete incentives and, again, delineate your hierarchy so that people can see their possible trajectory stretching ahead of them in the future.
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About the author:
Jenny Holt, Freelance Writer
By profession, I am both a VP in a company with a 100% distributed international workforce and an entrepreneurial cheerleader for converting companies to virtual workforces.
I agree that these are important challenges but can be mostly overcome by strategically hiring a qualified team. There are challenges at a higher level that hinder many companies and entrepreneurs trying to assemble a talented remote workforce. You can read about them at