Remote Work
How to manage culture for remote teams
by Carlos A. Vázquez   |   May 22, 2020   |     7 min read

Culture is king in successful IT companies. But Directors or Decision makers who wish to embrace the benefits of remote teams from higher productivity and happiness to minimize stress and turnover in the workforce, find it very tough to look after a healthy culture when employees are far away. 

According to research, the unique challenges of managing a distributed team can incentivize the making of a more influential culture than those that operate face to face. This might seem counter-intuitive, but while local teams tend to believe culture will take root organically, the risks are higher for distributed companies. This encourages successful remote executives to be intentional about building culture resulting in stronger remote teams.

In this article, we’ll go through a playbook for creating and managing a booming remote culture from defining assumptions and values to circulating and maintaining culture through the finest practices in communication, hiring, and management. 

Also read: The Ultimate Guide to Build and Scale a Tech Team in Mexico

Understanding Culture: 

There are many ways to identify culture, but we base our explanation on experiential research conducted by Edgar Schein, who is a professor emeritus at the MIT Sloan School Management

He defines culture as a pattern of underlying assumptions and values discovered or developed by a group that is proven to lead to success. 

“Organizational culture is the basic tacit assumption about how the world is and ought to be that group of people share and that determines their perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors” – Edgar Schein 1996

Even farther, Edgar Schein’s synthesize three levels of organizational culture:

  1. Artifacts: include any tangible elements architecture, beautification of the workplace, careful design, layout, fitting and maintenance, built-in space for movement (space, sound, and acoustics), functionality, attractive visuals, elegance, furniture etc. 
  2. Espoused values: this is how the members represent the organization both in terms of their behavior and the shared values. This is expressed in the mission, vision, philosophies, and values of the organization. 
  3. Assumptions: these are deeply embedded, taken-for-granted behaviors which are usually unconscious, but constitute the deep essence of culture. They are easily recognized in actions of the employees and management.

 

 

Schein believes that the alignment between these three subcultures is critical for growth. But particularly assumptions are some of the most important and yet difficult to align among remote teams.

Remote-Friendly Assumptions: 

The process of creating and managing a healthy remote culture starts well before the team is formed. 

Researchers believe that remote teams want to be purposeful with the work they do and intend to have a voice inside the organization just like on-site employees. This is because in an office atmosphere there are many signals that channel these assumptions on your behalf. 

For example, a suit and heel dress code can reflect an assumed level of professionalism and formality, but remote teams do not necessarily have to follow the same dress code. Therefore, remote employees feel separated from the rest of the team

Likewise, an open floor plan can speak to an acceptable degree of clearness for your on-site employees. But for remote employees, there is a big barrier between them and the company. So you must be even more open with your remote teams and reach out to them more often to keep those bridges connected from both sides.

With fewer signals to rely upon, especially for remote teams, companies should communicate these assumptions clearly to new members. 

Hiring with culture in mind: 

With assumptions and principles in place, recruitment managers or directors can start hiring with an eye for applicants who fit the framework of your culture. While many recruitment managers discuss the significance of evaluating culture during the hiring, it is worth staining that the cultural fit of a remote team needs particular attention. 

VPs, Directors, and recruitment managers should be confident that potential hires represent your values upfront. 

The nature of remote teamwork means that each hire will spend a more significant part of her time questioning through problems on her/his own. If you hire self-starters who bloom in the unstructured atmosphere, you can be assured that their abilities combined with the principles and training you inform during onboarding will result in decisions aligned with the team and company. 

Onboarding: 

Many IT companies and teams understand the importance of adequately training new members. But in traditional groups, cultural training is often left to chance. 

As we discussed above, this is because so-located companies can rely on the smooth absorption of culture by new hires. 

Remote teams do not have this opportunity. Fortunately, face-time is not necessary to onboard new employees into your culture, but the recruitment manager should be purposeful in exposing new team members to the assumptions and principles that form the basis or your artifacts and practices. 

Most tech companies’ strategy is to highlight their mission and principles throughout training materials for new members. This technique scales well and gives a reference library for future use. It also helps the new members feel like they are an intimate part of the teams and their mission. 

Managers should also invest in flying new hirees to the company headquarters to do the onboarding, this helps remote teams to feel aligned with the company values and beliefs. Remember we talked about “Artifacts,” and how they can reflect an organization’s culture.

“Artifacts are the overt and obvious elements of an organization. They’re typically the things even an outsider can see, such as furniture and office layout, dress norms, inside jokes, and mantras. Yes, foosball and free food are also artifacts.” – Harvard Business Review

Communication: 

Once you set principles and make sure that team members understand them, it’s time to turn to the technology to maintain the culture on your team. 

As the leading site for remote teams, at CodersLink we know communication is the livelihood of any remote team. 

Here are some of the best practices you can use to keep building your remote team’s culture: 

  • Team Meetings: 

When it comes to remote team communication, adapting to a remote paradigm seems intuitive: remote team meetings are already planned and scheduled, so all you have to do is move from the conference table to a virtual meeting table like Zoom

Team meetings have to become part of the fabric of the team. Meetings generate a regular opportunity to motivate and lead, and the directors or managers shouldn’t err on involving all team members so that everyone feels like a critical piece of the whole. 

With the minor opportunity to catch your teammates and explain miscommunication, members should set an honest and complete tone to make sure the whole team is on the same page. 

  • One-on-Ones: 

One-on-one communication is more sensitive in a remote situation and often neglected. 

Remote teams do not have the comfort of building a relationship via chance communications around the water cooler. Individual chats between team members should be structured as team meetings with a regular cadence and an agenda that extends beyond the professional.  

Regular one-on-ones between team members of all levels are a vital venue to deepen relationships and offer an opportunity for the team to express personal concerns. 

  • Face-to-face 

Digital association is the bread and butter of remote teams, but are face-to-face meeting necessary? Remote teams with a well-built culture can operate in a fast-paced environment for extended periods without face-to-face communication. 

If you do locate yourself considering a face-to-face team meeting, keep the ‘Rule of 10x” in mind. If you are planning to meet together for a business meeting, you should expect to make that remote meeting 10x more creative than a typical session. 

 When individuals or remote teams do end up meeting each other for the first time, the meeting is more like a meeting of an old friend than a meeting of strangers. You will discover that the answers of location, timing, and purpose will reveal themselves over time-based upon the culture and wants of your particular team. 

Remote Teams Succeed By Focusing On Culture: 

Various tech companies have started to understand the competence gains conveyed by remote teams. This development, combined with the global rise of remote workers or freelancers, means that working remotely will soon become a fixture of many businesses. The research has shown that influential remote culture is possible, and it does not need exotic technology or managerial shake-ups. By accepting the most excellent practices outlined above, remote teams are well placed to address the unique challenges of building and managing culture. 

We recommend that you read our recent eBook “The Ultimate Guide to Build and Scale a Tech Team in Mexico” to learn more about managing your remote team’s culture and the options you have available to you for expanding a tech team in Mexico.

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