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The world has never seen anything quite like the current measures taken to help stem the coronavirus pandemic. Employees who are sick or have been exposed to the virus are self-quarantined.

Out of an abundance of caution, some businesses have chosen to have all or the majority of their teams work remotely. For some workers, the arrangements may morph from a transient response to a more permanent one.

The relatively new digital era enables teams to work in different geographic locations, sometimes spread across the world. This flexibility and agility have never been more critical. While dispersed teams offer an efficient way to operate in a world primed for greater agility and idea diversity, it also challenges the organizational structure. It creates competing demands on time, resources, and loyalties. 

The geographical divide transforms team interactions. They are more fluid, complex, and often hinge on technology that impedes as often as enables communications. (We’ve all experienced one of those conference calls.) Members come together for specific tasks and projects, and a member from one team could sit in multiple micro-teams. All this complexity has a ripple effect on managing culture. 

The Cultural Aspects of Remote Teams

Communication can be an ongoing issue, as well as employee management. What gets addressed far less is how to include remote workers and remote teams in company culture. 

What does company culture look like when it comes to remote teams? If you think of company culture only as the perks that are offered to employees, the well-outfitted office environment, or team-building outings, it can be challenging to apply to workers in remote locations. However, this is a narrow understanding of culture. Less about perks, corporate culture includes how people in a team or organization think and act in order to deliver on results. Culture is how the business executes the strategic vision. It’s up to leaders how intentional they are in managing this added layer of complexity. 

Aligning Team Cultures With Company Culture

The first step in aligning the team and corporate cultures is to bring all managers under the umbrella of the organization’s key results: the critical outcomes for the business. Allegiance to the organization should take precedence over loyalty to the team. All managers, especially managers of remote teams, should understand the company’s “umbrella” culture and work to bring his or her team’s culture in alignment with it. Every meeting, conference call, and digital interaction presents an opportunity to create or reinforce culture, for better or worse.

Improving Inclusion Among Remote Employees

Being physically separated from the company’s headquarters, or even their immediate team members creates a working environment in which remote employees more or less put their heads down and complete their assigned tasks without much regard for how their actions affect what the company as a whole is trying to accomplish.

It takes an exceptional level of intentionality to improve inclusion among remote teams. The easiest way to be consistent and intentional about something is to implement a system to help with cultural inclusion. A team’s regularly scheduled meeting or conference call is a great place to start. Managers can start each meeting by reminding participants of the company’s stated goals or tell a quick story about how the team’s work is impacting the key results. 

As we illustrate in The Results Pyramid model, experiences—both positive and negative—form beliefs; beliefs lead to actions, which produce results. If you are a remote employee who is required to be on a conference call every week, but it is your experience that you are never asked directly, by name, for your feedback or thoughts, you’ll develop a belief that your opinion is not valued. The resulting action you take—given that no one seems to care if you’re engaged or not—may be to start checking your email or social media accounts during the call. You may still do your job—completing daily tasks and turning in projects on time—but you won’t feel like an integral part of the team or the company. 

Conversely, if you are given a specific role in meetings and expected to be actively involved, you know your participation is valued. You will come to meetings more prepared and ready to engage. 

The time immediately following a meeting is another chance to promote inclusion among remote workers. The simple act of asking for feedback after a meeting creates a forum for improvement that makes meetings among remote teams more productive. It also provides another way for the main office to increase engagement among their remote sites. 

Using Connectivity Tools to Promote Organizational Culture

Using digital tools to regularly remind team members of what they are trying to achieve, communicate progress, give and receive feedback, collaborate to solve specific problems, and celebrate wins keeps what’s most important at the forefront of employees’ minds. It puts their focus squarely on the key results, rather than just on their task list or a specific part of a project. As a side benefit, employees who are engaged and feel heard and valued are more likely to stick around, helping an organization retain talent and reduce turnover expenses. 

Allow Remote Employees to Opt-out of Company Culture at Your Own Risk

If your company is to thrive with the use of remote employees, alignment with the company culture is a crucial aspect of success. Teams should never be considered too big, too temporary, or too far away to be exempt from cultural alignment. As a team grows or a project gets more complicated, the cultural aspect becomes more important. 

The key to getting the cultural aspect right is putting systems and tools in place that are easy to implement and scalable as teams evolve or a project grows. Culture produces results. Allowing remote employees to opt-out of the company culture or giving managers of remote teams a “pass” is not an option. More tips and strategies at www.partnersinleadership.com.