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3 Top tips for managing remote team culture

Jan 17 in Culture, Training

The workplace has become a different world from the one we were used to even ten years ago. With plenty of companies now made up of remote and international workers, it can be hard to understand how to create a remote team culture. Hard as it may seem, remote team culture is essential for building loyalty, morale and great professional relationships. Check out our top 3 tips for creating office harmony, wherever your workers are from. 

Some employers worry about maintaining a cohesive team culture with remote employees, but it can be helpful to remember that they also offer tangible benefits to your business, such as:

General Benefits

  • Remote workers have been proven to be on average 5-40% more productive than their office counterparts, which may be because they can often set their own working hours and work to their own best timing which will bring out their best work.
  • Remote employees also allow you to fill up temporary or part time positions that may be less attractive to commuters or employees who would have to relocate.

An employee smiles at her laptop. Managing remote teams well can boost well-being for all your employees.

International Team Benefits

  • Simplifying your international hiring process will cut stress for both you and your employees. as you will not have to make complex arrangements with VISA’s and the like.
  • An introduction into new cultures and perspectives. This is one of the main advantages of a remote team culture. In order to make the most of it, however, you’ll need to make sure that your workplace has nailed the intricacies of cross-cultural communication, in order to ensure none of your employees commit a faux pas.
  • Hiring international remote workers is also an easy way to both build up your company’s presence in a new market and to gain real understanding of an international culture. If you only a few employees in one location, you may be able to use the examples of your employees to base your decision on where to locate your company in the future.
  • In this way, remote teams are a great way to build an easy foothold into international expansion.

3 Top Tips

1. Use Cross-cultural Training to manage remote teams

The best way to ensure a good remote team culture between your international and home office employees is to establish a solid foundation for communication between everyone. If you want your workers to develop good professional and social relationships within your company, first you’ll have to understand what that means in each of their cultural contexts.

You may assume that communication mistakes can only happen in person, such as using the wrong form of greeting. But that would be a false assumption. Understanding email etiquette, for example, can be crucial for managing remote teams.

While employees from the UK and US often like to fire off short, informal emails, German employees may prefer for their emails to be written in a formal manner. While some cultures will expect your emails to be direct and to the point, others such as Chinese cultures will expect a business arrangement to be explained in full. It’s also essential for video conferencing remote international employees.

While some of your employees may see working remotely as an opportunity to dress more relaxed than usual, others will still adhere to their culture’s manner of dress throughout the call. A good idea would be to include a basic dress code: e.g no t shirts or low cut clothes, in with the general brief before your conference call.

It can already be hard enough to schedule a meeting that works across all your employees’ time zones, but have you planned around cultural events, like siestas or the traditional post work break in Chinese offices?

2. Facilitate Strong Partnerships

 While some cross-cultural slip ups are unavoidable, a great way to foster goodwill is to make a concentrated effort on developing a strong work culture and facilitating strong partnerships. Even with employees thousands of miles between each other, there are still some ways you can set up business camaraderie.

Why not try out the concept of ‘work buddies’ where you randomly pair co-workers together, with the only goal being for them to teach each other about their own cultures and lives. While this should be random to enable the most learning, some employees may be uncomfortable with having such a close relationship in a business context, so you might want your employees to self nominate. If you’re concerned about the amount of voluntary participation you’d receive, think about how you could incentive the exercise.

If you have any employees who are worried about relocating to one of your remote offices, why not create a ‘relocators network’ through forums, Facebook pages/groups or emails, where newly relocated employees can talk through their transition with seasoned expats for reassurance. If possible, you could even schedule a meetup with another employee who works in the new location within their first few weeks of relocation.

It may be useful to have at least annual events where you invite colleagues from all locations. While there will be those who can’t make it, it will still ensure a sense of common connection and identity for those who can.

When running corporate events, you should also give your remote employees as much of an opportunity to offer speeches etc. as their office counterparts via Skype and other channels. If you have charity fundraising events, it might not even cross your mind to involve your remote workers. When planning your charity calendar you could even ask your remote employees to keep you updated on opportunities in their area. That way you’re not only creating a great culture for your remote teams but contributing to communities worldwide.

Co-workers clasp hands in a circle, symbolising the strength of their remote team culture

3. Emphasise Company Values

While there’s recently been more of an emphasis on office perks, from nights out to pool tables, culture means more than these added extras – and can have a bigger impact with a smaller budget.

Keep in mind that even the most seemingly universal of values won’t necessarily always translate cross-culturally. Even if your value is truly universal, the way that different cultures understand or express that value may be different. Train everyone in your business’ core values. If you have a value that you know doesn’t directly translate, e.g. debate and healthy confrontation when you’re managing a team member from a conflict averse country, then don’t downplay your company value. Instead you should present opportunities to learn your values, such as creating a designated office debate club. Present it as an intriguing opportunity to learn a new skill that will make your team agile in international environments.

While there will always be values that are of high importance for your team, you may find that the logistics of managing remote teams mean you have to express them in different ways. If you can, it’s a great idea to incorporate everyone into the process. You can do this with anonymous surveys and forms in order for everyone to put in their input without feeling insecure.

Did you know that the tools your company uses reflect company culture in themselves?

If you want to foster an informal work culture, why not consider swapping emails for WhatsApp or Slack channels? Setting a guide to company communication – with points that encourage what to do rather than just imposing what not to – will help your employees navigate your culture without any grey areas.

Make sure that you encourage open and honest communication so that everyone can thrive, and to take care that conversations aren’t dominated by any particular main players.

Extra tip: If your team is still struggling to get themselves understood, why not invest in language training for your employees?

It’s standard to require a knowledge of business English for all your remote workers, but your international employees may only realise their flaws in the language once they start speaking to your home employees. Offering your employees language training is a great way of showing that you value and invest in both your international and home employees.

Get in touch today to see how we can help with your cross-cultural training needs.

Article written by Lois Arcari, Contributor to RLI.

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