How to Develop a Culture in a Remote Team?

When you are working in remote teams, usually you have a sense of interdependent along to a sense of alienation from the normal operation procedures of your company! I remember the feeling when I was working on R&D EEC projects involving many different teams across Europe! Working remotely is now a valid way of working, but in order to be effective, it needs to be based on a common company culture!

Develop a culture in a remote team

The Case of Teleworking

When you work remotely (teleworking), you enjoy many benefits (flexible schedule, independence, ownership of your work, little to none “dead” [not pertinent to work at hand]- working times, limited interactions, etc.) and several drawbacks as well (isolation, false scene of free time, lack of participation in normal day-to-day company’s operation, second hand information about corporate events, lack of personal interaction with co-workers, etc.)

This working approach needs many things to work both on personal as on corporate level.

On a personal level you will need:

  • Discipline
  • Meticulous control of your time and effort and a “follow-your-schedule” attitude
  • A flexible personal – working hours schedule
  • A good estimation of the time needed for its completion any given task
  • Accountability & responsibility
  • A distraction free working environment in your house, and
  • Proper and suitable infrastructure (hardware, software, network, telephone, etc.) to carry out your assigned tasks

among other things. On a corporate level, remote working usually requires:

  • Firm management procedures and excellent project management skills
  • Flexible standard operational procedures
  • Work in several different working hours
  • Challenge to build true rapport
  • Knowledge hubs for easy retrieval of information
  • Constant learning, a constant feed of learning opportunities and training activities
  • A clear cut definition of the working objects
  • A remote working widespread corporate culture
  • A fixed schedule of communication with remote members
  • Technical & operational support
  • Excellent logistic and accounting services, able to handle remote working employees

Of course, these are only a few of the requirements need a remote team to work effectively. But the one most important asset need a company wants to utilize this working practice is to develop a culture!

Developing a Remote Working Group of People

To develop a culture in a remote team, you need many components to work together seamlessly.

First of all, any given working workflow or activity must be clearly defined as well as the expected results of each activity for everyone involved. But that won’t develop a culture besides a well defined “working ethos” to the members of the remote team!

Second, you need to select carefully the members of this team, in order to reassure that they can work from a distance without a problem and are the suitable candidates for the tasks at hand!

Third, you need to tie together any working and non-working interactions of the working team in a system integrate the both aspects of the work, without letting any of these aspects becomes dominant. It is important to have assigned a good project manager in a remote team, a one that would not overlook the latent working “non-verbal” and not-directly-connected to the “work”, parts of the project’s activities and brings balance and stability to the group!

But, in order to develop a true corporate culture, you need to develop a sense of community or rather a feeling of “belonging” to everyone working from a distance! It is important to employ all the necessary procedures that will guarantee that the remote worker never feels “overlooked” by the normal company procedures or by his/hers conventional working colleagues!

How to Develop a Culture in a Remote Team

To develop a culture in a remote team you (as project manager, owner, leader, etc.) you need to:

  • Draft and employ a well-written mission statement and clear procedures
  • Have clear project’s (SMART) goals
  • Assign a project manager or coordinator with long experience in remote team management
  • Communicate carefully goals, objectives, results and what you expect from each team member
  • Use week-defined communication channels, hierarchies, and infrastructure, compatible with the company’s culture
  • Use or hire like-minded and of similar attitude people for the virtual team staffing, who have proved that can work effectively in a remote working environment (including their personal discipline, their experience, their accountability, their travel availability, their availability for virtual meetings at “difficult hours”, their proven record of consistency and of producing excellent results in a project, etc.)
  • Develop independent procedures and provide sufficient rights and time to the remote working personnel for completing their work
  • Try to enhance the ties and connections of remote team’s members with the company which hired them
  • Establish fixed 1:1 virtual communication meeting hours with each member and at least one physical meeting once or twice in a month
  • Check carefully the results and fix quickly the problems and the errors may appear, either on the projects or in the performance of the team members
  • Find the common “working” time periods (time periods everyone is in “working mode”) and use them for virtual meetings, assignments, communication, bonding activities, “pep” talks, etc. Anything can strength the ties of the person working remotely with the company!
  • Compensate the asynchronous working problems may appear (i.e. different and apart times for delivering a “portion” of a deliverable or output or their availability for an urgent call) according to your working schedule and pipe them in a flow you have to schedule it in a way to including able time for their correction (if possible)!
  • Acknowledge the effort and the contribution of every member of the group, publicly and at all company’s levels
  • Keep an “open door” policy all the time

Question: Do you think you can develop a culture in a remote team? Have you already done so? Please share with us your experience either as a manager or as a member of a remote working team, here!

    Takis Athanassiou is an IT Consultant, Blogger, Trainer & Writer, active in the areas of leadership, business consulting, e-Learning and social media. He aims at the development of people, business and assets! You can check out his blog, add him in Google+ and follow him on Twitter.

    Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

    • Great post, there are always more challenge to building a remote team vs. a non-remote team. I’d say staying connected and communicating via phone, video calling, and messaging is essential.