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How Leaders Can Build a Strong Remote Work Culture

Published Tue May 09 2023

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A strong remote work culture, at its core, is the same as a strong office culture. People feel supported and empowered to do their best work, and leaders and colleagues trust one another, collaborate well, and demonstrate inclusive behavior. Personal and practical needs are met, and employees feel like they belong. Ideally, the sum of those parts is a culture that engages employees, reduces turnover, and inspires greater levels of commitment and innovation.

We’re trying to create the same dynamics with remote work, but the path is different. What used to happen automatically now requires continual planning, intention, reflection, and recalibration. Each leader has a role, and leaders failing to create a strong remote work culture feel the pain. After all, working around a toxic boss or team that lacks cohesion in the virtual world is harder. This raises the stakes for each leader’s role in supporting individuals and building cohesive teams.

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What NOT to Do When Building Your Remote Work Culture

One pitfall to avoid is simply overlaying old frameworks for leadership onto the virtual world. Zoom happy hours and virtual team-building events often fail to achieve desired results. It’s also risky to rely too heavily on in-person meetings that occur a few times a year. While face-to-face bonding strengthens existing relationships and helps build new ones, sporadic meetings don’t make up for a day-to-day work culture where employees don’t feel supported, valued, and included.

You can’t let culture shape itself organically, as we once did in office environments. Leaders can no longer rely on teams to bond because of physical proximity, and gone are the days of learning by osmosis. We can’t disseminate information and ideas in overheard conversations and chance encounters in virtual work cultures.

Leadership Shifts That Support Remote Culture

So how can leaders create a strong remote work culture? A leader must make paradigm shifts in understanding their role and its impacts on their teams.

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From Open Door to Open Calendar

The idea of an open-door policy is not good enough in the virtual world. Statements like, “I’m here if you need anything” ring hollow. Why? They put the responsibility on team members to know how, when, and to what extent to leverage you as their leader. And for leaders with jam-packed calendars, the sentiment is especially empty. If your calendar is filled until next week and the issue is urgent, a remote employee feels stuck.

To ensure team members get the support they need in a remote workplace culture, leaders must consciously create space for connection:

• Mix formal and informal check-ins. Having a regular cadence of check-in meetings (and committing to keeping them) is a strong start. Leaders can intentionally add informal check-ins to the mix. While the explicit purpose might be to ask for an employee’s input or provide a timely update, they can also help maintain connection and give employees more opportunities to seek support.

• Ensure your team has more access to you than anyone else. Leaders can accomplish this by blocking off time on their calendars that displays as “busy” to everyone but their team members, who know they can schedule in these blocks.

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Learn more leadership shifts to support remote work culture by reading DDI’s blog.

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