The Transition to Remote Work
In many ways, the transition to remote work in the wake of Covid-19 has helped redefine existing conceptions of “company culture.” Even the term itself seems rather outdated; it conjures up images of bustling offices of decades past, with daily meetings, memos and synergetic pep talks. Though some organizations still function in this way, much modern-day business is done with teams spread out all over the world. Many entrepreneurs — myself included — now have to juggle multiple time zones and communication platforms, as well as differences in both language and culture.
I’d like to make it clear that I am in no way complaining. In fact, I find the environment of remote workplaces exhilarating. That said, there’s no denying that we have entered an era in which traditional ways of developing and nurturing company culture no longer exist. Consequently, we have to find ways to build and promote cooperation, camaraderie, innovation and productivity — perhaps without ever meeting most of our coworkers face to face.
Company Culture Built On Communication
With the knowledge that work culture has evolved in a remote environment, many startups must spend a great deal of time considering and implementing various ways to strengthen the community from within. It may sound tedious to those entrepreneurs who are, frankly, just concerned with making payroll. You may wonder, who has the time to focus on company culture when there’s a never-ending to-do list? But when the “boss” is physically separate from everyone else, building strong professional relationships is essential.
It’s not about monitoring people’s every move or badgering them for constant updates. Instead, it’s about developing a relationship built on mutual communication, trust and understanding. I seek to understand all of the people I work with — and do my best to make myself understood by them. Even when there is a clear hierarchical structure within the business, I want to let everyone know that they are heard and respected.
While this may not be completely revolutionary, it is somewhat unique, even in the ever-growing world of remote work. Now that employees are no longer working under the noses of management, there’s a tendency in many companies to over-enforce policies that ensure productivity. In my opinion, this almost never has the desired effect. Instead, it results in more adversarial relationships, where business owners distrust their remote staff and remote employees resent their overbearing bosses.
At my companies, most team communication takes place over Slack, email, Zoom or one of the productivity tools we use like Asana and Jira. Small nuances become important when much of our communication is no longer tied to facial expressions or body language. The need to over-communicate so that everyone can understand my tone and intention quickly becomes rather important. For this reason, I think one-on-one meetings allow us to understand each other on a deeper level. I never want to dictate; I prefer to collaborate.
This is where I believe the future of remote company culture is heading. Rather than a series of top-down directives, objectives and policies meant to guide employee behavior, remote workplaces should be built on mutual trust and respect. This all begins with having the right people, in the right roles, who are crystal clear on their responsibilities and expected output.
Turning Remote Company Culture Into Business Growth
While I personally like to communicate in writing, I’m not blind to the fact that many people are visual or auditory learners. So, in getting to know the people I work with, I also come to learn the most effective ways of communicating my ideas to them. While I may not prefer to brainstorm or think out loud on a call — as opposed to brainstorming in private and coming back with written thoughts — I recognize the importance of doing so in some cases. Sometimes people need to feel heard and seen, even if you’re reading everything they’re sending you. This helps facilitate an environment in which open dialogue is not only encouraged — it’s just the way we do business.
Take one of my startups as an example. The first product we launched was our publication: It’s entirely stories from people’s lives. We simply tell stories that are not being told in other places. While we do verify authors and their stories, we publish them anonymously to ensure their ideas are considered fairly by the public. However, this also gives a voice to those who don’t yearn for the attention their story could bring them. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t organize my businesses using the same foundational concepts. Everyone involved — from part-time freelancers to junior employees — has a voice. While we may not always agree on the same strategy or idea, it’s up to me to listen to them all.
Even if they aren’t physically by my side, I know that I can depend on a network of people all over the world to help turn our mission and aspirations for the world into a reality. We all work closely together, exchanging ideas and information — often on a daily basis. In doing so, we ensure that no one’s ideas are disregarded, and everyone understands that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves — even when we’re thousands of miles apart.
The Bottom Line
While many of us may be using many of the same tools — Slack, Zoom and so on — the difference lies in how you use them to build relationships. I believe in maintaining a safe and professional working environment for everyone, myself included, but I’m not afraid to get personal. In fact, my businesses depend on it. By building trusting relationships with all of your remote teams and network of associates, you can ensure that you’re cultivating a company culture that is built for everyone.
Originally published on Forbes.