Remote Work

Remote-First Cultures in 2023: Have They Worked? What Needs to Change?

August 16, 2023

There are now three times more high-paying remote jobs than before the pandemic, with remote work now accounting for 15% of all high-paying jobs in the US.

Although this trend began before 2020, the pandemic definitely sped it up — and many companies were unprepared. Despite being largely successful and widely popular, remote work poses its challenges — including how to develop a healthy and sustainable remote work culture. 

Pre-pandemic, so many of our interactions took place informally around the office, so building a culture in a company with no offices — or where employees only run into one another sporadically — requires intentionality. 

At a traditional office, company culture may evolve through shared experiences, in-house collaboration, and team-building activities that are not part of the remote working reality, so creating a healthy remote company culture takes a bit more effort to get right. 

Many leaders make the mistake of thinking they can rely on technology and tools to run their remote teams effectively, but tools alone cannot foster a positive work culture. You must create the culture first, then find the tools to support it. 

The Problem with Remote Work

One of the most obvious challenges of remote work is finding ways for teams to communicate and collaborate effectively when they can’t speak face-to-face. Although tools like Slack and Zoom can facilitate communication, leaders need to establish norms to prevent communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. 

Additionally, we get so many of our cues from other people’s body language and facial expressions, but when we can’t see our colleagues, it’s harder to build trust, which can impact productivity. 

At an individual level, many remote workers experience social isolation and loneliness, which can negatively affect their mental health and work performance and contribute to feelings of burnout. This burnout is often exacerbated by the blurring of the lines between work and personal life, with remote employees working 10% longer each week than they did before the pandemic. 

Towards a Healthier Remote Work Culture

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Many companies have already found ways to overcome these challenges, and so can you. 

For example, Scott’s Cheap Flights goes above and beyond the usual Slack messages and Zoom meetings, encouraging employees to catch up through casual 15-minute “doughnut chats” and providing a meet-up allowance so colleagues can grab dinner together when visiting each other’s cities. They also organize annual get-togethers in different countries so team members can mingle.  

Meanwhile, sports app Buzzer offers unlimited paid time off and 32 hours per year for employees to spend on volunteer work within their communities. Other initiatives companies have used include flexible hours, health benefits, work-from-anywhere schemes, and weekly brainstorming sessions. 

Ways to Foster a More Positive Remote Work Environment

Here are some suggestions for leaders who wish to improve their company culture, regardless of whether it’s a hybrid or fully remote business.

Start by defining what you want your work culture to look like. Have your team participate in the process and document your decisions — this will help you get buy-in, measure progress, and ensure everyone’s on the same page.

Next, you’ll need to establish clear communication channels and norms. Decide which tools you’ll use and establish protocols that help employees stay connected while creating a safe and respectful work environment where all team members feel included. Employees should know when to use Slack, email, or video conferencing to streamline collaboration while keeping everyone in the loop. It’s also essential to establish robust feedback channels. 

The next step is to create a sense of psychological safety so that employees feel safe and able to express themselves freely. Ways to do this include: 

  • Encouraging active participation (but don’t force it as this may go against cultural norms, depending on where your team members are from).
  • Ensuring everyone feels supported.
  • Encouraging diverse thoughts and ideas.
  • Creating a feedback-friendly environment.
  • Emphasizing the importance of taking risks and making mistakes.

For your remote team to collaborate effectively, you’ll need to create a culture of trust and accountability, for example, by setting clear expectations and providing regular feedback according to the established protocols. Another way to build trust among team members is to foster a sense of community and social connection through ‘extracurricular’ virtual activities and encouraging informal interactions. 

In remote settings, it can be harder to show your employees your appreciation, so make celebrating one another a core pillar of your team. It’s easy for employees to feel ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when working remotely, so go the extra mile to show them their contributions are valued and appreciated. Not only will they be happier, but they’ll also be more productive. 

Finally, show your remote team members you care about them by promoting work-life balance and helping them prevent burnout. Ways to do this include offering flexible hours and encouraging them to log off at the end of the day.

A Healthy Remote Work Culture is Good for Business

Ultimately, fostering a more supportive remote company culture won’t just benefit your employees — it will also boost your business. Remote team members who enjoy a better work-life balance and feel supported at work are more productive, have higher job satisfaction, and take fewer days off, while companies with a healthy remote work culture find it easier to attract and retain the best talent.