How to Build Culture in a Remote Team


15 min read

Culture in a Remote Team

There has been rapid growth in the area of remote work over the past few years, now on the increase for more positive reasons. There are clear benefits for businesses and workers alike, especially in fields where technology plays a more central role. However, managing to build a culture in a remote team also has its challenges, one of the main ones being the difficulties in creating a team and as importantly a sense of team.

  • Potential Benefits

The most recent research shows that working with a remote team has many advantages for a business.

Firstly by employing remote workers by definition you are taking location factors out of the equation. Therefore you are able to employ talent from all over the world, who best suits your needs without having to persuade or pay for relocation. If organized well this can also lead to a 24/7 business operation, with no or little downtime. Add to this the fact that the costs and overheads for your physical location (size, utilities, etc) are significantly reduced and you can start to see why remote work is popular with business owners.

Furthermore, data suggests that employees working remotely are actually more productive and exhibit greater motivation and job satisfaction.

  • Potential Negatives

From the business’s point of view, the two fundamental negatives are the difficulties with communication and the possible problems if forming a team culture or bond amongst your dispersed team. Obviously, communication issues are real and heavily studied, written about, and worked on. When problems occur they are obvious, quite quickly. Building team culture is something that often falls under the radar, but it is an issue and you need to pay attention to it.


How to Build Culture in a Remote Team


1. The Importance of Team Culture

Creating a team culture runs deeper than having a few colleagues that socialize outside work and get on in the office. The company culture is about the values that the company puts on its services, its standards, its core expectations, and the things that are important. This culture should run through the whole company from top to bottom, it represents not only how colleagues treat and interact with each other, but how they respond to and communicate with managers, owners, and even clients.

Strong company culture will make cooperation and collaboration a strength, improve communication both up and down the hierarchy, improve the work environment and worker satisfaction, help retain workers and improve the whole company’s reputation. The company culture can be sensed by clients, they know what you are about and the consistency they get.


2. Building a Culture

It is foolish to believe that a company and team culture builds itself. Unless you are incredibly unlucky with your employees. Even if it happens organically you still have to put in the effort to create the right environment and conditions.

Even when the business is based in one physical location, businesses are and should be built around different individuals with different skills, talents, and definitely personalities. Expecting everyone to gel instantly simply because they work for the same company is unrealistic, to say the least. With a remote team, the chances are it will be even harder to forge the bond and sense of team that will benefit the project but more so the ethos of your company.

How do you bring people, often based in very different places, perhaps from different cultures and certainly with a wide mix of characters, together? How can you create the company cultures that the top businesses relish and build efficient, happy, collaborative teams with that culture? As a manager, you need to be asking yourself these questions and addressing them before it’s too late.


3. How To Build Company Culture

The company culture is established by a top-down approach and should filter through everything and everyone employed by that business. It is the overarching ethos of the business model and serves to represent the values of the company but also every single element and person who represents that company at any level.

  • Decide on your company values

Companies can and do exist by having a list of values and a code to follow. Many businesses start as a group of people getting together with an idea and the energy and drive to push them forward, they have the same goals and ambitions. But it’s easy, perhaps too easy to lose track of this direction. People change, people have different ideas, and challenges mean that you might have to adapt some of your high-minded principles, business growth is good but employing others can water down the concentrated focus.

Having Company Values is a skeleton model, that you can fall back on. The principles to which you want your company and the people who work in it to adhere. The glue that holds the business together. These are often abstract principles but nevertheless, they serve as reminders of what is important and what is expected. Examples include things like mutual respect, striving for excellence, honesty, and a culture of openness.

The direction of travel of your business is propelled by these very foundations.

  • Get your culture known in-house

Company values are no good whatsoever if they are hidden away in a drawer for directors to purr over. You might hope that the culture will filter through somehow, but you need to take a more active stance than this. Make the culture front and center, and make sure that all your employees are aware of it.

This is as true in the office as for remote workers. Everyone needs to be facing the same way and pulling in the same direction and they need to know what they are doing, why, and how it should be done. You have to be clear about how you want people to work within this culture don’t expect employees established or new to just work it out. And if the focus changes, and it may well, then tell everyone.

  • Get your culture known to your clients

One way of highlighting the importance of your values to your own staff is by publishing them and making them widely available to the clients and the general public alike. Share them on your website, use them in your advertising, highlight them on your social media, and focus on key points from testimonials that link, this way there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Your present staff knows that tye will be held to the standards and your future staff is well aware of what you stand for too.

  • Develop trust as a cornerstone within the company

Trust is the key to any successful team. You need to trust your colleagues and workmates on a professional and personal level. In an office setting, you can see what others are doing, and you certainly have a more overall sense of the state of play. Particularly with remote teams, this is rarely the case. Remote teams are not only more physically remote but they also tend to work much more independently. Developing trust between teammates and as a manager of staff works both ways.

You need to be able to demonstrate and earn trust, as do the employees. Professional trust is earned by doing the job correctly, following the structures and standards in place, and communicating appropriately and in a timely manner. Personal trust is based on your behavior, the way you speak and instruct, the way you follow things up, your organizational skills, the way you give and deal with feedback, etc.

Trust is earned by being open and honest in everything you do, and it will hold a team together even in the most difficult and challenging periods.

  •  Provide a safe environment

A team will thrive if the members feel safe, psychologically. That is they feel comfortable and confident enough to take on responsibility and speak out if needed. A manager needs to provide this “safe space” in both a physical location and probably even more for remote teams. One of the downsides and possible problems with remote teams is that they don’t feel part of the overall team, feeling isolated and often purely functioning as individuals. For a team to truly operate as one, and benefit from each other’s skills you have to actively create a sense of safety. This involves communication skills as much as anything, actively listening to your team members. Offer feedback but listen to the feedback of the team. Assess yourself as well as the team, and encourage innovation and idea-sharing. Furthermore, be open-minded and listen to discussions and take action when required.


4. How to Build Culture in a Remote Team

Nothing makes a team feel like a team more than sensing the responsibility and control they have. Let’s go through the essential steps on how to build a culture in a remote team.

  • Communicate

Communication is always important but to create a strong culture in a remote team communication – skilled and frequent is absolutely essential. Poor, infrequent communication will erase all your good work.

Even though remote teams often function more independently and indeed flourish in this respect, you still need to keep your hands on the tiller. You also need to up your communication game, clear concise communication is vital. You need to communicate regularly but purposefully, and have an aim in mind for each communication. Use the tools available and choose the most appropriate, take into consideration time zones, flexible work arrangements, and cultural differences.

Good communication sets the tone of your relationship and sets the standard that employees should follow in their communication with each other. Stick to your arranged or scheduled meetings, meet-ups, and availability.

  • Set and share expectations on communication methods

Setting rules of communication allows all the remote team members to know exactly where they stand. You should have guidelines for communication from what platform or tools to use for what type of communication, what types of things should and should not be discussed during work time and boards, and where it is appropriate to have more social interaction and hours of availability.

These rules should be open and spread between all the team members, especially new staff. You can even include expectations of language, standard greetings, format, and style if you think it appropriate.

With these rules, you are enhancing communication but also making the team feel like one.

  • Personalize

Never forget that individuals make up teams. You create the best teams by realizing the strengths and weaknesses of the members and knowing what makes them tick. This means you as a manager need to get to know your team. This requires more effort when you are managing a remote team.

Your communication is essential for the business side of things. But communication is also important for developing a relationship and getting to know your team. Use your scheduled meet-ups to find out about your team members, not solely to discuss business or the current project. You might have to push more than you would in a normal social situation, true. But it’s important that you get a feel for the person, their situation, home/work balance, interests, goals, and background. And this is a two-way process, reveal something of yourself, you are forming a relationship not conducting an interrogation.

This is you demonstrating real skill as a manager of people, do not underestimate it. Success here will build a trusting, safe relationship and increase job satisfaction. This is the part where the worker feels more than a small cog in a huge wheel.

  • Make everyone feel part of the bigger picture

Remote works can feel literally remote. There is a worry that they don’t feel part of the business, just a component doing one of the many minor tasks. A high rating of job satisfaction comes when the staff can see where they fit into the bigger picture. Why what they are doing is important in the whole project. A manager’s job with a remote team is to somehow manage to create this effect.

Inform your team about what is going on in terms of the general business picture, give them information about their role in the project that emphasizes the part they are playing in the overall creation of something, and make each member feel part of something bigger.

This is particularly important if the remote team doesn’t know each other well, or has new members. Group meetings where people are introduced, introduce themselves, and can get to know people are standard procedures in the physical environment, and so they should be with remote teams. In fact, even more so.

  • Flexible working benefits go both ways

One of the biggest pluses for remote workers is flexibility. They can combine their home life and workload organizing their work activities around their daily duties. They can work late into the evening if it suits or early mornings, they can work from a home office, a coffee shop or a beach bar and they can do it in any country in the world. This results in happier employees; greater job satisfaction, as well as it often leads to greater motivation, staff retention, and even higher productivity.

This can cause problems too especially for a manager who needs communication. But with systems put in place, such as recognized working and availability times, you can work around these issues. If you want to gina the benefits of having a happy staff group, then you need to take into account that flexibility is one of the major reasons people choose to work remotely. Embrace it. By allowing such flexibility, you gain not only a contented staff group but also a willingness to be flexible for you. It works both ways. Openly allowing flexible working hours and strategies, gets paid back when you need a team member to be flexible for you.

  • Encourage feedback and contributions from all

Open channels of communication mean exactly that, a channel flows both ways. One of the best ways of creating a culture in remote teams is to show that you are listening. And to show that you want to hear from everybody.

One of the advantages of remote teams is actually that you have greater control over communication. In an office environment, it is often the case that some voices are significantly louder than others. In the remote working space, as a manager, you control the communication much more. You have more control over who speaks in joint meetings and group conversations and it is far less intimidating to have a quick video call than invite someone to your office. You have the ability and possibility to deal with things on a less formal basis and thus encourage contributions from even the shyest members of the group.

As for feedback, you need to give it, but also take it. Again by creating a safe space and open channels of communication, feedback can be far less confrontational. Thus more constructive and honest. And the best way to encourage more feedback is to act on previous feedback. Acknowledge that you can do things done better, other people have good ideas, and you can improve the processes.  Acting on feedback should improve the group culture for everyone, it shows respect and a willing attitude.

  • Encourage social engagement

If you want to build a real team, you need to get them to know and trust each other beyond the work boundaries. It is not as straightforward as in the physical workplace, and it’s certainly less organic but the effort to create something to encourage more social grouping is worth it.

Some companies create virtual spaces for socializing within the work tools, for example, a separate channel. You can set topics or discussion groups. You can create non-work-related virtual meet-ups, quizzes, and music. Your online communication and collaboration tools are flexible enough to allow you and your remote team to share messages, jokes, stories, and experiences without disrupting the workflow.

Be creative in encouraging your team to get to know each other on a deeper level.

  •  If possible, include non-remote activities

So, it may sound completely impractical if your team is spread all over the planet. However, many remote teams are based around the same area, certainly in the same country. Some work remotely by force rather than by choice. Actual real-time, physical meet-ups are hugely beneficial and well worth the effort you have to put into organizing them. This is especially the case for workers who have previously been office-based.

Making the effort to bring people together, for a team BBQ, bowling, in a bar, or over a board game will do wonders for team morale. It shows that you value the team, rather than just the work. It gives the opportunity for a more natural mix and spontaneity.



The benefits of having a remote team are apparent for the workers and the business. But if you truly want a remote team, rather than a bunch of remote workers doing the same project then you need to actively assess your options. Blending and bonding a team can be one of a manager’s finest achievements, something that will last and make a lasting difference. Forging a remote group into a team may take a little more work, a little more skill, and nuance. However, the resulting positives can have a real, significant effect on how they value you as a manager and how much value you get from your team.

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