5 ways to establish work culture in your remote teams

Jo-ann Huang
Jo-ann Huang
September 1, 2021

With social distancing measures pretty much eliminating the personal touch, and with more firms hiring offshore teams to scale up, fostering work culture has become tricky business.

After all, how does a manager drive the right company values over Zoom?

Regardless, work culture remains essential to building trust and boosting staff performance.

Glint’s webinar Future of Hiring: Building Culture in Local and Remote Teams, held on 13 August 2021, aims to address the issues of culture and engagement in the post-pandemic workplace.

Host and moderator Jeric Adriano led discussions among guest speakers, who are listed below:

Here are 5 key takeaways from the virtual event:

1. Find ways to bond over the virtual setting

Lee breaks down work culture into three parts.

For the first part, founders need to decide on and establish the values it wants to promote to achieve the optimal level of performance.

 “There is a famous quote which summarises culture – it is about who you want to hire, fire and promote.” says Lee.

These values need to be embedded in human resource processes, such as recruitment and promotion.

The second part is the equipping of key leaders and management to lead these culture efforts. 

The third part is about regular communication to reinforce culture.

The latter two parts have proven challenging in a virtual setting, given that the nuances of in-person interactions such as non-verbal communication are lost.

These “are key in building trust and rapport among colleagues and management, says Jillian.

As such, managers need to increase the quality of communication in order to engage their staff remotely, even as work piles up. 

They could bond over informal virtual sessions, such as weekly catchups.

Or it could even be virtual game sessions, like what Ninja Van does with its remote team.

Recommended: How hoolah manages company culture during a pandemic

2. Cross cultural barriers by encouraging open conversation

Esterhammer recommends that employers hold informal chats between leadership and remote teams to bridge any cultural gaps. 

For example, she held a virtual chat session where the German team leaders and their Asian team members could ask each other anything.

“No questions were too silly – we spent an hour covering topics from Covid-19, to food,” she says.

“That gives them insight and bonding time with our Asian team,” she added.

Esterhammer briefed the leadership team on differing working styles and potential language barriers when working with their remote teams.

“If they seem shy, it could be due to English not being their first language. And you will need to be more patient with them,” she says.

As English is the corporate lingua franca of many companies, employers should enable their remote teams to improve on their English fluency levels.

This could also mean paying for them to attend Business English and communication courses, says Esterhammer.

3. Building work culture takes time and experimentation

Yeung says culture building is a process and there isn’t a one size fits all approach.

Quokka itself is still experimenting, says Yeung, and each company’s culture is unique.

“It depends on who you are hiring – for some hires, it’s okay for them to handle their tasks independently. But culture becomes more important if you are building a remote extension of your team,” he says.

Yeung advises entrepreneurs to start with a few remote hires.

It is easier to manage culture with a smaller team, he says.

For Yeung, who is expanding his team in Indonesia, it is important to see your remote team as a “real team” and not just “a bunch of freelancers”. 

“Even if our team is more affordable hiring-wise, we were selective in choosing them,” he says.

“We needed to make sure they fit into our company culture,” says Yeung.

4. Encourage your remote employees to speak up

One of the challenges in creating and managing remote teams are cultural divides.

These cultural differences can derail communication and performance, says Lee.

Furthermore, the startup work environment is dynamic and is always changing.

As such, issues have to be resolved quickly.

But remote teams, particularly new hires from non-confrontational cultures, may be hesitant to speak up or give feedback.

She adds that remote teams in Southeast Asia may not be fluent in English as it is their second language, and as a result, may feel uncomfortable speaking up.

Lee recounted how she was hired during Covid-19, when Glints was already working remotely.

She needed to create a safe environment for speaking up, and get to know her team in Indonesia and Vietnam.

“During Zoom meetings, I would ask them for their opinions, and not let them shy away from conversation even if there was a three-second awkward silence,” says Lee.

“Once they feel comfortable speaking up, we need to show them that their feedback has been taken into action,”

“And when they see that happening, they will feel more motivated to share,” she continues.

Recommended: How to build a data-driven culture in your business

5. Don’t micromanage, however tempting it may be

While it is indeed tempting to use collaboration tools to micromanage your remote team, Yeung cautions employers against it.

It is a surefire way to disengage your remote teams, he says.

“You don’t want to be running a mass surveillance project,” he continues.

Ultimately, employers need to trust their remote teams and continue to align them with their targets and objectives, he says.

Employers should discuss service-level-agreements with their remote teams, Yeung notes.

The terms depend on their roles and tasks.

For example, more time-sensitive tasks like product development or engineering require more monitoring.

On the other hand, something like customer support could be more hands-off.

It is also important to set the right processes and metrics for your remote teams, adds Lee.

She adds that while many companies don’t have the time to do daily check-ins, weekly check-ins would suffice.

These check-ins involve remote teams listing down their to-do-lists and updating their managers on their progress.

“From there, we can check their progress, figure out what their problems are, remove any obstacles and get them to plan their next step forward,” explains Lee.

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