According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2018 only about 25 percent of employees in the United States worked from home regularly. Even fewer—a little over 3 percent of the entire workforce, according to Global Workplace Analytics—worked mostly from home or worked from home on a regular basis.
However, even before the novel coronavirus struck, the number of people engaging in remote work was on the rise, more than doubling between 2005 and 2015. That trend has only accelerated as a result of the recent pandemic.
Law firm Seyfarth conducted a survey of over 550 US employers in order to identify trends in employer response to COVID-19. It found that 67 percent of employers that did not support remote work previously were taking steps to enable their employees to do so. Over a third of companies were actively encouraging all employees to transition to a work-from-home model.
As an increasing number of employees transition to exclusively (or mostly) working from home, however, businesses will need to re-examine their company cultures. When team members are working remotely, it can be difficult to foster a sense of community and teamwork. Fortunately, when properly implemented, remote work can increase overall employee satisfaction and even improve company culture.
Here are some tips to foster your company culture while your employees are working from home.
Increase Employee Loyalty
Though company culture can differ by company and even by individual team, it can generally be defined as the overall experience and level of satisfaction employees have in their workplaces. In a way, company culture is similar to a user or customer experience, but specifically pertaining to employees.
Research into the importance of company culture has shown that employees tend to choose a positive company culture over a higher salary. In fact, a 2018 Meaning and Purpose at Work report released by BetterUp indicated that American workers would be willing to reduce their lifetime earnings by 23 percent in order to engage in work they found meaningful.
Notably, supporting remote work can contribute to a positive company culture. FlexJobs found 76 percent of employees feel that flexible work policies would make them more likely to be loyal to their current employers. Additionally, 86 percent of people find remote work less stressful.
Data from Owl Labs suggests that businesses that allow their employees to work remotely have 25 percent less turnover than companies that don’t permit remote work. So simply by switching to a more remote-friendly policy, you may be improving your company culture.
Allow Workers to Socialize Virtually
For many employees, one of the difficulties of working from home comes from the lack of daily socialization with other employees. The 2019 State of Remote Work Report by Buffer.com found that nearly 20 percent of remote employees struggled with issues of loneliness, and 17 percent experienced difficulty collaborating or communicating with their colleagues.
Working from home can feel isolating, but there are ways employers can combat these feelings. According to Jeanne Wilson, PhD, a professor of organizational behavior at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, “At the personal level, team members who disclose personal information, such as a favorite television show or the birth of a child, also build stronger connections and more trust.”
In other words, remote workers need a space to have non-work-related interactions with other employees. This will improve morale and help employees feel more connected—even when they are thousands of miles apart. Virtual chat clients like Slack or Zoom can give employees a space to share photos and videos, chat, and collaborate, just like they might in a traditional office space.
According to research published in the Journal of International Business Studies, making goals, responsibilities, and communication methods explicit from the beginning improves team effectiveness. However, communicating via non-visual channels, especially via email or over the phone, can make it difficult to interpret emotion and intent. We rely heavily on visual cues to pick up on the meaning of what someone is trying to communicate to us.
Video conferencing can help keep remote teams on task and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings. How often these meetings need to take place depends on a company’s specific needs as well as the needs and goals of the team. Be sure not to overschedule virtual meetings, however, since too many could cut into the time employees need to accomplish their individual responsibilities.
Decide who needs to be at the meetings and when they need to occur so no time is wasted. Take some time in meetings to talk about other things as well, like celebrating small wins or chatting about other life topics unrelated to the job. Balance is important to maintaining employee morale and facilitating a positive company culture, particularly when team members are working remotely.
Appreciate Remote Work
It’s also important for employers to appreciate the value of remote workers. Treating remote work as an afterthought can lead to those employees feeling left out of major decisions, uninvolved, and dissatisfied. Thus, the US Chamber of Commerce and iDashboards recommend providing employees with public recognition for excellent work, regular feedback on their performances, and opportunities for professional training and development from afar.
Remote work has benefits, especially for work-life balance, and it can be a wonderful thing for your company. Implement a remote work policy thoughtfully and you’ll likely see a change in your company culture for the better.