Remote Work Culture Won't Build Itself

March 8, 2024
Remote Work Culture

It looks like remote work is here to stay. Businesses have started to bring remote workers back to the office, but a substantial number of employees still work from home at least part of the time. A Pew Research study found that 39% of U.S. workers had jobs that could be done remotely. Of those workers, 41% are on hybrid schedules, working both at home and in the office, and 35% work from home all of the time. The Pew Research Center estimates that 14% of employed adults in the U.S.—about 22 million people—now work from home all the time.

Given the persistence of remote work, employers need to create a positive remote work culture to attract and retain top talent and boost productivity. This article will discuss:

  • Company culture in a remote environment.
  • How remote work culture contributes to a company’s bottom line.
  • Practical steps that small and mid-size business owners and managers can take to foster a positive and engaging remote work environment.

What is a remote company culture?

The values, goals, and missions of a business create its company culture. That culture, in turn, shapes the behavior and attitudes of the company's employees and leaders. The company culture pervades all aspects of the business’s social order and determines what is encouraged and what is discouraged. It creates bonds between employees and brings new workers into the fold. When the company culture is positive, employees can feel that the company’s goals are aligned with their personal needs and values.

How do you foster a strong company culture when part or all of your workforce is working remotely? Traditionally, company culture was reinforced by:

  • In-person contact and day-to-day interactions.
  • Office systems, routines and rituals.
  • The way that people behaved and dressed.
  • The physical location, including the decor and amenities of the office.

A positive remote work culture needs to achieve the same ends as a traditional work culture, but through other means. These include:

  • A "remote first" mindset.
  • Technology that enables communication and collaboration.
  • A strong remote onboarding process.
  • Scheduled times for team and one-on-one meetings, recognition and social communication.
  • Transparent communication policies.

Without having the support provided by a shared physical location, owners and managers must find other ways to make remote workers feel connected, motivated and invested in the company's values.

The value of a strong remote work culture to the bottom line

Building a positive remote work culture at small and mid-sized businesses requires a commitment by owners and managers, as well as buy-in from employees. However, the results make it well worth the effort.

Improves access to top talent

When you have a remote workforce and an attractive remote work culture, you gain access to a much wider talent pool. Depending on the nature of your business, you may be able to bring in top talent from around the country or the world. This gives small businesses a competitive advantage over companies that use only local workers, even if those companies are larger and have more resources.

Boosts employee retention

Without a strong remote work culture, employees working at home can feel isolated, lonely and adrift. They may be unable to develop bonds with their fellow workers. If they don’t feel like they are part of a greater whole, they will have little reason to stay with the company. They might leave at the first sign of an attractive opportunity elsewhere.

Increase productivity

Engaged employees are more productive. When employees feel valued and included in the company culture, they will be more likely to identify with the company’s goals and be enthusiastically committed to the business’s success.

How to foster a positive and engaging remote work culture

Your remote teams have different needs than employees who work only in the office. Remote team members need the company’s leadership to provide better communication, more structure and greater transparency. These changes can’t simply be added onto your company’s existing way of doing things. Instead, you need a “remote first” mindset, where the elements of your remote work culture become an essential part of your company. These steps will help build a strong culture in which employees working at home can thrive:

Hire people who are well-suited to working remotely

To get an engaged remote workforce, start at the beginning with hiring the best fit employee. Take your time during the hiring process, and look for new hires who are aligned with what the job and business and consider these:

  • Love what they do.
  • Have a great track record.
  • Don’t need a lot of direction.
  • Are self-disciplined.

Guide new employees into the culture

You can help your new hires feel included right off the bat if you have an effective remote onboarding program. Some ideas to increase employee engagement from the start:

  • Consider giving each new hire an assigned “buddy” they can go to with questions or concerns.
  • Have informal virtual meetings that include people from outside the new hire’s team.
  • If you have at least several new hires, set up a group channel where they can meet at scheduled intervals throughout their first year.

Build relationships

On-site workers build bonds by having casual conversations in the office, going out to lunch, getting drinks after work, and being a part of office events. About 53% of remote workers in the Pew study said the arrangement hurts their ability to connect with co-workers. You need to provide opportunities for employees working remotely to get to know each other. These can include special events, such as company retreats, that bring people to the same location. But for the most part, policies and technology will play the biggest role in connecting workers on a day-to-day basis. Of course, this is especially true at a remote company that has no central office.

Keep information flowing

Casual interactions in the office not only help build bonds, but they also keep information flowing. Remote employees can feel out of the loop if you don’t make sure they have ready access to the information they need to do their best work and to feel like they are a part of things. Most information for your remote teams should be written to make it easy for each team member to access it on their own schedule.

Encourage work-life balance

In the Pew study, 71% of people who work remotely at least part of the time said it helps their ability to balance work and their personal lives. While some employers fear that remote workers will slack off, the problem more often goes in the opposite direction. At-home workers tend to put in excessively long hours and feel that they are always "on call." This is a recipe for burnout, so make sure your company operates in a way that values spending time with family and pursuing interests outside of work.

Set expectations

Employees who work in an office are expected to adhere to certain behavioral norms. These may be enforced informally, or may be spelled out in an employee handbook. When building culture for a "remote first" mindset, your handbook must cover a wider range of situations. For remote workers, you may have to make explicit rules about conduct and dress for video-conferences. For example, you might require employees to appear on camera for group meetings. If you need your employees to be working specific hours, you should set a clear rule about punctuality.

Use communication technology effectively

Give your remote workers all the technology tools they need to communicate with their teammates and managers. The right technology not only enables employees to communicate in all the ways that are essential to performing their jobs, but also helps create the bonds that are so important to employees feeling engaged and included. Technology is even a recruiting tool, as potential employees often prefer to work for companies that provide cutting-edge tools.

In addition to video conferencing or other technology that you use for formal meetings, make sure you have channels where employees can communicate informally that will provide the virtual equivalent of an office break room. In addition, encourage asynchronous communication that allows people to absorb information when it's most productive for them. For example, rather than requiring attendance at a Zoom meeting that occurs at odd hours in a remote worker's time zone, record the meeting so they can watch it later.

Encourage professional growth

A key way to keep employees engaged is to provide ways for them to grow professionally. Provide opportunities for employees to learn remotely. Also, provide feedback on their performance and recognize employees publicly for outstanding work. Consider setting up a mentorship program. Make sure that remote employees know about openings within your company that are a good fit for them — and encourage them to apply.

The future of work is here

Unless things change drastically, remote work will continue to be a widely-used option in many companies for the foreseeable future. Indeed, many employees will insist on it. As a business owner or manager, it’s up to you to make sure that your company’s work culture is just as strong for remote workers as it is for on-site employees.

TriNet's services help their customer employees who work remotely feel connected. Employees can onboard conveniently and use the TriNet Mobile app to access payroll information, TriNet-sponsored benefits information and time off requests. Give your people the flexibility to manage their HR needs from anywhere.

This communication is for informational purposes only, is not legal, tax or accounting advice, and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

This article may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such web sites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

Additional Articles
ESAC Accreditation
We comply with all ESAC standards and maintain ESAC accreditation since 1995.
Certified PEO
A TriNet subsidiary is classified as a Certified Professional Employer Organization by the IRS.