Engaging Remote Employees Through Culture

By Cathy McCullough

dateFri, Mar 13, 2020 @ 12:00 PM

With the recent spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Engaging Remote Employees Through Culturemore and more people are being asked to work from home.  Today’s business landscape was already changing to recognize that a lot of jobs can be done, or need to be done, from elsewhere.  This global pandemic has only spread up the process So, how do you keep these employees engaged in your own company’s culture? How do you connect with them in a meaningful way?

Organizational culture is a powerful thing, but it’s honored by the people who are sincerely asked to help create, and then sustain, it. It’s powered by the decisions people make each and every day, and since your culture is fueled by the degree to which you live your expressed Core Values, it should be the guiding force behind all decisions—even those made by remote employees.

How do you make these remote employees a part of your corporate culture? How to you bond with them? Here are a few suggestions for engaging and assimilating virtually located people into your company’s culture. 

6 Tips to Build Culture with Remote Employees:

  1. Manage Your Own Expectations. Studies show that off-site employees need more frequent dialogue than those that work on-site. Distance itself means that information simply doesn’t absorb the same as it does for those who are on-site. You talk with people in your physical location; you’d never think about doing that any differently. It’s a natural part of working within the same walls together! So, why do we exclude employees that work outside the physical location? It might be unintentional, but they’re frequently treated as if they’re on another planet (and the assumption becomes, “I don’t matter.” or “Who cares?”). Manage your own expectations with this realization and simply recognize that you might have to take an extra step or two to connect with and include these people in (a) decisions that affect them, (b) what’s happening at the company, (c) defining their own jobs, (d) offering input relative to what they need, (e) what’s going well and what’s not going well, (f) identifying where they could use your help, (g) reminding them of the company’s overall goals and why you do what you do, etc.
  1. Connect (Frequently) & Collaborate (Always). When you think of forming a cross-functional task force or temporary project team to drive something important to the company, include them. They may have to meet via the use of Skype or WebEx or some other such tool, but include them.
  1. Create Water Cooler Time. Create space and time for chit-chat about most anything by employing the use of an online instant chat box or intranet. One of my clients uses Yammer, but there are other such tools available as well. Use this virtual “space” for sharing exciting news, announcing new hires, praising a job well done (especially for off-siters), sharing good ideas, celebrating customer satisfaction scores, sharing a story that demonstrates someone in a moment when s/he lived a Core Value, sharing a story of how what the company is doing makes a difference, etc. Keep it upbeat and focused on good news or on what’s happening.
  1. Create Transparency. Set up your Rhythm Dashboard in a way that asks remote employees to check-in and status their own goals, or simply their own employee health. Feeling overwhelmed? Encourage them to status “Employee Health” as Red—and then you can know to reach out to see how you might help. Things going smoothly with no major hurdles? Status Green. You can encourage them, too, to utilize the Week-In-Sync notes once per week so they can share what their priorities are for the upcoming week, etc. Finally, have each remote employee complete a Job Scorecard (which you can now do in your Rhythm Dashboard), and then set up a place for the employee to status (each week) the degree to which s/he is having success at reaching the intended results.
  1. Make Protecting Your Company’s Culture a Priority. Prioritize an inclusive culture. Make inclusion of remote workers a top priority when working through a problem, when solving a company issue, etc. Include more than a mere mention of your culture as you onboard every single new employee. Show videos; share stories; talk about why it’s important; suggest ways that remote employees add value to the company’s culture; set expectations around adherence to your Values; give a contrast and compare example of making a decision based on randomness (or on the flavor of the day, or rash decision-making due to an overly booked schedule, etc.) and then demonstrate that same decision made in a more intentional, and thoughtful, manner using your Values as guideposts. 
  1. Make It Personal. If someone remote reports to you, log it on your calendar to call them once per week. Between calls, email them with interesting information or simply just to touch base. Share something personal about your own upcoming weekend. Ask about their kids. Note birthdays and anniversaries…and call or at the very least, email a celebration note. Once a month or once per quarter, write a handwritten note. 

Nine Seconds: Building a strong and engaging company culture is hard work that requires focus and discipline, as well as that precious thing called time. I think most of us just think we’re too busy to do it like it should be done. I equate it to a recent group of people within a community who were upset because a school crossing was requested, which would mean everyone would have to slow down to 20 mph as they traveled this main thoroughfare through their fine city. You would have thought this was a radical request! So, the superintendent of the school had a study done, asking: How long does it take a car, going the speed limit, to get from the west intersection on one end of this main street to the east intersection? Then, how long does it take if cars have to slow down to 20 mph for a school zone?

The difference? Nine seconds. And in just nine seconds, severe injury (which had recently occurred) could be avoided. A life might even be saved. 

So take nine seconds to recognize the ROI of building a culture that will serve you and your company well into the future, and that culture includes every single employee working for you, no matter where they’re located. Take nine seconds to brainstorm one new idea for including remote employees. Take nine seconds to share three words that describe an awesome remote employee (and then take a few more seconds to share that with your company). And so on… 

You invest in your culture and it will give back to you in multiple ways. Employees may leave your company from time-to-time, but even when they leave they will be champions of all things “Your Company.” They will always know they left YOUR company—because they were clear about who they worked for in spite of their remote placement. Your company’s culture is its DNA—it’s unique to your company. But you have to feed it, nurture it, grab it, work it, build it; it’s all things your company stands for. So, how would your people (especially your remote employees) describe your company’s culture in nine seconds? Would they look at you with a “space cadet” look because they have no idea? Would they be like the community group—frustrated because they were being asked to take nine seconds out of their day to potentially save a life? Or, would they be immediate champions, finding that they don’t mind taking more than nine seconds to rattle off excitedly what it’s like to work for your company?

All you have to do is honor what you want to accomplish as you grow a profitable company and recognize the catalytic mechanism that a viable and inclusive corporate culture can be.


Download How to Engage
Remote Workers Guide

Want more information on Engaging Remote Employees? 

Take Our Team Accountability Assessment to see how your team stacks up.

Engaging Remote Employees Through Culture

How to Engage Remote Employees

Managing Remote Employees: 5 Best Practices

A Better Way to Manage Team Performance

5 Steps to Having a Productive Virtual Monthly Meeting

Company Alignment: The CEO's Roadmap to Organizational Bliss

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Cathy McCullough


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images