If you’ve been in an office lately, you’ve probably noticed that today’s workplaces look and feel a lot different than they used to. Open plan arrangements have replaced cubicles, sleek monitors and laptops have phased out clunky computers, and even the desks themselves tend to be movable and adjustable instead of stationary pieces of furniture.
But one of the biggest changes to the workforce is with the employees themselves—instead of gathering in one central location, many companies are adopting the distributed approach, where employees are scattered around the globe. This arrangement allows more flexibility with working locations and hours, but it also leads to a big question: How do you create a company culture and unify a workforce that’s not in the same physical space?
In order to make distributed employees feel more comfortable in your company, you should consider each stage of their employee lifecycle: what happens before they begin working for you, during their new hire onboarding process, and once they’ve become a regular contributing member of your team.
Let’s take a look at some ways that you can include remote employees in your company culture throughout their tenure with your company.
There’s no need to wait until an employee’s official first day to begin communicating and sharing information. Once you have a signed offer letter in hand, you can kick off the pre-boarding process. This is especially helpful with remote employees since these actions can show that you’re excited for them to be joining your team, even if they won’t be working in the same physical space.
Arm them with information
Make the most of the pre-boarding process by providing new hires with all the information they’ll need. The goal here is to make them feel welcome and well-informed about what to expect once they officially begin working for you. Send any type of paperwork or legal documentation for new hires to review and sign before their first day. You can also share everything from the employee handbook and other written guidelines to links to your company blog and other recommended reading materials. If your CEO has written or recorded a welcome message for new hires, be sure to send them the link. Remember that most new employees have a lot of questions and anxiety, and you can help to alleviate it by actively sharing information.
Encourage connection with coworkers
Even if people won’t be working in the same physical space, it’s helpful to encourage connection between coworkers. Ask the head of the department to let everyone know who will be joining their team and share the new hire’s LinkedIn profile so they can begin to connect and send personal welcomes to their newest teammate. And if your company has an internal wiki or directory, be sure to give new hires access to it so they can begin to learn about their future coworkers.
Companies are beginning to realize how big of an impact onboarding can have on employees’ decisions to stay with a company long-term. This is the critical time when you’ll be introducing your new hires to the working environment, their teammates, and their manager’s expectations for their role. Here are a few tips for onboarding your distributed workforce.
If your company has a central headquarters, it can really be beneficial to bring distributed employees on-site for their first week on the job. This gives them the opportunity to meet executives, teammates, and anyone else they’ll be working with on a regular basis, and it helps them observe and participate in your company culture from the get-go. Plus, it sends the signal that you are serious about including them in your company, even if they’re not physically there on a daily basis.
When you’re working with a distributed team, you’re likely to use a suite of tools to help with communication and collaboration. Make sure that your onboarding program includes time to introduce and train new hires in these tools. Even if a new hire has used a particular tool before, it’s worth taking a moment to explain how it’s used in your company—every team does things slightly differently! Taking the time to set new employees up with tools and training during onboarding means they’ll be ready to hit the ground running in their new role.
It’s becoming increasingly common for companies to pair new hires with a buddy or mentor to help ease their social transition into a new working environment. You can choose to partner new hires with someone from their own department or from a different section of the company (depending on your goals for the buddy program). Buddies can take new hires out to lunch during their first week, show them around the office (if they’re on-site), and generally serve as a resource for any questions that the new hires have about your company. This also helps take some pressure off the new hire’s manager, since buddies can field a lot of questions that might not be urgent, but are still super important (like knowing which channels to join on Slack or how to log in to the daily stand-up meeting).
On an ongoing basis
Once your remote employee has completed their onboarding process and become a full contributor to your team, you should be proud… but your work isn’t done! You want to continue to send the message that all employees are valued members of your organization, regardless of where they live and work on a daily basis. The ideas in this section will help you think about how to include your distributed employees in your company culture on an ongoing basis.
Showcase all employees
One easy way to make all your distributed employees feel included is by creating a visual representation of all employees and showcasing it in a prominent place in your head office. This can be formal (think professional headshots) or casual (photos of employees posing with their pets or other fun props that represent their interests or personalities).
Ask for input
Your remote employees may not be in your head office on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t include them in some fun aspects of office culture. Are you going to be naming your conference rooms or choosing a new color of paint for your walls? Ask them to submit their ideas and get involved in the voting process.
Keep everyone in the loop
Be sure to set expectations about the type and frequency of communication that employees should expect. Whether you’re chatting in Slack constantly, holding daily stand-up meetings in Google Hangouts, or sending out a weekly newsletter, make sure that everyone knows when and how you’ll be communicating with them. And speaking of video conferencing, something as simple as setting the camera at eye level (rather than above participants) can make the conversation feel more open and inclusive.
Find ways to make it fun
You’ll naturally want to maintain communication about what’s going on in your team or company, but it doesn’t have to be all business all the time. Try to find ways to include your distributed team members in fun activities, too. You can get really creative here—try organizing a worldwide costume contest or talent show.
Managing employees across different time zones and offices can be a real challenge. Even if you’re able to keep everyone informed of what’s going on, creating a culture that’s open and welcoming isn’t guaranteed. The steps I’ve outlined here will help you begin to think about how to move beyond simply communicating information and how to really set your distributed employees up to be active contributors to your company culture.
Want to dive into this topic even further? Check out the New Hire Onboarding Guide for more tips about onboarding remote employees.
See the guide