3 Key Ingredients to Building the Best Distributed Workplace Culture That Your Team Will Rave About

Date: June 15, 2022
distributed work

“Elon Musk tells Tesla workers to return to the office full time or resign.”

“Google tells employees in Bay Area and other U.S. locations to return to offices in April.” 

“Weeks after returning to the office, Apple employees have had enough.”

These are just a few of the headlines circulating the Internet as companies continue to roll out new work policies or revert to old ones prior to the pandemic. Many employers believe that it’s simply impossible to build strong company cultures for a remote workforce; 62% of Canadian employers claim that maintaining company culture has been one of the biggest work challenges since the start of the pandemic and the increased amount of remote work.

However, employees feel differently. Many people have gotten used to working from home and are having a tough time picturing a being back at the office (the memes below are courtesy of Ricotta). In fact, 64% of employees would consider quitting if they are forced back to the office. Ian Goodfellow, Apple’s former Director of Machine Learning, is an example of this. He left the company in protest at the company’s new mandatory return to office policy (three days per week).

Workplace culture
workplace culture
Workplace culture

Many companies have been moving towards a hybrid or distributed-first work, while others have embraced this work model for a very long time:

  1. 1. Buffer - A social media scheduling tool 

“Remote work has been the norm at Buffer for many years now; we ditched our office in 2015 and have been hiring remote teammates since 2011…Over the years, our team has experimented and learned tons about productivity, tools, collaborating, communicating, and disconnecting as they each relate to remote work.”

- Hailley Griffis, Head of Public Relations @ Buffer
  1. 2. InVision - A design collaboration platform

“InVision has always been a fully remote company—CEO and co-founder Clark Valberg wants employees to work wherever they want, whenever they want, and he believes giving people that freedom can increase employee happiness and foster communication that’s better than that of many co-located companies.”

- Rachel Starnes, Content Creator @ InVision
  1. 3. GitLab - A DevOps software platform that automates the builds, integration, and verification of code

“GitLab has been all-remote since inception…We’re one of the world’s largest all-remote companies with team members in over 65 countries. The path forward requires you to rethink your processes, norms, and culture in a way that will serve a diverse and dynamic workforce, no matter where they choose to open their laptop.”

- GitLab 

A study by Gallup found that around 77% of remote-capable employees expect to be working exclusively remote or in a hybrid situation moving forward. In recent quarters, many other companies have announced that they are offering permanently hybrid and/or remote options for their employees - Spotify, Dropbox, and Twitter, just to name a few. It’s estimated that about 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022. 

As with all new structural changes and policies, moving to a hybrid or distributed-first work model can be a challenging transition. Bucketlist Rewards, has been going through this process over the past few years. Through trial and error, we’ve found that there’s a formula to building the best company culture in a distributed workplace. 

This article has been into 3 sections to give an overview of what distributed work means to us and how we’ve utilized this new model to help us build the best workplace culture: 

So, what exactly is a distributed-first work model, and what does it look like? 

In a distributed team, employees can work from anywhere in the world - of course, this is with the caveat that they’re able to be productive and complete their work, as well as collaborate effectively with other team members from the space that they choose. This means that it’s possible to have employees in different cities, countries, and time zones. There is also no centralized physical hub or office. 

workplace culture
Bucketlist Rewards is a distributed-first team

This model does come with many benefits for the company, such as reduced costs and increased productivity. But it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement as it also comes with many benefits for employees, including:

Flexibility throughout the day to achieve work-life balance - 81% of respondents report that the number one reason they want a flexible job is to have better work-life balance.

Freedom to determine what’s best for your productivity - 32.2% of hiring managers say overall productivity has gone up in remote employees. A follow-up survey found that 68% said it was going better than when they first started working remotely.

Reduced stress and time saved from commuting - 50% of respondents report that a top reason for wanting a flexible job was to reduce commute stress.

Overall, 97% of people say that having a more flexible job would have a largely positive impact on their quality of life. With the distributed work model, there’s an increased ability to prioritize personal goals and needs. It helps people find the time and capacity to:

  • • Work on fulfilling personal goals
  • • Spend time with family and friends
  • • Do things that make them happy and recharge 
  • • Look after their physical and mental health

How does the distributed work model impact company culture?

What’s often not discussed are the immense benefits that a distributed work model brings to a company’s culture. 

1. Creates a positive people-centric company culture

The focus of distributed work is on meeting employees where they’re at and creating a work environment where their needs are met. This drastically improves the team’s sense of well-being. Owl Labs found that 84% of people believe that working remotely even after the pandemic would make them happier. 

2. Brings diversity, equity, and inclusion

Having a diverse team improves team culture; 82% of employers have found that promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace has helped them attract and retain talent. Implementing a distributed work model where growth isn’t constrained by the limitations of an office allows your hiring managers to consider a wider range of candidates. It also promotes the inclusion of employees that have historically been unable to apply due to familial caretaking responsibilities or disabilities where commuting and office spaces posed significant barriers.

3. Attracts and retains a Superstar Team

Remote and hybrid roles have definitely become more popular and desirable in recent years. Robert Half International found that 75% of employees say a flexible or virtual work arrangement would cause them to choose one job over another. A distributed workplace will help retain existing talent and top performers; 78% of the respondents in a Crain’s Future of Work survey noted that flexible schedules and telecommuting were the most effective non-monetary ways to retain employees. 

3 Ways to Build the Best Company Culture For a Distributed Workforce

Fundamentally, there needs to be a shift in mentality and perspective when it comes to building company culture. With the distributed work model, the employee experience can vary dramatically. When distributed/remote practices aren’t at the forefront of everything the company does, it can leave people feeling excluded. 

”A hybrid-remote [model] is not the best of both worlds. A hybrid model can seem like an efficient solution to balance in-office and remote work. In practice, the employee experience varies dramatically when remote practices are not truly infused in everything you do.”

- GitLab

GitLab, amongst other distributed workplace leaders, has worked hard to ensure that all parts of its organizational structure have been structured with inclusivity and equality in mind. It doesn’t matter where the employee is working from; the policies, physical spaces, communication, access to information, and team events should be equally accessible to everyone. The goal is to avoid inequality - feelings that there are different tiers and levels of importance depending on where team members are working from. 

How would you describe your company culture today? What does it look like? And does the culture support the changes that the organization has gone through over the past few years? With that in mind, here are 3 ways you can build a company culture in a distributed model that promotes happiness and inclusivity in your organization. 

1. Rethink the way you build human connections 

The ideal culture promotes a space where employees feel comfortable with each other and there is a huge amount of trust and the ability to assume positive intent. When we think of building team relationships, we often think of large group outings or holiday parties. But, as Erin Hutchison, Forbes Council Member, so eloquently puts it, building team culture isn’t always about the big events. 

“I’d argue that an even bigger part of culture was about the simple things and the unplanned moments throughout the workday: Monday morning coffee, making connections and introductions when a new person walked past, and so on. For many companies, culture was largely built organically through personal moments that came together to shape ongoing attitudes and behaviors.”

- Erin Hutchison, Forbes Council Member

In a remote workplace, where spontaneous conversations and outings tend to occur less, opportunities for bonding and connecting need to be created intentionally. To build a culture that focuses on promoting human connections in a distributed workplace, try implementing the following tools and perspectives: 

  • • Utilize a virtual watercooler conversations tool, like Donut. It gives team members a chance connect outside of meetings, especially those who don't usually work together.
  • • Digital team events are different than physical ones, but that doesn’t mean there are fewer varieties to choose from. Look into virtual team experience platforms like Confetti.
  • • Add a fun check-in to the beginning of your 1:1 or team meetings to help people open up about how they’re feeling that day. How many of you have heard of the Rubber Duck scale?
workplace culture

"There needs to be a mindset shift away from work being purely transactional. We need to bring people together to talk about who they are outside of work in order to feel more connected and that we belong at work."

- Alex Schulte, Marketing at Donut

2. Rethink how you recognize people 

Recognition and rewards are aspects that are often overlooked when building company culture. 29% of employees haven’t received recognition for good work in over a year, if at all. And when recognition is given, only 26% of employees believe that they receive similar amounts of recognition as other team members with similar performance levels. 

Recognition, when done correctly, is an intrinsically critical piece of workplace culture, as it helps create bonds between employees and the organization. Employees who are recognized are almost six times more likely to stay at their jobs than those who aren’t.

Encourage peer-to-peer recognition

While traditional top-down recognition is important, peer recognition is one of the best tools for a great culture and lowers voluntary turnover. Since teammates often have a front-row seat to how their peers are performing on the job, peer-to-peer recognition opens up the opportunity for colleagues to give frequent recognition. Employees tend to spend less time engaging with their supervisors than they do with other colleagues; 76% of HR professionals agree that annual performance reviews are more accurate when coupled with ongoing peer feedback. 

Recognize each other for living company values

Incorporating company values in the process of recognition helps employees feel more connected to the company’s mission, vision, and values. Purpose-oriented employees reported 64% higher levels of fulfillment in their work than those who were non-purpose-oriented. At Bucketlist Rewards, we like to categorize the recognitions that we give out by our core values: Achievement of Life Goals, Getting it Done, Raising the Bar, Care for Customers and Each Other. These are the things that we value most, and we want to acknowledge team members for living by them.   

Rethink what sorts of behaviors should be celebrated

When people are publicly recognized, especially by management, it sets the tone for what sorts of behaviors are expected and encouraged. A common example is celebrating team members for working long hours. When other employees hear this recognition, it sends the message that working overtime is something that management values and wants to see. When working remotely, it can be hard to unplug from work because there isn’t a natural boundary between your professional and personal life. 

Studies show that nearly 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic work on the weekends, and 45% regularly work more hours during the week than they did before. This is a great example of a behavior that can be harmful in the long run, resulting in burnout. Of course, if someone were to work more out of necessity, their efforts should be recognized. But it should be made clear that it’s appreciated, not celebrated. 

To build a culture that focuses on good recognition, try the following:

  • • Don’t be shy or stingy with compliments, encouragements, and recognitions. Make the most of your existing company communications channels and email newsletters to regularly encourage peer recognition 
  • • Encourage your leadership team to model peer-to-peer recognition to give employees examples of how recognition should be given - a culture of good recognition starts at the top!
  • • Implement an employee reward and recognition program - such as Bucketlist Rewards! If you don’t have an internal platform that does this for you, creating a dedicated Slack channel works too.
  • • Add a recurring 5-minute agenda item to your weekly staff meetings and dedicate this time to giving kudos, thanks, and feedback to one another.

3. Innovate the way you work together successfully 

In an in-person environment where everyone is in the office during the same hours, it’s easy to stop by someone’s desk to have a quick discussion or have everyone in the same room with a wad of sticky notes to brainstorm ideas for the next big project. But about 37% of remote workers say that communication and collaboration pose significant challenges when working outside an office.

Communication and collaboration play such an important role in forming company culture, and it’s something that looks different in a distributed work environment. Companies have recognized this, and are making significant investments in their teams to ensure that employees can work together as effectively as possible. Investments in digital transformation are expected to exceed $2.3 trillion by 2023; this is roughly double what was spent in 2020. 

There are a plethora of tools that have been created specifically to help digital teams communicate and collaborate effectively. Our favorites include: 

  • Slack - Team-wide communication channel for conversations and discussions
  • Asana - Personal task lists and collaborative project management
  • Google Drive - Where we create, store, and share documents
  • Google Sites - Where we house our company wiki 
  • Zoom - For meetings and webinars 
  • Hubspot - Our CRM tool to keep everyone on the same page
  • Miro - A digital whiteboard tool 
  • Donut - Our most widely used team bonding tool
workplace culture

Here are a few more tips for effective communication strategies in a distributed workplace: 

  • • Move towards a culture that overcommunicates. Important announcements should be repeated more than once and in different channels to make sure that everyone is aware. 28% of remote workers report that they do not receive information about processes or policy changes.
  • • Be considerate and sensitive when communicating over email or chat - there’s no body language, voice intonations, or facial expressions. Make sure people know what you mean and your true intentions to avoid negative misunderstandings.
  • • Important work-related conversations that happen randomly and spontaneously between a few people need to be consciously shared with the appropriate people after the fact.
  • • Technological issues are common - be sure to let team members know if you are unable to hear or understand them. 

We’ll end by leaving you with another set of wise words from Erin Hutchinson:

“[Virtual workplaces] are an opportunity for organizations to step back, clearly define and articulate their cultures and focus on finding new ways to bring them to life through employees and for employees. As these moments catch on, people may start thinking creatively about how they can become better acquainted personally, more connected in their business goals and generally more fulfilled in their work lives.” 

Transitioning to a distributed or hybrid work model for the first time is a daunting task. To see how we (Bucketlist Rewards) have built our company culture around distributed work, check out this blog post about our journey so far.

Have any thoughts on the topic of building the best culture in a distributed workplace? We’d love to connect to chat more! Email Rebecca at rebecca@bucketlistrewards.com

Curious about Bucketlist Rewards and the impact we’ve had on team culture? Contact us for a product demo with one of our friendly Culture Evangelists to learn how Bucketlist’s employee reward and recognition software can help you keep your team happy and engaged. 

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