Flexible work isn’t just the future of work–it’s already here. Flexible work arrangements are a priority for top job seekers. If you need to recruit and retain millennials to keep your workforce up to date, don’t force them into an office from 9 to 5. Especially in a labor market where companies are competing for the best hires: offering flexibility is a plus! Relevant skills and character matter more than on physical location.

Of course, not all jobs can be done from home or the other side of the globe. But if you have deliverables instead of activity-based work: consider working with a virtual team and offering more flexibility.

Productivity

Studies have shown that remote workers can be happier and more productive. And with increases in HR tech programs that support remote teams, it’s easy to keep track of everyone’s work. In a study published in Harvard Business Review in 2014, remote workers proved both more productive and more loyal than their peers onsite. I recognize how much work you can do without interruptions..!

Monique Black, principal adviser for talent at Maco.la, says objectives and accountability are what drive the success of remote teams. Black says: “Provided you have a good team that works together then you can get more out of people who work remotely because you don’t have the interruptions of the day-to-day.”

Connection and Collaboration

Fifteen years ago, before we had our online culture business, we closed our downtown office and moved to the quiet countryside. It was too far to commute, and our employees continued to work from home as editors and coders creating websites and in-company newsletters. It worked well, though the technology wasn’t what it is today: no video conferencing, just e-mail and the phone. However, we had shared an office for years, so that helped. We also had clear deliverables and deadlines. We organized lunches now and then in a central place. We also took care to balance the task-person orientation. Ask about their work, but also about their lives. That took more awareness, more effort than in the office where it came naturally.

Robin Schooling, the head of people at Strio Consulting, agrees it’s important to replicate the “feel” of belonging. Schooling says she has organized birthday celebrations online for teams, and she notices camaraderie among workers even via an online platform. “Someone will post a meme, and everyone will pile on and be like ‘that’s hilarious,’ and they’ll have personal interaction,” Schooling says.

Socialize!

Diana, who followed our online Positive Culture Academy, works remotely in a sales team and is one of the managers, with half of the team in the field and one half in the office. She observed: “The staff in the office are more connected because they see each other every day. The field staff misses out on all that, and I feel like the office staff doesn’t try to connect with those in the field.” Based on the Academy, she made a few changes: “We do lunch parties, and we invite field staff but don’t provide them with lunch, we invite them to join the call. I started to allow field staff a $10 lunch, so they can also eat something different, and tell us about their lunch, why they like it, do they go there often, and so on. It helps create a connection between field and office staff.” “As I’m working remotely, I also sent a few Starbucks cards to people in the office and scheduled coffee and a video call with them. People loved it!”

“We’ve seen a shift in the energy toward more positivity. The team is enjoying the more flexibility that we are giving them to connect with each other.”

Shared meaningful purpose

Another element to the cultural mix is a meaningful shared purpose to coordinate work. Unsettled’s co-founder Jonathan Kalan says about their company without an office: “How do we make it work? It comes down to meaning and culture. We believe that every single person on the Unsettled team is fully dedicated to the work they do.”

For Unsettled, creating a positive workplace culture is at the heart of maintaining a completely remote team. “We make a point on our weekly calls to not only dive into our goals, challenges, and accomplishments but to also dive into our lives.”

Autonomy and trust

“The typical mindset of managers and HR is people will screw around if we aren’t there to watch them. That’s a cultural issue that organizations have to address,” observes Schooling in the Talent Culture blog. That’s what we see as well. Employees are happy, productive, and grateful for working remotely – but executives have to let go of micro-management. You have to trust your people, but that goes for workers in the office as well. Who says they’re productive when they’re sitting at their desks? Their contributions and deliverables are the proof, that’s the same for remote and office workers.

Trusting people to do their work, trusting their professional decisions, giving them autonomy to prioritize their tasks, telling them “what” needs to be finished instead of “how” to do it: that’s what people want, especially millennials. Just a little more freedom, trust, respect, autonomy, and opportunities to learn and develop! This is an important element of a positive culture – and that’s why we’ve included “personal preparation” to the Positive Culture Academy. It helps leaders to let go of tight control, and to practice positive self-leadership as well.

Four elements

So, what kind of culture do you need to work with virtual teams and remote colleagues? Pay attention, as this is not just about remote work. Rephrase that question to: What kind of culture do you need to work with millennials? You’d need the four elements of a Positive Culture, as research shows. Different researchers might use other labels but all positive cultures have: Connection & Collaboration (being part of the team, knowing and trusting your co-workers, getting support if needed), Shared Meaningful Purpose (caring about the Why you do your work), Learning & Autonomy (doing things your own way without being micro-managed) and Positive Awareness. This last magic element doesn’t show up in studies about virtual teams and remote work. But all teams benefit from seeing “positive potential” and sharing positive feedback. This “positive mindset” can help leaders trust their virtual team members, and coach and support them. What would you need to enhance to develop a more positive culture in your office or remote team?

Check out the curriculum and see how you can develop a positive culture for your remote teams.

© Marcella Bremer, 2019. All rights reserved.

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