Maintaining a successful remote work culture

By Tom Iler

This post is adapted from a Sourcing for Innovation podcast episode with Tom Iler, Catalyte’s chief product officer, on the best ways to maintain a cohesive company culture with a remote workforce. You can listen to the full conversation below.

With technology talent in short supply, many companies realize that the people they need don’t live within commuting distance. They need remote talent to deliver business results and get a leg up on the competition.

But how do you maintain a cohesive company culture with a remote workforce? It takes work to figure out how to be successful. But those that do will have a long-term strategic advantage.

Monitor outcomes, not activities

Leading a remote workforce differs from “traditional” management techniques. Leaders and managers must recognize and embrace these differences, and evolve their approach.

A major shift is moving from monitoring activities to monitoring outcomes. Set clear expectations for what those outcomes are and how you will measure employees against them. We use bi-weekly code reviews and team retrospectives as checkpoints. We’ve found that this spurs productivity, as developers understand their obligations and are motivated by a shared goal.

Build trust

Allowing teams to self-organize and deliver remotely takes a high level of trust. You aren’t walking the floor, micro-managing or observing every keystroke. But, with effective and proscribed communication channels, you can build trust.

At a minimum you should have company-wide standards for a video conference platform, chat program and the ability to screen share. Set protocols for how and when to use them, i.e. always turn on the camera for video calls. The smoother you can communicate, explain and understand exactly what needs to be done, the more you enhance trust amongst team members, regardless of location.

Don’t neglect social fabric

Company culture has both a business and a social aspect. You can’t neglect the latter and expect the former to prosper. Remote work doesn’t mean complete isolation (current mandated conditions excluded).

Find opportunities to bring remote workers together. A perfect time is during quarterly PI planning. Or, if someone is close enough to an office, encourage them to come in for important demos or retrospectives.

On an ongoing basis, let people be themselves and share that with coworkers. We have some teams that, once a week, allow a member 15 minutes to talk about anything important to them. Birthdays, project milestones or holidays are ways to bring people together for a virtual happy hour.

Flexibility

Flexibility is a main reason why top talent chooses to work remote. Flexibility of where to live and how to work while still delivering value. The focus on outcomes and foundation of trust enables this level of flexibility.

Writing this in the midst of the COVID-19 disruptions, flexibility takes on a new level of importance. Your employees need flexibility not just to balance work with lifestyle, but to ensure the health, safety and security of their families.

During times of uncertainty, remote workers need your reassurance. Connect with folks, communicate on a personal level, grant them the flexibility they need and put their safety first. This applies to current conditions, and also when this all is behind us.

I hope everyone stays well and we work through this quickly. If there’s any other information or knowledge we can share to make this period easier for you, please let us know at info@catalyte.io

Tom Iler, chief product officer