Since the COVID-19 pandemic, remote and flexible working has become the norm – but now employers are facing a new crisis in the form of the Great Resignation. Those companies that don’t know how to build a remote work culture may soon find their staff leaving the company.
So, what’s the secret to building a remote work culture? Having worked with expatriated remote employees for 30 years, here are William Russelll’s top tips…
Remote and flexible working were already set to become huge trends in the workplace, even before COVID-19. Indeed, one could argue the pandemic merely accelerated an ongoing trend.
In 2019, Owl Labs reported that around 30% of employees worked remotely full-time. By 2021, that percentage had more than doubled to 69%, while 50% of employees said they would never return to jobs that didn’t offer remote work.
With remote and flexible working now widely considered normal, employees are discovering fantastic new opportunities – as of 2021, 35 million employees worldwide had become ‘digital nomads’, employees who work remotely from a foreign country.
Still, there are many companies who are lagging behind in the race to build remote working companies. As of 2022, only around 16% of companies worldwide offer fully-remote working, while 44% don’t offer remote working at all.
Yet, nearly every employee (99%) told software company Buffer they would choose to work remotely at least some of the time, if they had the option.
Building a remote work culture
The question therefore is not whether your company should be switching to remote and flexible work – the question is how can you start building a remote work culture today.
Switching to remote work, and building your company’s ways of working around it, is the best way to attract, retain and engage your employees in the post-pandemic world.
Better yet, it could encourage your employees to become expatriates too, to move to parts of the world where they can broaden their and their families’ horizons.
At William Russell, we have 30 years’ experience working with expatriates all over the world, and during the pandemic we switched to a fully-remote model of working. Here are some of the tips we’ve picked up along the way.
Remote working goes by many names, all meaning roughly the same thing yet all slightly different.
Remote working implies that an employee has a fully-remote contract. In other words, there is no obligation for them to attend a usual place of work, e.g. on office, except in some exceptional circumstances such as for a meeting or event.
Working from home
Working from home is a colloquial term that means roughly the same as remote working. The implied difference, of course, is that ‘remote’ working means an employee has the ability to work from locations that are not their home address – and this may even include other countries.
Flexible working suggests that the employee works both remotely and in a physical location. Flexible workers can choose to work from home some days of the week, but are often expected to attend their office a certain number of days in a given week or month.
In any one of these cases, the company must be mindful that, at any given time, most of their employees will be working in a non-office location, and will often be working in isolation on a laptop.
This raises important implications: while on the one hand, 77% of workers believe they are more productive when working remotely, as many as 81% of (especially young) workers say they feel lonely. It’s therefore up to the company to ensure that their working culture translates to a digital environment – that employees feel part of the company’s missions, values and community when they cannot attend the office regularly.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a remote work culture, there are certainly some steps you should start to take today.
Stop trying to fight it
There is no longer a debate – the future of work is remote and flexible. With so many businesses now offering employees the chance to work remotely, those that refuse to get with the times will continue to lose employees to the Great Resignation and will therefore struggle to keep up with competitors.
If you haven’t already started building a remote work culture at your business, now’s the time to start.
Gather feedback from employees
Before you go gallavanting into writing new policies and building a remote work culture, it’s important to make sure you have considered your employees’ points of view.
A good starting point would be to circulate a feedback survey, asking employees what their concerns are, where they think your company culture could be improved and what tools they need to feel more connected.
Make sure managers are aligned
Great company cultures always start with great leadership. When it comes to delivering a remote work culture, you should start by making sure all managers are engaged with the strategy and that they know how to deliver it.
Managers should be expected to communicate more regularly with their staff, to inform them in a timely manner about any upcoming changes, and to continue to support their career progression.
Start by writing new policies and guidelines
You may already be thinking about the types of policies you would like to include in your remote working guidelines – but until these are written down in your employees’ handbooks, they will remain theoretical. Therefore, you may want to consider such clauses as:
- Can you ensure employees have the right technology to stay in touch with the business?
- And can you help employees fit out their home or remote working environments with ergonomic furniture, screens or other essential assets?
- How will you ensure remote employees’ remuneration, including payrises, promotions and bonuses, remain consistent with on-site employees?
- Will employees have the right to work abroad?
- Will they be expected to work the typical 9–5, or can they work flexible hours? (Remember, if working abroad, they may be in a different time zone)
Once you have updated your company policies and procedures, it’s a good idea to ensure they are communicated to staff and that any questions are answered.
Think about a communication schedule
Working from home can be a lonely experience, especially if an employee goes a long time without any direct contact with fellow team members.
Therefore, you may want to think about how you can schedule regular and timely moments of communication via video conferencing software.
For some companies, this takes the form of:
- Monday morning ‘stand-ups’ where team members share their schedules for the weeks and managers propose targets and incentives
- Mid-week ‘water-cooler, tea or coffee breaks’, where staff can take some time to enjoy a casual conversation over video conference
- End-of-week ‘wind downs’ – this could involve a short team-building activity, such as a quiz or an arts ‘n’ crafts competition, and perhaps a couple of beers
You should also encourage managers to have regular one-to-ones with their staff, where they can make sure employees are coping with their workloads, have what they need to excel and are able to raise any concerns.
Continue to invest in technology
We’re all familiar with video conferencing and instant messaging software, but we can probably all agree it has a long way to go until it can replace face-to-face interactions. Therefore, when it comes to building a remote company culture, it’s important your business is able to stay on top of the latest technological innovations.
By constantly reviewing and improving your software, you can not only help to make communication more seamless, but also demonstrate your commitment to building a great company culture that works for your employees.
The final, and perhaps most important tip is to add a personal touch to everything you do. Make sure your remote company culture is just like your in-office culture: it should be personal, authentic and original. It should engage every employee equally in order to help everyone feel involved. It should be built by your employees, for your employees. And it should strike the right balance between hard-working and plenty of fun.
Once you’ve nailed the basics, any bells and whistles you can add on top will help to differentiate your company culture from your competitors’, making your business more attractive to both new and existing employees.
The common consensus among journalists is that the Great Resignation is being driven by a desire among employees to seek more flexible and remote work, after the pandemic demonstrated that they are capable of not only surviving but thriving in this environment.
Therefore, whichever way you look at it, it seems remote working is here to stay – and that it will therefore only become more common in the future.
That’s not to say we will never work in offices again, but it does suggest we will need to re-think our relationships with physical work premises. Right now, the office is still the epicentre of company culture, but it’s only a matter of time before our company cultures become centred around our remote lifestyles.
While it may not seem like it right now, this will eventually prove a good thing for employers. Trusting your employees to get their jobs done, while also encouraging them to work on their own terms – and also giving them the freedom to stay home with the kids, work from a location they feel more stimulated, or even move abroad – will help to increase their loyalty to the company.
Wherever you move, we can help you safeguard your health
With the end of the pandemic in sight, there has never been a better time to think about starting a new life. There’s a lot to think about, but now there are more opportunities than ever for would-be nomads who want to take off and explore the world.
Wherever you decide to move, just make sure you have the confidence of international health insurance – it can give you cover in multiple countries. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.