• Erin H


Company leaders and remote employees need to step up communication so everyone feels included.

What exactly is company culture? Who’s responsible for it? And how do remote workers fit into it?

These questions have been on my mind a lot the past few years. In my last two out of three jobs, I’ve been a remote employee (before it was the norm). In my most recent remote gig, I was a people manager and the only remote employee. I struggled a lot with not only how I fit into the culture, but also how to make sure my team felt like they were a valued part of it.

As more of us find ourselves in remote work situations, I think this is an incredibly important and timely topic to explore. So once again, I turned to my good friend and company culture + HR strategist Kelsey Ley to dissect how remote employees figure into company culture.

What is company culture and who's responsible for it?

In part 1 of this series, I covered what company culture is (and is not) and who’s responsible for it (spoiler: everyone). So when it comes to integrating remote employees into it, company leaders and remote employees need to step up communication to successfully navigate this new norm. Leaders need to find ways to intentionally include remote employees in the culture, but remote employees also have a responsibility to speak up for what they need to feel included.

More than half of remote employees say they feel disconnected from in-office employees—Hubspot

How company leaders can intentionally integrate remote employees into the culture

Remote employees add a new dynamic to the culture—especially if your company culture is based on team happy hours and in-office camaraderie. It’s why in my first blog I emphasized the need for culture to go beyond ping pong tables and company-sponsored happy hours. That’s not to say you shouldn’t include office benefits for employees who are physically located in one space, but bear in mind, those benefits mean nothing to remote employees.

As more workers find themselves in remote environments, now's a great time for leadership to reflect on the culture. Some great questions to start with include:

  • Does the culture you’ve created align with company values?

  • Do you understand the employee experience for in-office AND remote employees to offer meaningful benefits, rewards and recognition for all employees?

  • Have you surveyed your remote worker population to get a sense of their satisfaction with the company culture and compared that to in-office employee results? Is there a noticeable difference that needs to be addressed?

All employees, regardless of physical location, have different needs, but it’s important that all employees feel valued and part of the organization to reduce turnover, increase productivity and positively impact the bottom-line.

People managers play an especially important role in managing culture. Consider:

  • How often do you schedule team meetings?

  • What is the format and cadence for team meetings?

  • How does your team meeting format integrate remote employees?

  • Because it can be awkward for remote employees to speak up due to delayed audio/video, are you asking for their participation intentionally?

  • How often do you have one-on-ones with team members?

  • What is the format for those meetings? Are you regularly asking about job satisfaction and career goals? What they need from you?

  • How often do you provide valuable feedback or reviews?

  • How do you engage your remote employees in team banter (tools like Slack are a great way to encourage team camaraderie)?

  • After a meeting, if you debrief with the team in the office, are you debriefing with remote employees as well?

Leaders aren’t the only people in the company responsible for ensuring remote employees feel like a valued part of the culture. Some of the onus is on remote employees as well.

How remote employees can impact company culture

Speaking up for what you need can be hard when you’re part of a team in one location, but it’s even harder when you’re remote and experiencing a time delay in audio/video and trying to figure out how to interject your thoughts and opinions over email or office communicator (where it often feels unnatural to bring up what you need and communicate without nonverbals).

One of my favorite methods to combat potentially awkward team communication is to set up a working agreement. If your manager hasn’t considered something similar, now is your time to shine, girl! Do some research on what a working agreement might look like to make you feel more included. For example, your team's working agreement may include no meeting debriefs happen without remote team members. This is a great team exercise, but a few proposed ideas for what it might look like is a great way to get the ball rolling and engage the entire team in defining and building a culture where everyone feels valued and included.

If you’re feeling excluded from the company culture, take time to reflect on how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling the way you are. Obviously, it’s important to address your needs with your leader, but by pinpointing why you’re feeling excluded, you can bring solutions to the table in your conversation with your manager—which often goes further than trying to solve feelings.

-- Kelsey

Kelsey Ley is a Company Culture Strategist & Leadership Coach. Over the past 10 years as an educator, artist, and program director, she's managed 200+ people in non-profit organizations, start-ups, and small businesses. Through organizational development, systems thinking, and the design of collaboration, Kelsey's current work focuses on building people-centered teams through virtual trainings for individuals and company-wide engagements.

Learn more about Kelsey and connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram.

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