Building culture when working remotely is a challenge and it's often an excuse to avoid remote work. However, many companies don't understand what is culture. You'll often see executives giving free beers, buying a foosball table, or giving some of those weird startup perks we often see out there. But that's not culture. Building culture is about actions:
- What your company does
- How they treat their employees
- How they treat their customers
- How people talk to each other
- How much time everyone expects you to work
- How open and transparent they are
- How diverse they are
Some companies might give you a free beer on Fridays and allow you to play video games a couple of hours per week during work hours. However, they'll ask you to work 80 hours/week. That's not a great culture.
When you realize that culture is about actions rather than perks, you'll realize it's not that hard to develop a nice culture while working remotely. Of course, team gatherings are still important. They're just not the most important thing while building a team culture.
Culture in any company (but especially for teams) should be an always-evolving organism. Make sure your handbook is always up-to-date and your team is always iterating to improve it. Things change and you should adapt to those changes:
Culture is best defined not by how a company or team acts when all is well; rather, by the behaviors shown during times of crisis or duress.
Making executives work remotely is a good way to speed up remote work adoption and improve the company's processes:
The quickest way to send the clearest signal that remote is the future is to start at the top of the organizational chart. Remove execs from the office, and you’ll quickly figure out what gaps you need to fill with tools and processes. If you force the executive team to work remotely for a meaningful amount of time (over one month, in most cases), you'll discover communication gaps, as well as voids in tooling and process.
If you're applying to a remote job, pay attention to the questions you should ask during your recruitment process.