How Leaders Create a Thriving Culture While Working Remote

Corporate culture and discipline illustrated by office subjects in strict order

Culture has always mattered. It impacts performance, engagement, retention, and employee satisfaction. However, culture has never been more critical than it is right now. 

The idea of “culture” has been misused and misrepresented, so let’s level set on what “culture” really means. “Culture” comes from the Latin word “colere,” meaning “to cultivate.” I define company culture in Building the Best as, “The shared beliefs and values that guide thinking and behavior.” 

A leader’s job is to ensure their culture promotes effective thinking and positive behavior regardless of the circumstances. 

John Eades

Right now, a vast majority of companies and teams are working remotely. The list of companies who have made announcements of a fully remote workforce for the rest of the year is long and includes huge tech giants like Zillow, Apple, Google, Dropbox, and Twitter.  

With culture being the shared values and beliefs that guide thinking and behavior, staying remote makes the continued alignment even more challenging. Here are just a few of the reasons why:

  • Distance between team members
  • Limited opportunities for effective communication
  • Distracting priorities
  • Conflicting attention

Like most challenges, the payoff of success is great. If you want to build and develop a thriving culture while leading a remote team, lean into these four strategies:

Safety First

Before anyone can perform at their best while working remotely, they first need to feel safe and protected. Since Covid-19 puts a wrench right into physical safety that previously existed, we are going to focus on safety in two critical areas: 

  1. Job Security
  2. Psychological Safety 

First, while no job is 100% secure, it’s tough to create a thriving culture if people are worried about their job. At best, you can define the reality of the current economic impact on the business to provide transparency and candor. Second, employees need to feel psychologically safe enough to share ideas and feelings without fear of any repercussions.

Unity Even While Physically Apart

Feeling like you’re part of something bigger than yourself feeds productivity and innovation. The hardest part of remote work is the natural siloes, loneliness, and general separation it creates. While Zoom and other technologies help the cause, it’s not the same as sitting shoulder to shoulder with someone and rolling up your sleeves together. 

While there is no magic pill, nothing creates unity like achievement or working through a conflict. All the virtual coffee breaks or virtual happy hours in the world put together won’t help a team come together like a team coming together to achieve a common goal or overcoming a struggle.  (Pro Tip…Use a tool like Peoplebox to define OKR’s and measure them with a remote team)

Your job as a leader is to create clear short-term team goals and make every team member aware of their role in helping achieve that objective.  

John Eades

Positive Beliefs and Reinforced Values

Beliefs drive your actions, and actions drive results. If your team’s beliefs are optimistic and positive, good things will continue to happen. Positivity is inspired from the top-down, and it’s contagious. One of my favorite ways to do this with a remote team is to make a video like this:

Once you have the positive beliefs reinforced on a day in and day out basis, remind yourself and the team often about your shared values (the fundamental beliefs you hold to be true). If you haven’t reminded your remote team of your values, set up a culture meeting next week to reinforce them. If you don’t have your shared values defined, that meeting is a great time to do so. 

Elevate the Energy

Energy keeps your team going and impacts the intensity and speed at which people perform. High energy yields high performance.  

Since you have probably already been on three or more video calls today, you have seen your people’s body language and facial expressions. Were they excited and ready to attack the problems they are responsible for solving or were they lethargic?

Leaders set the team’s energy and are responsible for elevating energy when it drops. 

John Eades

Use strategies like a Maximizing mantra or a reward the team would care about to help elevate the energy.  

Closing

Building and strengthening culture is part of your job as a leader. Since remote work is here and here to stay, it’s time to get serious by evaluating the safety, unity, positivity, and energy that exists today. 

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

5 Ways Great Leaders Create High Performing Teams

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out some professional teams are higher performing than others. Not only do high-performing teams contribute to better business outcomes, but their team members embrace the daily challenge to solve problems and achieve things together.

A team, by definition, is a group of individuals working together to achieve a goal. While the definition is simple, almost everyone has been a part of a group of individuals who weren’t working to achieve a collective goal.  

There have been many incredible studies about what makes a team successful. Including Google’s two year study that found there were five characteristics of enhanced teams, with the most important being psychological safety. While psychological safety is important, there is another common thread of all high performing teams, and it consists of two words: great leadership. 

Teams without great leadership might have periods of success, but it’s literally impossible to sustain that success without great leadership. Here are five things leaders do to help make their teams more successful:

They know they aren’t the only leader on the team.

Conventional wisdom would say the person at the top of the proverbial food chain is the only leader, but that would be wrong. In order for any team to reach heights they never thought possible, it needs leaders at every level whose behavior reflects what it means to be a leader. 

While this can be difficult to institutionalize, it starts with changing your mindset that you, in fact, aren’t the only leader. Once your heart and mind are in the right place, you have to teach others what it means to be a leader and why it’s so important they lead right where they are. 

They have quality and productive meetings.

A recent estimate suggests that employees endure a staggering 55 million meetings a day in the United States. This tremendous time investment typically yields only modest returns. In a recent interview on the Follow My Lead Podcast, Steven Rogelberg, author of the new book The Surprising Science of Meetings said, “In many ways, meetings are the building blocks and core elements of our organizations. They are the venues where the organization comes to life for employees, teams, and leaders.”

You can have quality and productive meetings by narrowing your focus on the purpose of each meeting and making sure each person attending is included in the discussion. While this can be difficult, there might be nothing more important in your business than having meetings that matter.

They focus on elevating others.

After interviewing hundreds of leaders and completing over 35,000 assessments of organizational leaders, I have come to define leadership this way:

Someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others over an extended period of time.

There are two key words here; elevate others.

If you want your team to come together and achieve a goal, it requires you focus on elevating others on a daily basis. You cannot take a hands-off approach to leadership, but instead must be involved by challenging and coaching people to elevate their performance.  

They lean into the journey.

Leading a team today is more difficult than ever because of the constant pressure from the outside to create positive results immediately. While the best leaders absolutely care about the results, they lean into the journey instead of the results. Gary Vaynerchuk who preaches the importance of this all the time said during a recent interview, “if you don’t love the process of what you’re up to, you already lost.”

Gary is right. Get your team to buy into the journey and embrace the process. The only way to do this is to celebrate the day to day work ethic and behavior rather than just the outcomes.

They create a culture of accountability.

In many ways, the hardest element of leadership is being a leader of consequence and holding people accountable. Accountability is one of these words that has been used to the point that its meaning has been a bit lost. The actual definition of accountability is, “The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.”

The best leaders don’t look at accountability as optional. You can make accountability an obligation by giving praise to your people when standards are exceeded, acknowledging people when standards are met, and giving direct feedback if your people fall short of those standards.  

A Version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. He is also the author the upcoming book “Elevate Others: The New Model to Successfully Lead Today.” You follow him on instagram @johngeades.