Corporate Culture

How to Curate a Remote Work Culture of Transparency, Open Communication, and Accountability

So many of the fears about remote work come from it being seen as opaque. Not physically seeing people working holds a lot of managers back from embracing remote work.

But the truth is that remote work, when done well, can be highly transparent. In a company where people can’t physically see each other, how do remote work cultures embrace transparency, open communication, and accountability?

At last year’s TRaD*Works Forum (*telecommuting, remote, and distributed), being held again in September, leaders from remote teams at SAP, the remote company Automattic, and others discussed their best practices on creating a solid remote work culture.

According to these leaders, here are three of the most important ways to curate a remote work culture of transparency, open communication, and accountability:

1. Start on day one with remote-friendly onboarding.

Whether you’re just creating a remote work program, launching a remote company, or building your remote work culture in an existing organization, instill the culture from a person’s first day.

Onboarding is vital, says Marjorie Asturius, happiness engineer at Automattic. “Many of our employees might not meet anyone from Automattic after they’re hired, so being able to onboard them and immediately integrate them into the culture is a really important part of what we do.”

An onboarding strategy helps remote workers get accustomed to the remote company’s culture, norms, policies, and general atmosphere faster. The onboarding process is a time for new recruits to learn how to function within the company, and who they can go to for help.

SAP also pays particular attention to onboarding, which senior director of global diversity Nicole McCabe says helps to answer many of those little, but important, new hire questions. “The onboarding conversation with new team members also covers nuts-and-bolts concerns, like how frequently team members may need to come into the office, if at all,” says McCabe.

2. Cultivate communication in all forms.

Automattic’s marketing manager, Sara Rosso, and head of human resources, Lori McLeese, make it clear just how important communication is to remote teams.

“Our creed includes the statement, ‘I will communicate as much as possible because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company,’” they say.

Most remote companies use a variety of tools to help staffers effectively communicate: obvious choices like email, phone, and IM, and more creative options like virtual office environments, message boards, and video meetings.

But tools are not enough. Managers need to be trained to promote and encourage excellent communication, and to model it themselves, says FlexProfessionals Co-Founder and Partner Sheila Murphy.

Murphy says the most important elements of a remote team are “trust, trust, trust and communication, communication, communication.” Murphy recommends assessing “the management skills of the team member who will be managing the remote worker. Micro-managers, managers with poor communications skills, and those with control issues are going to have a hard time adjusting.”

3. Help people to be accountable for their wins and losses.

It’s, of course, much easier to sing someone’s praises than it is to call them out on their mistakes. And if you’ve made a mistake in a remote environment, it’s tempting to lay low, hoping that mistake will blow over.

That’s why it’s critical to encourage remote workers to speak up when they either find a mistake or make one themselves.

At FlexJobs, workers are encouraged to not make assumptions about the motives behind a mistake. Our mistake motto is “assume mistake over malice” so that we’re not making unfairly negative assumptions about someone’s motivations.

Curating a remote work culture of transparency, communication, and accountability takes mindful planning and execution.

Create a transparent onboarding process to instill the norms of your company’s culture and functioning from day one; use communication like oxygen and provide a variety of tools for workers to “breathe”; and help people take responsibility for their beauty marks, warts and all.

The good news for anyone charged with building a remote workplace culture is this: you’re building the very foundation upon which your team or company will thrive.

Carol Cochran is the Director of People & Culture at FlexJobs and Remote.co, the hosts of this September’s 2nd annual TRaD*Works Forum (*telecommuting, remote, and distributed). Carol has helped to grow a remote team of more than 90 people and she has extensive hands-on experience and knowledge in recruiting, managing, and engaging a 100% virtual team.