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How to Foster Company Culture with Remote Employees

Creating and fostering the character of your company is imperative, even if your employees don't all share the same four walls.

My company is split up over several physical locations. There are offices in Massachusetts and Maine, plus employees and contractors in Chicago, Milwaukee, Las Vegas and many other places. Keeping in contact is simple. I'm more concerned with how to develop and nurture my company's culture.

Lest you think of "culture" as a luxury, know that it is everything to your business as an entrepreneur. Company culture acts as the DNA that helps shape your operational efforts. Here, then, are some tools and processes I've implemented that might prove useful in helping your company culture thrive.

Technology That Unites
We use Yammer as an internal "chatter" channel for Human Business Works. If you aren't familiar with Yammer, it's kind of like Twitter, but it's private for organizations. You can use it in lots of effective ways, from cutting down on internal e-mailing to creating a virtual water cooler. The latter is part of what keeps us happy. We share jokes. We talk about non-work stuff that we might want help promoting. (When she's not our project manager, Liz runs a bead store, and we help publicize her events). Generally, it gives us the sense that we're together.

GoToMeeting works well for sharing desktops and putting people together for teleconferences. We use it for internal and external meetings, and it helps us stay connected during projects. Though e-mail is a great way to communicate ideas, hearing everyone's voice adds a more personal dimension.

Out of the office
60 percent of employees believe they don't need to be in the office to be productive and efficient1

66 percent of employees desire work flexibility1

62 percent of employees believe they could fulfill their job duties at a remote location2

59 percent of employees say their company does not have a formal policy allowing employees to work remotely2

7.3 The average number of days people work from home annually2

(Sources: 1Cisco Connected World Report, October 2010; 2Microsoft 2010 U.S. Remote Working Research)

Skype adds a nice touch to our culture, because Rob, Josh and Anne are in Portland and I'm down in Massachusetts. I can log on and pop in for a quick team meeting and we can collaborate face to face. It's even nice to share the occasional long-distance beer with my colleagues via video chat.

We share files using Dropbox. We also swap videos or share graphics for upcoming design work. The ability to have information move back and forth in something other than e-mail makes for a more robust sharing experience.

The Human Touch
Tools are great, but there's also value in the human touch. One thing that keeps a virtual culture together is making sure that everyone, even at the most remote location, is consulted on ideas and given a chance to voice their thoughts. We've found that making a virtual culture feel as real as possible requires a blend of technology and attention to personal details.

A final point to consider: Celebrate the non-work stuff. Culture that builds around hard-working teams often tends to forget some of the "fluff."

But that fluff is the true connective tissue of business relationships. Team-building isn't an annual event. It's a full-contact sport.

Chris Brogan is president of Human Business Works, a small-business education and growth company. He is also co-author of The New York Times bestselling book Trust Agents, and author of Social Media 101. He blogs at chrisbrogan.com.

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This article was originally published in the May 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Vibrant Culture, From a Distance.

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