Building a Positive Remote Work Culture - Insights from Remote Work Expert Ali Greene

Sowmya Sankaran / Reading Time: 4 mins

Ali Greene is an experienced remote work consultant and advocate who has helped numerous companies successfully transition to remote and hybrid work models. She is the co-author of the popular book Remote Work, which provides frameworks and advice for organizations looking to embrace location flexibility.

Recently, Greene had an enlightening conversation on remote work culture with Shyam Sundar Nagarajan, the founder of GoFloaters. In this blog post, we'll summarize Greene's insightful perspectives on laying the foundations for healthy remote work cultures, transitioning established office-based companies to hybrid and remote, and the core ingredients of companies that "get it right."

Laying the Remote Work Foundations for Early Stage Startups

For early-stage startups that are just beginning to build their team and culture from the ground up, Greene stressed the importance of having clarity and alignment on what culture means in your organization. Without a clear definition tied back to core values, it's easy to default to unhelpful assumptions about rituals like daily standups or social activities being required to build culture, which may not make sense in a remote setting.

Greene advised startups to slow down and take time to articulate what their ideal working environment looks and feels like. It's critical to identify the right questions, instead of assuming you need all the answers upfront. As the team grows from 5 to 20 to 500 people, culture will inevitably evolve, so founders should focus on creating adaptable rituals and norms instead of permanent ones.

Laying the Remote Work Foundations for Early Stage Startups

For example, an effective asynchronous ritual Greene uses with her small team is a weekly planning template where they share availability, goals, requests for help, and deadlines. This provides transparency and accountability without unnecessary meetings. Other playful rituals like recognition at DuckDuckGo reinforce cultural values in a remote environment.

The key is to keep revisiting whether behaviors and rituals are serving current cultural goals, instead of just doing things because "that's how we've always done them."

Transitioning Established Office Cultures to Remote

For companies with established office-based cultures looking to make the shift to remote, Greene cautioned against underestimating the conscious effort required to translate norms and practices to a distributed setting. Too often, companies simply send people home with laptops and expect work to continue as usual.

A common mistake is assuming the social activities themselves built culture, when at its core, culture is about the behaviors people demonstrate at work. Without re-evaluating cultural values and realigning rituals accordingly, remote work inevitably gets blamed for cultural dilution. Instead, companies need to identify what values look like in action, and thoughtfully design new rituals to uphold those values remotely.

Transitioning Established Office Cultures to Remote

For example, an in-office culture of belonging might involve lunches together and an open floor plan. To nurture belonging remotely, leaders could introduce a regular virtual tea time,recipes channel, or monthly in-person lunches. This maintains the cultural intention in a location-agnostic way.

According to Greene, the key is remembering culture is about goals, not specific activities. With thoughtfulness and empathy, companies can successfully evolve office-based cultures for the remote environment.

Watch the video here:

Core Elements of Positive Remote Cultures

When asked to distill what enables companies to get remote culture "right", Greene shared four essential ingredients:

  1. Openness to change - Letting go of assumptions and rituals that worked pre-COVID, and embracing new behaviors, processes and mindsets. Remote culture requires companies to take a fresh look at how to operate and interact.
  2. Comfort unlearning - At all levels, remote culture benefits from a growth mentality and curiosity. Just because certain ways of working were successful in the office doesn't mean they still serve. There is much to learn and unlearn.
  3. Attention to nuances - Being extremely intentional about defining policies, expectations, rituals and norms for your unique remote culture. Never assuming shared vocabulary - defining what "remote" means in your company.
  4. Clear expectations - Once core cultural values and remote policies are defined, clearly communicating expectations and ensuring everyone understands. Ambiguity undermines remote cultures.

While rethinking deeply ingrained aspects of work is challenging, Greene believes companies willing to nurture these four elements are primed for remote success.

Final Thoughts

Transitioning to remote inherently involves growing pains and friction. However, Greene remains optimistic that as more companies thoughtfully chart their own remote paths, confusion will give way to clarity, and location-flexible work will become the norm.

Business leaders play a key role in shaping their organization's culture. By taking the time to intentionally re-architect company rituals, interactions and operations for a distributed world, they can build cohesive and thriving remote cultures. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but with wisdom and commitment, any team can make remote work.

Category: Remote

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