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According to Gallagher’s 2021 State of the Sector Report, 33% of executives now consider employee experience a mandate that should be addressed by top leadership. 

And it’s no wonder why. 

The employee experience affects everything from recruiting and retention, to productivity and the bottom line. So much so that when Willis Towers Watson studied the 30 highest-performing companies in the world, they found all of them invest a great deal in creating a great employee experience. 

It’s a leadership imperative successful companies can no longer ignore. But doing this, and doing it well, has its extra challenges when your entire team is distributed around the globe. 

As CEO of a remote-first company, creating a positive employee experience is one of my top priorities. It’s embedded into our company values, and it informs many of the day-to-day decisions our leadership team makes. 

This is not by accident. It’s been a very purposeful part of the company’s evolution. Why? Because our long-term success depends on it. 

The ultimate priority: create an employee-centric culture 

A pre-pandemic survey by Deloitte found that over sixty percent of employees say they’re more productive when leadership places high importance on their well-being. (You can be sure this is even more important now.) 

Creating a positive, employee-centric culture is important for any company. But for remote teams, company culture isn’t just one factor of the employee experience. It’s arguably the most important factor. 

When your team works from home, there are so many elements of their day-to-day work life you can’t control. You can’t ensure they have a quiet workspace or a productive atmosphere. You can’t build them a beautiful office with state-of-the-art amenities. 

But company culture is absolutely within your sphere of influence. And it can make a big difference for your employees. It just takes more work to make it happen when that culture lives entirely online. 

There are plenty of ways to create and maintain an employee-centric culture. But it all starts with leaders recognizing and reacting to their people as humans first, employees second. 

This might sound counter-intuitive. But I’ve found that the more we approach one another with flexibility, compassion, and understanding, the better we are as a company. Our teams work better together, our employees are more engaged and invested in their work, and we are all more productive. 

Every leader is going to approach this idea in a different way, but my biggest piece of overarching advice is simple: lead by example.

 If you give everyone a bonus day off to celebrate a company milestone, take that day off yourself, too. If you want your managers to give employees regular kudos for a job well done, then be ready to dole out the kudos on your end as well. 

A positive, employee-centric culture is made up of a hundred small, daily actions. Start small, act with good intentions, and practice what you preach. 

Keep a laser focus on connection 

Connection is important in any company, but it’s absolutely critical for remote organizations. It’s also more difficult to achieve. But not impossible, by any means. We just have to work a little harder at it. 

Creating a sense of connection is twofold. 

First, as leaders, we have to place value on fostering connections between employees. We need to empower our managers to do this within their smaller teams, and we need to create spaces for this to happen organization-wide. 

This can be through something simple, like encouraging team leaders to start each Zoom meeting with an icebreaker game, or using a Slack app like Donut or RandomCoffees to match individual employees for virtual coffees. 

Or it can be something more structured, like a company-wide Hack-a-Thon, a virtual cooking class, or a series of regional in-person retreats. My suggestion? Don’t just choose one way. Integrate as many of these ideas into your company culture as you can. You never know what people will respond to.

The second part of the equation has to do with creating a sense of connection to the larger organization. 

No one wants to feel like just another cog in the machine. To feel a sense of purpose and engagement in our work, we need to feel connected to the larger mission. 

We all know this is important. But as with everything else I’ve been talking about, it’s easier said than done in a remote company. When you spend most of your day alone in front of your computer screen, it’s all that much harder to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. 

In my company, we have several ways of working around this obstacle. To keep everyone in the loop, I send out a weekly update with the top three things everyone should know. Our leadership team is also mindful of regularly sharing customer feedback with the entire company, so people get a sense of the difference they’re making with their work. 

For leaders at all levels of the company, it’s also important to be especially intentional about giving regular feedback to staff. When everyone is together in the office, a lot of this feedback happens organically. In a remote setting, we have to be more purposeful about it. 

And finally, as leaders, we need to empower people to ask questions and seek opportunities to learn more about what other teams are working on. All of this helps them understand how their work fits into the bigger picture. 

Don’t forget the “office” environment 

As I said before, there’s a lot you can’t control about the day-to-day experience of your distributed team. As the leader of a remote company, you can’t do much to influence each person’s physical work environment. 

Or can you? 

If we think of the “office” in a broad way, there’s actually quite a bit we can do to help our people set up office environments that improve their employee experience. 

When a person works remotely, their “office life” isn’t constrained to the four walls of a building. Remote office life centers around the tools and technology we use to do our jobs, and around the work-life balance we set up for ourselves. 

For starters, give your people the tools and technology to do their jobs efficiently. With all of the remote collaboration tools available, this is pretty straightforward. But I do encourage you to keep an ear to the ground to make sure the solutions your company chooses are actually working for the people who use them.

Beyond technology, take it upon yourself to demonstrate and encourage a healthy work-life balance. When you work from home, it’s harder to create boundaries. Help your team members by demonstrating that a healthy work-life balance is a norm at the company, not the exception. 

Make clear that you don’t expect after-hours responses. Give “time perks” when you can, like a surprise afternoon off, or a bonus day after the team completes a big project. Embrace flexibility and trust your team to manage their own schedules. Trust begets trust. 

The more we recognize that the “office” goes beyond just the place where our team members park their laptops, the more we can empower them to create an office environment — and an entire employee experience — that helps them thrive. 

 

    Brent Chudoba is passionate about leadership, communications, and the modern workplace. He is currently CEO at Biteable, a global, fully-remote company. Prior to joining Biteable, he served in C-level executive roles at Calendly, Thrive Global, PicMonkey, and SurveyMonkey.

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