Can long-distance relationships work?

This question doesn't only apply to your personal life — it's one you should ponder in a professional setting as well.

More and more companies are offering remote work as part of their benefits package. The 2019 State of Remote Work report found that it's an offering that attracts high-performing, loyal employees. Remote workers saying they're 13% more likely to stay in their current job for the next five years than on-site workers are.

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Of course, a relationship looks different when you don't see the other person for long periods of time. How do you ensure a positive culture in the workplace when your employees aren't all gathered in the workplace?

Thankfully, there are a variety of tools you can implement to nurture the strong remote company culture of your dreams.

It's important for your remote employees to love "coming into work" just as much as the ones that physically come into the office. The following tools help remote workers feel more connected to their work and their colleagues.

1. Project Management Tools

A great culture is built on trust. If you're constantly messaging your remote workers asking about their progress on a project, it's going to feel like micromanagement and distrust. But without being able to see for yourself what remote employees are doing, you can feel out of touch. Lean on a project management tool to be your eyes and ears.

Tools like Asana or Trello give you a birds-eye view of how a project is progressing, who has completed what tasks, and the roadblocks that may be holding the project hostage. You can encourage each employee to have their own workspace or board within the tool you use to track everything they're working on and what stage it's in, so all you have to do is pop in and look.

2. Video Conferencing Tools

Face-to-face communication is still integral to employee happiness and engagement. Implement a video conferencing tool and use it during every meeting. It's far more engaging to see facial expressions and body language than to simply listen to voices coming out of your laptop or phone.

Video conferencing also helps with recognition. As more employees join your team, it can be hard to recall who is who when all you see and hear is a name. But put a face to a name, and suddenly the person begins to evolve and take shape. Ask each new employee to introduce themselves with the video conferencing tool to the rest of the team. This immediately establishes them in the minds of their teammates, despite not showing face in the office every day.

3. Internal Communication Tools

Encouraging chitchat on the daily is extremely important. When people aren't in meetings together, they should still have a way to interact. Internal communication tools like Slack offer an opportunity for colleagues to get to know each other as they would when taking a break in the kitchen.

An internal communication platform can be a great venue for colleagues to showcase their personalities with GIFs, custom emojis and immediate responses. While you should monitor this to ensure it doesn't become distracting, a playground for bonding is important for coworkers to feel valued and connected.

4. Shared Calendars

In an office, you can casually keep up with people's comings and goings, but in a remote company, it's difficult to be aware of when people are available, when they need to take a lunch break, or when they have a dentist appointment. Having a shared calendar can combat this.

Encourage your employees to keep it up to date, especially when they will be offline during the workday, so there are never any questions as to where they are and why they aren't responding.

I also highly recommend using a shared calendar to plan an event where everyone does get together in person, if such a thing is feasible for your company to offer. I suggest meeting bi-annually at a minimum. The remote employees you fly in will know that they matter, and it will create fond memories of the company and their colleagues that they've only seen over video.

5. Team-Wide Games

One way to encourage inside jokes and interpersonal connections is through a game. It doesn't have to be a software you install — it can be as simple as trivia questions that are sent to everyone in the morning, a fantasy sports bracket, or something related to a show most of the team watches (The Bachelor bracket, anyone?). It's a natural way for everyone to interact without talking about work and may reveal some fun quirks about your coworkers.

6. Real-Time Collaboration Tools

If two people are working on a project together, it can be tough to collaborate without the ability to stop by each other's desks and physically point to what's being discussed. Even over an internal communication tool like Slack, it can be difficult to describe what you're suggesting. This is where tools like Google Docs come in.

Real-time team collaboration tools allow you to highlight and call attention to what is being discussed. You can leave comments and suggestions on the page while your colleague looks at it at the exact same time. This will clear up a lot of potential miscommunication.

7. Strong Company Values

Your company values are tools you should be leaning on to better develop your culture. I recommend documenting them in a shared space so everyone can easily reference them at any time. Not only that, but it's important to tie these values back to other documented guidelines, such as expectations, goals, processes, and more.

These core values will be everyone's north star no matter where they are in the world. Point to them if anything gets out of hand, such as the internal communication platform or an employee's behavior during a meeting. Values are also essential to helping employees feel like they're all working toward a common goal and a company they believe in.

8. Employee Engagement Surveys

It's important to take a temperature check regularly on your employees and their happiness. Asking upfront may not give you the honest, candid answers you were hoping for; instead, use a survey tool such as TinyPulse to send out scheduled, anonymous questions to your employees. This offers them a safe space for employees to voice their concerns without fear of repercussions. You're more likely to get helpful insights on how they are feeling this way than in a direct Slack message you send.

Remote relationships take work.

Creating and nurturing a healthy remote culture takes time and effort, but don't let that dissuade you from doing it. On the contrary, remote company cultures often reap many benefits from taking the chance. With these eight tools at the ready, you're on the right track to creating a great environment anyone, no matter location, will want to work at.

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