In early 2020, the future of remote work arrived with a jolt. The COVID-19 pandemic upended years of business forecasts and research into the shifting trends of how we work.

What lessons have we learned in the grand experiment of remote work? How do we take those lessons and create a positive online workplace culture?

The Advantages of Remote Work

According to a Gallup survey, the remote workforce swelled to a high of 51% in the spring of 2020. The surge has since eased, but the trend is clear. Working remotely, at least part of the time, is here to stay.

If businesses had been slow to embrace telecommuting before the pandemic, remote work’s forced adoption significantly changed those attitudes. In its January 2021 remote work survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that “83% of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company.”

For workers, remote work offers more flexibility and work-life balance. Businesses can reduce costs and access a more diverse pool of talent.

Foundations of a Positive Workplace Culture

What makes a positive office workplace culture also applies to a remote environment.

Key characteristics of a productive, satisfying workplace include effective communication, collaboration, high engagement, infrastructure, and environment. Sustainable remote work arrangements will translate a company’s values and culture, reflecting these attributes to a distributed workforce.

Intentional Communication

“Remote work takes a lot of intention,” writes public relations expert Hailley Griffis. “Communication, in particular, requires a lot of attention, or else it can be quite difficult to collaborate on projects and make progress.”

As Griffis suggests, communication mechanics are different when that colleague across the hall is now across the country. Being intentional with our online communication means we’re stretching other communication muscles.

It can help to keep the following in mind:

Be preemptive: Don’t assume anything is obvious. Don’t waste anyone’s time, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Be concise: Don’t wander around your point. Say all you need to say in as few words as possible.

Be positive: A big part of creating a supportive workplace merely is remaining positive. Without the visual and spatial cues afforded by personal contact, using appropriately positive language is essential.

“In remote work environments, so much rides on communication. Get it right, and you’ll strengthen your team,” writes content marketing manager Victoria Fitoussi. Be intentional about communication and you’ve won half the battle for creating a positive online workplace culture.

Collaboration and Engagement

Collaboration is accomplishing the required tasks to fulfill an organization’s mission. Engagement connects collaborators with a sense of mission, creating a team instead of a loose network of scattered workers. As with communication, keeping a remote team engaged requires intentionality.

“Teams should consider the rituals, traditions, or cultural elements they will enact as a team that is likely to build a positive team culture and instill a sense of pride and belonging,” says Zachary Herrmann in Edutopia.

Infrastructure and Environment

The internet is the factory floor of remote work. Any factory has a specific set of tools in place for its workers to do their job and complete their tasks. In a remote environment, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variety of options available.

“Many companies have cobbled together a Band-aid tool stack to address the challenges of distributed work,” says Tariq Rauf as quoted in Forbes.

Everyone on the team should be comfortable with the essential tools of remote teamwork. Examples of these tools include:

  • Video conferencing: Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams
  • Collaboration: G Suite, Asana, Active Collab
  • Cloud file storage: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive
  • Messaging: Slack, Teams

A positive remote workplace environment is uniquely dependent on technology. All the human elements—communication, collaboration, engagement—are mediated through a screen, app, and network. They should work together seamlessly with as little friction as possible.

The Influential Communicator

Effective communication is the glue holding a positive remote workplace together. It is one of the most important and sought-after skills in any business environment, especially the online workplace.

Professionals can master communication skills with the Influential Communicator Certificate program from Kelley School of Business Executive Education. With the certificate offered both online and in-residence, students learn the advanced communication skills required to shape a positive online workplace culture.