Establishing a company culture is critical to maintaining team cohesiveness and business outcomes. Yet, today’s workplace is in constant transition, increasing divided by location and mobility.

Companies, big and small, are often spread out across multiple offices with employees working remotely, either full time or part time. This setup can make the feeling of workplace solidarity that used to come from sharing a single, steady routine difficult to replicate.

Having a remote workforce has its distinct advantages - more flexibility for employees, access to a broader talent pool and fewer operating expenses for everyone involved. But there are challenges, too. Defining a company culture when employees are scattered around the globe is no easy feat, and often leaves business leaders’ frustrated.

Many turn to technology to keep their task force united, deploying email, instant messenger, cloud services and social networks. However, this isn’t always as successful as it should be. A recent survey of UK and US professional services firms found that the majority of end users (75%) were shunning company collaboration services, for email, USB drives and consumer cloud services. The reason: the technology in place was too restrictive and unintuitive.

All too often collaboration technology is thrown at the problem, without regard for the end user needs. As the remote workforce grows, businesses must ensure that these employee’s needs are met - this requires more than just collaboration software.

The following are 3 tips for making your satellite offices and employees feel like part of the same solar system:

  1. Choose Wisely
In real life, people collaborate on ideas in the context of a document or project they’re working on. Rather than sharing it with everyone for comment or updates, they often want to retain control over who can see it and work on it. Remote workers must be able to replicate this process digitally with all of their team members.

To meet the diverse collaboration needs of their distributed workforce, many businesses end up rolling out different applications and tools. However, an environment where employees are using the different tools to communicate, collaborate and store information is destined to fail. This can also work in reverse. For example, email serves its purpose as a simple communication tool but when heavily relied on for collaboration needs like updating content, it often leads to missed or crossed messages.

When teams begin working in silo, details tend to fall through the cracks, documents are misplaced and the workforce becomes segmented - preventing true cohesiveness. A default platform that allows employees to ask questions, discuss projects and collaborate will create a strong sense of community and establish a unifying culture akin to the one created in the break room.

  1. Balance security with usability
Firewalls, which were originally developed to keep the bad things (like viruses) out, have become distracting barriers that keep people from doing their jobs. They make it difficult for employees, partners and even clients to access the data they need.

Businesses start to move faster and faster as they embrace new tools and solutions. To stay competitive and keep employees feeling confident with this momentum, they need to ensure your processes are sleek and refined. However, security shouldn’t be neglected. Instead, businesses must find a balance between robust security and usability for the entire workforce.

  1. Articulate values
The single most important component of any company culture is the value system on which it’s based. With a distributed workforce, it’s especially important to identify and articulate those values from the start because it isn’t as easy for remote employees to pick them up over time, as they would when working in a physical office.

Make a values list, develop a company manifesto, write a mission statement - do whatever it takes to clearly express what makes your company unique and explain what it values. That resource should form the basis for all major corporate decisions and set the tone for the workplace, whether that’s the company’s headquarters or someone’s home office. Employees who fully understand what’s important to their company feel more secure, act more confidently and usually perform better, no matter where they work.

As consumers, we collaborate, share and communicate seamlessly on a daily basis. It shouldn’t be that difficult for an organisation to borrow some of these same ideas and implement them at work.

Enabling a workforce to work remotely is both liberating for employees and advantageous for the business. Eventually, it will become the norm as workers gravitate toward jobs that give them flexibility and companies capitalise on the opportunity to grow faster and reduce spending. Until then, approach the concept of remote work intelligently and enjoy the benefits while still maintaining a vital, thriving company culture.

By Alastair Mitchell, founder of Huddle