Use This 12-Step Guide to Create a Thriving Distributed Work Culture in 2023

Elevate your remote work game with our 12-step guide! 🚀

The global shift towards distributed and hybrid work models shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, by 2025 upwards of 30% of the US workforce is projected to be working remotely in some capacity.

As more and more organizations make long-term plans to support distributed teams, company culture remains a top concern.

How can leaders cultivate connectedness, transparency, and trust in a virtual setting?
What policies and frameworks will take their company culture to the next level?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through the key steps for building a thriving distributed work culture that empowers your people to do their best work - no matter where they’re based.

Ready to analyze and enhance your own company's distributed work practices? Get started with the Distributed Work Audit.

This AI-powered tool delivers a 360-degree analysis along with personalized recommendations for taking your culture, leadership, and employee experience to the next level.

Table of Contents

  • Evaluate Your Current Culture and Policies In-Depth
  • Prioritize Radical Candor and Psychological Safety
  • Set Clear Expectations for Communication Rhythms
  • Audit and Upgrade Your Meeting Practices
  • Focus on Outcomes Rather Than Hours
  • Increase Transparency at All Levels
  • Choose Tools That Optimize Workflows
  • Facilitate Meaningful Virtual Connections
  • Develop Leaders' Distributed Work Skills
  • Continuously Gather Employee Feedback
  • Experiment and Iterate Regularly

Evaluate Your Current Culture and Policies In-Depth

Before making any big changes, you need an accurate picture of where your culture stands today. Resist the urge to make assumptions—instead, collect thorough insights directly from your employees.

Run in-depth surveys and one-on-one interviews to gather detailed feedback. Look at areas like:

  • Communication norms: Is communication predominantly synchronous (like live video chats) or asynchronous (like email and messaging)? Do people feel pressure to be always online and responsive?
  • Meetings: How many meetings are happening each week? Are they productive discussions or excessive check-ins? Do they have clear agendas and recaps?
  • Work processes: Is work well-structured with clear goals and timelines? Or is work assigned and tracked more ad hoc? What’s the balance between individual focus work and cross-functional collaboration?
  • Transparency: Do people have good visibility into what other teams and individuals are working on? Or is work very siloed?
  • Collaboration: Are people collaborating effectively across locations, roles, and teams? Which tools are they using—and are those tools optimal?
  • Policies: Do current policies fully support distributed work? Look at areas like working hours, PTO, learning budgets, travel policies, family leave, etc.

Analyze the findings from your surveys and interviews to pinpoint what’s working well versus what needs rethinking. This will provide a detailed roadmap for strengthening your culture.

Gain data-driven insights into your current distributed work practices with the Distributed Work Audit.

Prioritize Radical Candor and Psychological Safety

Trust is the foundation of a thriving culture—but building trust starts with transparency.

Radical candor means giving direct feedback—without sugarcoating critiques or avoiding tough topics. Psychological safety means people feel comfortable speaking up without fear of embarrassment or retaliation.

Make it clear that constructive feedback and challenging discussions are welcome. Train managers to have caring but candid 1:1s. Call out great examples of radical candor in action.

Psychological safety will also flourish when leaders role model vulnerability and openness themselves. Admit mistakes openly. Share when you’re struggling personally. Ask for input frequently.

Reward and recognize those who exemplify trust-building communication, even when it’s difficult.

Gain data-driven insights into your current distributed work practices with the Distributed Work Audit.

Set Clear Expectations for Communication Rhythms

With distributed teams, it’s essential to set clear expectations for communication rhythms across mediums like email, chat, and video. This helps avoid burnout and respect work-life boundaries.

Consider guidelines like:

  • Synchronous vs. asynchronous: Provide norms for when real-time communication is needed (e.g. brainstorms) vs. when asynchronous modes like email or task managers may be preferable (e.g. status updates). Make room for focused individual work.
  • After-hours contact: Discourage expectations of 24/7 availability. Managers should avoid messaging reports outside of working hours unless an urgent need arises. Enable quiet hours with tools like Slack.
  • Meeting-free focus blocks: Encourage people to schedule 1-2 hour focus blocks each day without meetings. Normalize declining meetings that conflict with focus time.
  • Internal communications policy: Develop a policy addressing communication norms across tools. Include etiquette like providing clear meeting agendas and recaps.

Gain data-driven insights into your current distributed work practices with the Distributed Work Audit.

Audit and Upgrade Your Meeting Practices

Too many ineffective status update meetings can quickly sap productivity and engagement. Reset expectations by:

  • Auditing meeting hygiene: Pull stats on recurring meetings. Do they have agendas shared beforehand? Are notes/action items captured? Do inactive attendees really need to be there?
  • Questioning by default: Require clear purpose statements on all meeting invites. Train managers to question the need for meetings without a compelling reason.
  • Trying no-meeting days: Consider banning recurring team-wide meetings 1 day per week or month. Explore if critical updates can happen asynchronously instead.
  • Alternating formats: Mix in walking meetings, standing meetings, workshops, brainstorms and other formats to keep things engaging.

Focus on Outcomes Rather Than Hours

With distributed teams, managers have less visibility into tasks and timelines. This is why output should matter more than hours put in.

  • Set clear goals: Ensure all workers have visible, results-driven goals—not just vague responsibilities. Use OKRs, progress tracking, or other goal frameworks.
  • Judge on outcomes: In 1:1s, review goals progress and end results—not start/stop times or minutes worked. Beware productivity theater.
  • Enable flexibility: Don’t limit when and how work gets done. Focus on the end impact. As long as goals are met, enable people to work when and where they do their best.

Gain data-driven insights into your current distributed work practices with the Distributed Work Audit.

Increase Transparency at All Levels

When distributed team members have wide visibility into each other’s work, alignment and connection improve. Promote transparency by:

  • Making project boards, calendars, and docs visible by default, not just on request
  • Creating central hubs for key initiatives, goals, and company priorities
  • Holding regular standups, demos, and knowledge shares
  • Using video calls and always-on cameras whenever possible
  • Over-communicating context around decisions and status changes

The more insights workers have into the bigger picture, the more empowered and motivated they’ll feel.

Gain data-driven insights into your current distributed work practices with the Distributed Work Audit.

Choose Tools That Optimize Workflows

Don’t just replicate your in-person processes online. Evaluate if your tech stack is truly supporting distributed collaboration by:

  • Surveying users: Collect feedback on where current tools are falling short. Are there productivity blockers or friction points?
  • Measuring adoption: Look at usage data to see if people are actively using all features.
  • Assessing new tools: Thoroughly vet new solutions against your use cases before buying. Pilot with a small group before rolling out companywide.
  • Streamlining workflows: Consolidate redundant systems where possible—having fewer, integrated tools is ideal.

Facilitate Meaningful Virtual Connections

With distributed workers craving different types of connections, take a personalized approach:

  • Virtual coffee chats: Use tools like Donut to automatically pair people up for informal peer bonding.
  • Small group activities: Offer recurring small events focused on different interests—not just “virtual happy hours.”
  • Peer recognition: Make it easy for workers to shout out teammates for wins, milestones, and exemplifying values.
  • Learning stipends: Provide stipends for books, courses, conferences, and other learning resources.

Gain data-driven insights into your current distributed work practices with the Distributed Work Audit.

Develop Leaders' Distributed Work Skills

Leading distributed teams requires new competencies best built through experiential learning:

  • Leverage experts: Bring in seasoned remote work specialists to share actionable strategies through workshops and 1:1 mentoring.
  • Role model vulnerability: Have leaders practice candid dialogue and exposing their own learning edges.
  • Run simulations: Use roleplay to practice conflict resolution, delivering feedback virtually, and agile decision making.
  • Share peer insights: Facilitate sessions where leaders discuss real management challenges and teach each other what works.

Continuously Gather Employee Feedback

Don’t treat your culture approach as “set it and forget it.” Continuously collect insights by:

  • Surveying employees: Regularly pulse your people to spot new challenges or opportunities to improve.
  • Reviewing data: Look for any positive or negative changes in goals progress, team engagement, trust metrics, or performance.
  • Facilitating retrospectives: Run regular debriefs where managers share what’s working well or needs adjustment.

Gain data-driven insights into your current distributed work practices with the Distributed Work Audit.

Experiment and Iterate Regularly

Use insights to inform small experiments and adjustments:

  • Trying experiments: Test small changes to policies, perks, processes, tools, or learning experiences. Measure the impact.
  • Iterating thoughtfully: Roll out tweaks thoughtfully, providing transparency into the “why” behind changes.
  • Repeating cycles: Continuously gather feedback, run experiments, analyze, and iterate. Expect to go through multiple cycles.

Adopting distributed work shouldn’t mean compromising your one-of-a-kind culture. Use this guide to build a thriving environment tailored to who you are—one that allows your people to do brilliant work, no matter when or where they’re located.

Ready to analyze and enhance your own company's distributed work practices?

Get started with the
Distributed Work Audit.

This AI-powered tool delivers a 360-degree analysis along with personalized recommendations for taking your culture, leadership, and employee experience to the next level.

Iwo Szapar

Iwo Szapar

Remote-First Advocate & Book Author

🚀 Remote-First Advocate & Book Author // Since 2017, shaping the future of remote & hybrid work as the CEO of Remote-how

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