The remote-working model sprang to life in response to a global pandemic. While the business world urgently needed to make that model work, the fact that it was possible doesn’t mean we’re doing it well. Leading companies recognise that this is where the real investment starts.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to transition to remote work overnight. While some have welcomed the flexibility and autonomy of working from home, others have struggled to maintain engagement, collaboration, and company culture.
As more organisations adopt hybrid and remote policies for the long term, it’s clear that success requires more than just the latest collaboration tools. Companies must proactively invest in building culture, connection, and inclusion among distributed teams.
I recently spoke with Melinda Ramos, SVP of People Partnerships & Experience at Bounteous, about how her company has navigated these challenges. Bounteous is a global digital consultancy with employees distributed across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and India.
Start with a Foundation of Virtual Collaboration
Unlike companies that were office-centric pre-pandemic, Bounteous was founded as a remote-first organisation. According to Ramos, “We’ve been very much accustomed to operating in a virtual environment.”
This meant that practices like asynchronous communication, documentation, and virtual team building were already part of their culture. When COVID hit, the transition to fully remote was less jarring than for traditionally office-based companies.
Organisations that start with a strong foundation in virtual collaboration are better equipped for long-term remote and hybrid work. Rather than trying to retrofit office habits to a digital environment, remote-first companies build a culture optimised for distributed teams from day one.
Invest in Onboarding and Mentorship
To successfully onboard new hires in a remote setting, training and support must be structured and proactive. At Bounteous, every new team member is assigned a dedicated mentor or “career coach” who meets with them regularly to provide guidance and feedback.
Peer mentoring is another valuable practice. New hires are paired with “buddies” who help them navigate company systems, tools, and culture. Group mentoring sessions allow cohorts of junior staff to learn from each other and senior mentors.
The key is facilitating both one-on-one relationships and peer learning opportunities, giving new team members multiple avenues to connect and develop skills.
Make Virtual Socialising a Priority
Without impromptu conversations around the office, it takes more intention to build personal connections and camaraderie among distributed co-workers. Companies must create space for virtual socialising and team building.
Bounteous holds regular virtual workshops focused on topics like diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural awareness. The goal is to reinforce bonds and shared understanding between global team members.
They also bring distributed staff together periodically for in-person events based around collaborative projects vs generic team building. This allows remote workers to forge stronger relationships with the colleagues they interact with daily online.
Watch Out for Confirmation Bias
When implementing remote work policies, leaders often default to what feels familiar from their own in-office experiences. The dangerous judgement error known as confirmation bias causes them to seek out information that validates their existing beliefs and assumptions.
For example, a manager who thrived in an office setting may unconsciously discount evidence that distributed teams can be just as productive and connected. They end up creating remote policies that force old workflows rather than embracing new approaches.
To counter confirmation bias, managers must proactively expose themselves to contrary perspectives from remote staff on the front lines. This will broaden their understanding and prevent reliance on a narrow “office-first” viewpoint.
Bridge the Empathy Gap
Leaders often struggle to empathise with the day-to-day realities of their remote employees. This empathy gap makes it harder to provide the support and accommodation that distributed teams need.
Bridging the empathy gap starts with asking remote workers direct questions: “What are your biggest challenges day-to-day?” “How could our policies be adapted to improve your experience?” Regular check-ins focused on the remote experience are key.
When remote workers feel that their leaders understand and care about their unique needs, they are more engaged, included, and empowered to do their best work.
Address the Risk of Proximity Bias
Studies show that remote workers can be overlooked for career opportunities compared to those who work on-site, a problem known as the proximity bias. Since they have fewer casual interactions with leadership, their contributions are less visible.
Ramos emphasises that inclusion takes continuous effort as organisations grow and evolve. Bounteous acquired several companies with existing office cultures, which took time to integrate into their remote-first model.
They mitigate proximity bias through practices like rotating meeting times to accommodate different time zones. Virtual employees have equal opportunities to showcase work and connect with higher-ups.
Leverage AI as an Enabling Force
Emerging technologies like generative AI have the potential to enhance remote collaboration. As Ramos points out, AI can optimise workflows, information-sharing and 24/7 global coordination.
However, she notes that human connection remains indispensable, even as tools automate certain tasks and processes. In an increasingly digital work environment, companies should use technology to augment (not replace) real relationships.
Reframe the Office as a Hub, Not Headquarters
Given how ingrained physical offices are in corporate culture, it’s easy to default to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality with remote teams. Ramos stresses that today’s distributed organisations can never go fully back to the old model.
She believes offices will transition to more flexible “collaboration hubs” where teams periodically convene in person around shared projects vs clocking in each morning at a central HQ.
As more companies embrace hybrid policies, offices will become just one zone of collaboration, rather than the nexus of all work. This shift requires a workforce where on-site and remote employees are equally empowered.
Prioritise Asynchronous Communication
Synchronous video meetings can be draining for remote staff across different time zones. Ramos explains that Bounteous relies heavily on asynchronous platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Docs.
With workers spread globally, documentation and written updates are vital. Remote teams need workflows optimised for co-workers in different locations, not just supporting those in the office.
The remote work genie is out of the bottle. While the pandemic demonstrated that distributed work is possible, leading companies recognise that it takes real investment to do it well at scale.
Success requires fundamentally rethinking not just where people work, but how they engage, collaborate, and identify with the organisation. As Bounteous demonstrates, with the right foundations a thriving remote workforce is not just possible – it’s already here.
About the Author
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of 7 books, including the global best-sellers Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters and The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships. His newest book is Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox, and over 15 years in academia as a behavioural scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio.