When we think of office culture (or office catering, for that matter), we often think of in-office culture. And with good reason – it seems a little counterintuitive to develop an office culture without a physical office, or offer office catering for remote employees.

But more and more employees are freelancing, working remote, or working in different locations – and those remote employees can still benefit from a healthy office culture. The catch? You want to develop a culture that includes them as well. Here’s how. 

“Remote” is on the rise

The concept of working remotely isn’t exactly new – but the trend certainly is. More and more employers are offering the opportunity to work remotely some or all of the time. In fact, 40% of LA workers had the opportunity to telecommute in 2017. 

In LA especially, it isn’t hard to understand why. Why fight traffic and spend hours in your car when you could just… not? Even if you don’t mind the traffic (um, teach us your ways), you can save money and increase flexibility by working from home. And employees seem to want this, too – companies that do allow remote workers find it’s easier to attract top talent, especially in a competitive market like the LA job scene. 

But remote work isn’t without its downsides – 22% of employees who take advantage of telecommuting report feeling isolated and missing their team environment, while 17% think the lack of face time is impacting their interpersonal workplace relationships. 

This doesn’t just impact remote workers, either. Companies with offices in multiple locations also need to build strong communities and a healthy company culture. How can you make sure your employees feel welcomed across the board. Or, if you have teams that are split geographically, how can you make sure they’re on the same page? 

Culture to-go

Office culture has a huge impact on hiring, retention, and enjoyment at your company – so it isn’t something you can just sweep under the rug or save for “later.” Not to mention that community takes time and company leader buy-in to create. At Chewse, we have a lot of ideas on how to create community in the office, and why it’s important. You can read more of our thoughts on catering for community building and increasing team engagement through food, but for now, we’ve rounded up 6 ways you can create company culture, no matter where your employees are located.

ONE – I’ll have what they’re having

Just because your offices are located in different places doesn’t mean you can’t offer the same perks. If you have offices in the same time zones, like LA and SF, try offering perks like breakfast or lunch catering to both locations, and optimize the meals so your employees are getting similar foods delivered. That way, all of your people can enjoy catered Mexican food on Thursdays or healthy catering on Mondays, no matter where they live. 

Are your employees mostly remote? You could send out information about the restaurant you’re catering, or share a recipe inspired by one of those restaurants, to keep everyone in the loop. 

TWO – A spoonful of catering helps the medicine go down

Some companies require that employees be local for one day, and then offer the opportunity to be remote on other days. If that’s your office, you could try offering office catering on the day your employees are required to be in the office. (PS – This can be an especially great way to set the tone for the day, so try welcoming them first-thing with LA breakfast catering).

Remind them that they’re spending time and money to come in, but they’re also saving time and money by not having to buy their own food. Besides, sitting down for a meal is a great way to connect with people they might not know. Who knows! Once that connection has been made, they could continue the relationship via Slack, email, or Skype!

THREE – I just called to say hello

Do you have some employees that never come into the office? Schedule all-company meetings over lunch or (to switch it up a bit) breakfast catering once a week or every other week, and ask everyone to call in unless they absolutely can’t. That way, everyone has something to focus on. Even though your employess won’t be directly talking to one another, you’re still establishing and reinforcing the idea that everyone is doing something together – which can create lasting bonds and improve team morale!

Side note: we know some of this sounds like it doesn’t matter, but team morale actually increases trust in the workplace. When your employees feel valued and listened to, they’re more likely to trust your company’s intentions and goals. Why does this matter? Because trust builds speed, and speed is what makes companies boom. So valuing your employees isn’t just a feel-good thing – it’s actually hugely beneficial for everyone involved!

FOUR – The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Looking for one-on-one level connections? Encourage your employees to set up Skype dates, coffee chats, or lunch meetings. You could offer a small stipend if they reach out to an employee from another office (enough to cover a coffee!) or make it part of their monthly check-in.

These connections are valuable because your employees will feel more comfortable reaching out. Better yet, you’re less likely to see miscommunications or other frustrations, because they know each other. Exclusively communicating through text or brief phone calls impacts morale and increases workplace loneliness – which is already on the rise. Clearly making space for your employees to connect is a great way to open up community more broadly.

Not sure where to start? Try things like Donut, a slack integration that automatically pairs two employees for you!

FIVE – Oh the places you can go!

While not every company can do this, one of the most impactful things you could do to create community in your office is to encourage offsites to other office locations. Having your teams visit each other is a great way to put faces to names and create true connection across your employees. Have the Sales and Marketing team connect in-person to reduce some tension, or have your half-LA half-Chicago based Account Management team meet together once every 6 months to reconnect and grow together!

SIX – Slow and steady wins the race

No matter how you establish and create culture in the workplace, the most important thing to do is to make sure you start from day one, or as close to it as possible. Establishing your values and culture as a company tells your employees what to expect, what to buy in to, and what they should aim for themselves. These connections between remote employees or across multiple offices will only happen if your employees want them to happen. If you clarify that this is a priority for your company, they’ll make it a priority themselves. 

That’s all, folks

Ok, so we aren’t trying to claim that building a culture when you have remote employees or multiple offices is easy. But we do think it’s possible – and important. To keep your employees happy and engagedclarify that they’re important to you – remote or otherwise. The best way to do that is through community-building benefits like family-style office catering. 

Learn more about creating culture and community through food on our Community Service Pillar page.