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3 principles for building a resilient remote workforce

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Wendy Rummler
Wendy Rummler is Chief People Officer at Credit Acceptance, which she joined from Arthur Andersen LLP as a Senior Financial Analyst in December 2001. She moved into Treasury in 2003 and Finance in 2008. While in Finance, she led a variety of Finance and Human Resource teams. She was named Senior Vice President of Human Resources in May of 2021 and Chief People Officer in September 2022.

In today’s evolving work landscape, a thriving culture is no longer the measure of success for HR leaders alone. It’s become a reflection of an organization’s overall health and is increasingly tied to its leadership’s collective decisions. While the approach may differ, the desired outcome is the same: Making people feel engaged and connected to their workplace.

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I am the chief people officer for a 50-plus-year-old company, Credit Acceptance, which did not set out to be a remote-first organization. In fact, we prided ourselves on our strong in-person culture. When I went home in March 2020, I didn’t even have a laptop to bring with me, and that was true for many of our team members. We transitioned from less than 25% of our team members working remotely prior to the pandemic to an over 95% remote workforce shortly after. Our ability to make this shift while keeping our work culture intact is evident in our 10 years of recognition as a Great Place to Work.

In that time, we changed our approach to managing a workforce and pivoted to ensure team members remained at the center of our business and decision-making. We developed new strategies to create a culture that all team members want to be a part of. These can be summarized into three main principles: cultivate a collective vision, personalize team member journey plans and create enjoyable team experiences regardless of location.

Cultivate a collective vision for a remote workforce

Central to maintaining a resilient remote workforce is a collective vision that aligns all team members with the company’s long-term goals and values. Ensure your company has clear goals and a robust value system to keep all team members focused on and working toward common objectives. If your team feels a sense of ownership in the process, they will embrace it.

A culture rooted in common values and a shared vision enables every team member to perform at their best. By fostering a collaborative environment for vision creation, organizations can ensure that every team member feels a sense of ownership and purpose in their work. However, it’s important to recognize that understanding and collectively pursuing the same values takes time to develop. To instill these values, integrate them into daily operations across all levels, from company town halls to team-level discussions. Holding everyone, especially senior leaders, accountable to this vision reinforces its importance.

To do this well, you need an environment that values listening and takes feedback. Make it clear how and when you will respond to ideas and input and do so within the time stated. Be intentional about how you engage team members in improving processes. Those who are closest to the day-to-day work understand the most about what could improve and often offer the best recommendations.

While not every idea is worth a try, encourage teams to experiment and fail fast. Mitigate challenges and increase learning through pilots of new initiatives on a smaller scale. An iterative approach before full implementation encourages team members to experiment in a low-risk way and allows them to try new ideas or processes without the risk of large-scale problems.

Personalize the team member journey

You only get one chance at a first impression, and the first step to a strong remote culture begins with the onboarding process. Use this integral moment to foster relationships and promote knowledge-sharing among team members.

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The onboarding roadmap at Credit Acceptance spans 12 months and is thoughtfully designed to make the most of who, how and when new team members meet with various people at the company or are introduced to important information during their first year. It’s an intentional approach based on insights about how new team members are best supported as they enter our company.

Studies show that a high-quality onboarding experience for new hires dramatically increases team member satisfaction and productivity. Consider implementing a cohort system or dedicated program that offers opportunities for casual remote interactions similar to those in office hallways. One simple way we do this is to connect new team members with peers navigating onboarding to foster an early sense of camaraderie and community.

Include formal HR touchpoints and regular new-hire roundtables at milestone moments to deepen these connections. In addition, close collaboration with department heads is essential for managing career growth effectively. Provide opportunities for new team members to showcase their skills and participate in discussions about high-performing team members, so all team members feel supported and valued.

Create opportunities to gather in person

While remote communication and collaboration tools can help facilitate work, nothing replaces the depth of interpersonal connections that happen through real-life interactions.

The right balance of frequency and duration of in-person engagement is unique to your company and varies based on factors like team dynamics and geographical spread. However, one principle remains constant during this face-to-face time: each gathering should provide genuine opportunities for connection. That may mean learning, collaboration, relationship-building, or a combination. When team members perceive time together as enjoyable and beneficial to their professional growth, engagement and company morale soar.

To further enhance the sense of community within the team, consider supplementing larger corporate events with regional “hub” gatherings. These smaller-scale events provide the perfect setting for networking, collaboration, and fostering relationships among close team members. Having non-local senior leaders attend these regional gatherings not only demonstrates their commitment to the team but also provides valuable opportunities for them to receive updates, gather feedback, and reinforce a culture of camaraderie and fun.

Ultimately, the decision on the frequency of gatherings should be left to the department or regional team lead, who can best gauge the team’s needs and preferences. By creating opportunities for in-person connection, organizations can strengthen bonds, enhance collaboration, and enhance the culture of a remote workforce.

Cultivating a resilient remote work culture requires a thoughtful combination of strategic vision, personalized team member support and meaningful opportunities for in-person connection. By prioritizing these principles, organizations can create an environment where team members feel valued, engaged, and connected, regardless of physical distance. Understanding and implementing these strategies is the key to success for HR leaders committed to sustaining a thriving remote workforce.