Regardless of where a team is working from, culture is an integral part of a company’s success. However, the more isolated nature of a remote work environment, makes it increasingly necessary to intentionally build a defined company culture.
During one of our live, online panel discussions hosted while businesses globally were working from lockdown, we heard best practice tips on how to maintain company culture while working remotely. You can watch the full discussion here.
Here we look at some of the top tips shared by our expert panelists.
Why culture is so important for remote teams
Company culture often dictates how individuals and teams communicate. When a company goes remote for the first time, there is a risk that individuals will become disconnected. It is important to find a way that works for individuals and teams to stay connected and maintain an open flow of communication. If done well, it can help to make up for or replace the lack of more organic collaboration that tends to happen in a shared working environment.
A good place to start is by defining what goals are important to the company as a whole and making sure that individuals and teams are aligned on what to prioritise when working apart. It’s also a good time to remind staff what the company’s mission is and how everyone plays an integral part in bringing it to life.
“Ensure that the values your company has built and has in place in the traditional office culture are captured and embraced while we’re working from home. This will help to ensure that your company continues to speak the same language and continues to function in that same way.” - Dean Delpeache, Sr. Manager, Talent Acquisition at Fiix Software
Maintaining a cohesive culture when working apart
A top priority when trying to maintain company culture should be to check in regularly with individuals to make sure that they are doing okay, that they feel fully supported and have what they need. It is the responsibility of leadership teams to work together to make this happen.
It could be as simple as making a phone call or setting up meetings with the simple agenda of just checking in for 10 minutes. The aim of this is to continue to encourage productive, well performing teams who are motivated and engaged in the work they do. This is much more achievable when individuals feel supported.
Beyond this, it is important to find ways to continue with daily office rituals or create opportunities for the natural, unplanned conversations that take place in person. Finding ways to bring people together is a powerful and simple way to inspire teams and maintain a sense of connection. Putting on a company or team ‘Lunch and Learn’ focused on a topic of interest or hosting weekly virtual drinks where you simply get to enjoy each other's company as a team, are great examples of virtual engagement in action.
“There are a lot of fun ways that you can bring people together during these times. You could set up a personal health challenge that involves tracking how much water everyone drinks during the day or a step challenge to help people get outside. These small things help create opportunities for colleagues to engage and remain connected outside of the office.” - Bobby Moore, People & Culture Specialist.
Sharing company culture during remote onboarding
As much as you can, try to make your virtual onboarding process as similar to your in-office experience as possible, to help carry across the essence of the company culture.
Filling a new hire’s calendar with a mix of opportunities to meet and connect with staff on a more personal level is a great way to give them a sense of structure in their first week. Another approach would be to implement a buddy system where one team member is assigned to helping the newcomer get up to speed with the company culture and what to expect as they adjust to the work environment.
“We encourage our existing staff to virtually meet a newcomer and share stories that embody our company values. We also do what we call ‘Love Bombs’ where the team inundates them with welcome messages and gifs. It can be really helpful for the new member to get a sense of the team that they’ve just joined and see how easy it can be to connect with them.” - Rob Catalano, Chief Engagement Officer & Co-Founder at WorkTango
Preparing for the new normal after COVID-19
We learn a lot in retrospect, so it is important to take some time to reflect on how you as a team or as a company responded to the pandemic. Leadership teams should take the opportunity to look at what worked really well during such a difficult time and identify what should be fixed going forward. Working through such an unprecedented event helps people to shift their perspective, so now is the time to take an honest look at how the business is run. Questions to ask could include;
- Should we implement a work from home strategy for when we return back to the office?
- Could we benefit from changing our office environment?
- Could we implement more flexible work space options?
It is also a good time to get a sense of how your employees are feeling about the changes and listening to what their needs are. For example some offices are already starting to re-open yet some people may still have young children at home and not yet be able to access suitable daycare options. It could be a good idea to create a staff survey that asks employees what they’re hoping for going forward or what could help them return to the office.
“One of the biggest lessons that we have taken away from this experience is that adaptability is crucial. We’ve narrowed this down to three principles to help us through this time and beyond, and they are ‘Care, Customers and Cost’ which means finding ways to care for our employees, understanding how our customers needs are changing and cutting non-essential costs.” - Liana Gavrilkina, Head of Talent Acquisition at Clearbanc
Put your people first
Ultimately, it is the people who work for a company that make up its culture so it is important to start by looking closely at their needs and being flexible enough to adapt.
Showing empathy has a big role to play in maintaining a positive company culture. By showing empathy in a genuine way, you will naturally create an environment where people feel safe and are free to express themselves. This is especially crucial in new situations or when there is a lot of uncertainty ahead.
Build a culture of trust. The quickest way to undo a positive company culture is to send people home to work and suddenly question or track their every decision. It’s important that you hire people you can trust and the enforced remote working that we’ve experienced has been a great opportunity to demonstrate to your team that you do trust them and that you value their independent thinking.