How to Maintain Company Culture While Remote Working
Your Managers Play a Powerful Role in Maintaining Your Culture
During this uncertain period of time, when employees continue to work remotely, one of your key goals as an employer must be to maintain your company culture. You worked hard to build a workplace culture that supports your employees’ best efforts to contribute, stay productive, and find happiness and fulfillment in their jobs. Remote work doesn’t have to change this special culture. You just need to understand the factors that need emphasis and maintenance while employees work outside of the office.
Maintaining company culture is more than providing team-building activities, or sponsoring company events, excursions, and celebrations—although they can help, even virtually. To maintain a remote workplace culture, employers need to establish a virtual environment in which team members still feel connected and protected. Employees need to feel that their entire team is working hard together, staying productive, and that their opinions matter. To achieve this, they must have regular contact with their manager and their colleagues.
Helping your employees stay connected to the overall vision and goals of the company promotes a feeling of being part of something that is bigger than themselves—a must for employee engagement.
But how challenging is it for employers to achieve this? In its study about the impact of COVID-19 on the business and workforce environment, HR consulting firm Mercer found that more than 40% of businesses experienced a moderate to high impact on how their infrastructure handled the culture and workplace change to working virtually.
How Important Is Culture to Your Employees, Even When Remote?
A strong company culture is often a top priority for job seekers. According to a survey conducted by global customer experience and digital solutions provider TELUS International, a majority of respondents (51%) felt less connected to their company culture while working remotely as a result of the pandemic.
When participants were asked what they miss most about working in the office, these were the most common responses.
- Small talk and interacting with colleagues (57%)
- Collaborating in person with a team (53%)
- The separation between work and home (50%)
It’s important now more than ever for employers to put company culture needs high on the priority list.
According to a study from Virginia-based Hinge Research Institute, when evaluating job prospects, 57% of job seekers across all career levels consider culture as important as pay. For 75% of talent recruiters, cultural fit is more important than a prospect’s work history and experience. And perhaps most notably, 73% of all respondents picked a defined and clearly articulated culture as the top key element of a company’s reputation as a workplace—meaning its employer brand.
6 Steps to Take to Maintain Company Culture While Remote Working
Your HR staff, managers, and organization as a whole play critical roles in reinforcing your company culture while remote working remains the “new normal.” And with proper empowerment, your employees can help you reinforce the culture, too. In the aforementioned TELUS study, the three most critical components of creating a strong virtual office culture are:
- Virtual workshops and continued learning opportunities (68%)
- Weekly staff meetings and one-on-ones with managers (66%)
- Schedule flexibility (65%)
Reinforce and Focus on the Culture You Want to Develop
Workplace culture will develop whether you pay attention to it or not—in fact, you likely already have one. So, you will want to actively discuss your culture with senior leadership, managers, and employees. If you like your current culture, you will want to reinforce it while employees work remotely. In that case, you may as well begin by defining the culture you want to bolster the success of remote employees. Ask each team to establish team norms that strengthen their ability to work together while out of the office, and share them with other teams.
Retain your day-to-day reminders of the culture you want to have and reinforce. Did you eat lunch together once a week when working in the office? Then, eat lunch together virtually. Did your team meet weekly for support and updates? In that case, it’s best to keep meeting. And if your organization normally met to share progress, set goals, and celebrate, continue this tradition during the period of remote work.
Trust Your Employees
Employees who are treated with trust and respect will likely rise to the occasion. Instead of over-monitoring your remote-working employees, which can hamper their motivation and productivity, find alternatives for your teams to share work schedules—like a Trello board they can use to stay updated and in touch with their progress. Additionally, using tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Jabber, Workplace by Facebook, and Quip can allow your group to effectively interact without having to attend multiple Zoom meetings. When employees (and managers) are aware of the day-to-day work activities of their team members through workflow and communication tools—and not micromanagement, that knowledge reinforces trust.
Help Your Managers Develop and Exhibit the Behavior That Reinforces Your Desired Culture
A virtual workforce requires stronger leadership skills when it comes to coordinating projects and bringing the team together into a cohesive unit. In a virtual workplace, you miss many of the cues that onsite employees provide through nonverbal communication, like slouching in a chair looking worn out. Provide the coaching, training, and support needed by your managers so they can excel in areas such as the following:
- Setting stretch goals and objectives for their team members so the employees will rise to the challenge working remotely
- Establishing high standards for performance so people know exactly what is expected from their performance
- Fostering a culture that expects and reinforces the accountability of employees for the expected results, and providing critical feedback to let employees know how they are doing
- Communicating clearly about goals, needed contributions, successes, problems, and opportunities, which will also enable employees to build trust on the team
- Helping employees manage distractions and leading properly in the virtual environment, knowing that people have challenges with family members, sharing office space, home schooling, etc.
- Building relationships with the employees and encouraging each team member to actively participate
- Responding in a timely manner to employee requests for help, input, time, and feedback —especially when they need more of their manager’s attention during remote work from home
- Paying attention to employee concerns about their growth and development needs, and addressing these concerns by, for example, holding regular coaching and development conversations, and helping workers find virtual events to attend
Embrace Transparency in All Employee Interaction
Transparent communication is critical for maintaining your culture while employees are working remotely. Employees need to trust you, especially during an economic crisis when job security is likely one of their top concerns. In fact, in a survey from promotional product company PromoLeaf and CensusWide of people who found remote work as a result of the pandemic, 48% of respondents agreed when asked whether transparency is key when it comes to feeling a strong sense of job security. Another 47% also said that they wanted to hear from CEOs, leadership, and others about how the company was being affected by current events, and what was being done to protect it, including their position.
However, 38% of responders said that their company needed to do more than they were to keep employees informed. This means that despite the fact that nearly half of employees want their company to communicate clearly about the effect of the pandemic, over a third feel that their company can do better. This is a good lesson for transparent communication and its effect on employee trust.
Enhance Employee Work-Life Balance and Flexibility
In a remote workforce setting, attention to your employees’ work-life balance can reinforce your organizational culture of caring.
For example, providing child care support for working parents, more flexible leave policies to accommodate the new normal, and offering virtual social activities will reinforce employee balance.
Providing regular recognition lets employees know that their sacrifices and dedication to their work in a remote setting is truly appreciated.
You do this by acknowledging the challenges they experience in their remote setting by scheduling meetings and interaction time during a core period of hours and respecting family time in the morning and evening. Your employees, for instance, may have to get their children started on home schooling before they have time to get to work.
Address Mental Health Issues Your Employees May Experience
In addition to paying attention to employee work-life balance issues, you must do more to ensure the positive mental health of your remote workers. Mental health issues that employees might experience working remotely include loneliness, mourning the past workplace, missing daily coworker interaction, and concern for their job and economic future.
In the Mercer study, the firm found that nearly 37% of companies surveyed said employees were experiencing mental health issues on account of social isolation and economic anxiety.
Employers can help combat these mental health issues in the same ways recommended to reinforce their culture of caring, empathy, consideration, and gratitude. They need to encourage their workers to use employee assistance programs (EAPs), check in frequently on how they are doing, and allow them to take mental health days for rest and relaxation when they feel they need time to regroup.
The Bottom Line
Maintaining your company culture while remote working can be crucial to your business’s operational and financial viability. By clearly defining your culture and reinforcing it through well-trained management, your employees can feel more engaged, connected, and motivated when working from home.
This, in turn, can result in increased productivity and desire to achieve a shared vision and goals, which can ultimately lead to more positive business outcomes. While the process may seem challenging, it can also be engaging and show that your company culture is worth preserving—and even strengthening—during a time when the work environment as we know it has dramatically shifted.