As employees continue working remotely, one of your key goals as an employer should be maintaining 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—and remote work doesn’t have to change this special culture.
Learn the factors that need emphasis and maintenance while employees work outside of the office.
The Importance of Maintaining Company Culture
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 and 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. This is 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 Much Does Culture Matter 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%)
Now more than ever, it's important for employers to put company culture high on the priority list.
According to a Virginia-based Hinge Research Institute study, 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. 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 For Maintaining 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 were found to be:
- Virtual workshops and continued learning opportunities (68%)
- Weekly staff meetings and one-on-ones with managers (66%)
- Schedule flexibility (65%)
1. 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. Actively discuss your culture with senior leadership, managers, and employees.
If you like your current culture, find ways to reinforce it while employees work remotely. In that case, begin by defining the culture you want, in order 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? If so, then eat lunch together virtually. Did your team meet weekly for support and updates? If so, it’s best to keep meeting. And if your organization normally met to share progress, set goals, and celebrate, continue that tradition during the period of remote work.
2. 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 interact effectively 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.
3. Develop 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're more likely to miss many of the cues that onsite employees provide through nonverbal communication, like slouching in a chair or looking worn out.
Be sure your managers are equipped to provide the coaching, training, and support needed so they can excel in areas such as the following:
- Setting stretch goals and objectives for their team members so employees can rise to the challenge of working remotely
- Establishing standards for performance so people know exactly what is expected from them
- Fostering a culture that expects and reinforces the accountability of employees and provides 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, homeschooling, and other matters
- Building relationships with 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 employees' concerns about their growth and development needs, and addressing those concerns—for example, holding regular coaching and development conversations, and helping workers find virtual events to attend
4. Embrace Transparency in All Employee Interactions
Transparent communication is critical for maintaining your culture while employees are working remotely. Employees need to trust you, especially during a crisis when job security is likely one of their top concerns.
In a survey of people who found remote work as a result of the pandemic, 48% of respondents said that 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 it was doing to keep employees informed. Despite the fact that nearly half of employees want their company to communicate clearly about the effect of the pandemic, more than one-third feel that their company can do better.
This is a good lesson for transparent communication and its impact on employee trust.
5. 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 work-life balance.
Providing regular recognition shows employees that their sacrifices and hard work are truly appreciated.
You can 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.
For example, your employees may need to get their children started on homeschooling or virtual learning before they're able to start working.
6. Address Mental Health Issues Your Employees May Experience
In addition to paying attention to employee work-life balance issues, you must do more to promote the positive mental health of your remote workers. Employees who are working remotely might experience mental health issues, including loneliness, mourning the past workplace, missing daily co-worker interaction, and concern for their job and economic future.
The Mercer study found that nearly 37% of companies surveyed said that employees were experiencing mental health issues due to 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 should 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.