What is company culture? Culture is the gauge in which values and standards are cohesive and reinforced in an organization. Strong company culture takes planning and subjectivity to build a company culture in an organization that doesn’t have any offices. Fortunately, there are a variety of steps your organization can take to do just that.
As your organization continues to work remotely, one of the key goals every employer should have is to sustain, or even improve, company culture. Adapting to a hybrid or fully remote model was a huge shift for a lot of organizations, and since then company culture has been a primary concern for many leaders. How can these organizations reimagine their culture for a world where the typical task in an office is unavailable, and workers have little or no face-to-face interaction with each other or their teams and leaders? How can organizations build the types of bonds that establish a lasting culture, not to mention integrate new hires? How can organizations redefine company culture to match the new cadences that arise when some employees are in the office and others are working remote?
Why It’s Important to Sustain Company Culture
Sustaining company culture is more than just providing team-building events, outings, and parties—although they can be beneficial, even through a computer screen.
To sustain a remote workplace culture, organizations need to establish an environment in which team members feel connected and secure. Employees need to feel that their team is working hard together and staying productive, and that their feelings are put into consideration. Remote employees need to have consistent contact with their team, as well as their leaders.
In a study on the impact of COVID-19 in the 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 remote work.
What Steps to Take for Sustaining Company Culture Remotely
Your entire organization plays a critical role in reinforcing your company culture. Working remote is now the new normal, and each individual needs to feel empowered to enforce and build company culture. Below we offer some steps to take to sustain and improve company culture throughout your organization.
Discern Culture from Climate
The key is to differentiate your company culture from company climate. As stated above, culture is the gauge in which values and standards are cohesive and reinforced in an organization. Climate is the day-to-day environment in a team and is derived of how many employees share the culture's values and beliefs.
Focus on Developing Trust First
Trust in a remote setting is key. Leaders and team members have to trust one another, which becomes a fundamental building block for company culture. Employees who are treated with trust and respect will likely perform better. While trust can come naturally through relationships within teams, it is ultimately the responsibility of your organization to create an environment in which trust is created, valued, and promoted. Focus on creating a management strategy that gives employees the freedom and guidance they need instead of micromanaging, which may seem more productive but can actually can hamper motivation and efficiency.
Strengthen and Emphasize the Culture You Want to Develop
Keenly discuss your culture with senior leadership, managers, and employees alike. If you like your current culture, find ways to strengthen and emphasize it with remote employees. Begin by defining the culture you want, then ask each team to establish standards that bolster their ability to work together while remote and encourage employees to buy in to your culture.
Make Employee Wellbeing a Priority
Define employee wellbeing and emotional security, which are the core foundations of your company culture. When employees work remotely, physical distance should not create emotional distance, nor should it create fear of expressing opinions and individual needs. By supporting employees' wellness through different programs, leaders can send a message that organizational success and employee health and happiness go hand in hand.
Create Behaviors That Reinforce Your Preferred Culture
A remote workforce requires deeper leadership skills when it comes to coordinating projects and bringing teams together into cohesive groups. In a remote environment, employees are more likely to miss social and emotional cues that onsite employees provide through nonverbal communication. Organizations need to make sure that their managers are equipped to provide coaching, training, and support that is needed for each employee.
Redefine Expectations of Your Employees
Adapting to a new environment often requires redefining expectations. Culture doesn't need to be exhibited constantly as it does in the physical office, but it should still exemplify behaviors that reinforce and support collaboration and teamwork. Organizations, specifically their leaders, achieve this by focusing on common goals and beliefs, and increased independence.
Use the Right Technology
Organizations need to make it a priority to strengthen company culture with the right remote work software and/or tools. An example that your organization could use is a performance management software platform that allows employees to clearly communicate priorities from the top down and set the tone. Tools such as Microsoft Teams and Slack are also great when used appropriately, and allow employees to work together as a cohesive team with the same objectives and ideas just as well as they would in an office.
Enhance Employee Work-Life Balance
In a remote setting, attention to your employees’ work-life balance can strengthen your organizational culture of understanding. One example would be providing childcare support for working parents. Some other examples include more flexible time-off policies to accommodate new schedules. Offering remote social activities will also help reinforce employee work-life balance.
Prioritize Good Communication
Communication is key in any relation, whether personal or professional. Organizations should implement technologies that keep people engaged. Enthusiastically advocate for cross-departmental engagement. Encourage daily involvement in team conversations. Promote employee collaborations that go beyond talking about a current assignment or task. Keep people informed of organizational updates and announcements. It’s extremely important to recognize and focus on the value of human connection.
Never Take Your Company Culture for Granted
Forming and developing company culture is something that all remote organizations must undertake. Even though the significance of company culture is reviewed during new employee onboarding, repeated emphasis is essential to keep it top-of-mind. In the course of daily routines and tasks, it's easy to lose sight of standards and culture when focusing on just getting the job done. However, it is essential for leadership to remind themselves as well as team members that organizational values and principles should never be brushed under the rug or deprioritized.
Every decision an organization makes should align with their standards and values. Otherwise, these standards and values will be seen as "merely talk," and your company culture will crumble.
If your organization gets all employees together on a regular basis, consider covering your company culture and values. Just as certain recommended or mandatory trainings come every year, as part of an organization’s ongoing learning and development endeavors, reminding team members of company culture and values is critical to sustaining a robust company culture.
The culture of a company is defined by that of the leaders. Be very intentional about your culture in a remote environment. Lead team discussions with a strong focus on the standards and values. Make purpose-driven conversations relevant. Put together a consistent effort to identify and develop the narratives and behaviors you want to see, hear, and feel within your organization.