If many of the people working for you are now doing so in isolation, and most of the communal spaces where they mixed are empty, what does that mean for your organisational culture?
How do you transfer that culture into the virtual working world? Is this actually possible – or even desirable? And what do we mean by ‘organisational culture’ anyway?
What is an organisation’s culture?
It’s about a lot more than socialising – important as the team nights out, shared lunch breaks and annual awards bash might be. It includes the ways in which you work, the standards expected, the hierarchies (or lack of them), your work/life balance and much more. It’s also about your shared goals, shared values, and shared aims. It centres not only around how people treat each other within your organisation – but also how they interact with the world – from customers, suppliers and partners, to the environment and wider society. Some of these elements will remain exactly the same in the face of current seismic events – others may need to evolve to meet the changing circumstances.
An output-based culture built on trust
In the new remote working world, a culture of output, not attendance, is key. Workers are no longer under the direct eye of their managers, and ‘big brother’ attempts to monitor people through the times they are logged in, or number of keystrokes made, can be highly counterproductive. It’s much more effective to set your people very clear targets, timelines, and goals, giving them the support they need to meet them, and then allow them to arrange their work day in the way that suits their working style and home responsibilities.
Let people know how they’re doing more regularly
Trusting your people and giving them flexibility doesn’t mean leaving them to it. In fact, the opposite is true. We’re all used to seeing our co-workers around us, getting feedback and advice from others throughout the day, and developing a sense of how well we’re performing. Left alone at home, we can feel like we’re in a vacuum, where it’s very hard to judge how well we’re doing. The end result can be a lack of motivation – or the opposite, high levels of anxiety that lead to overworking and burn out. Regular feedback and encouragement from managers and team members is key.
New starters, particularly those who are in their first job, can find it particularly hard to know what’s required of them. An online buddy, and a clear timeline of goals to be achieved in their first 3 months could be invaluable.
Encourage weekly check-ins between line managers and their direct reports. They don’t have to be massively time consuming. Quick, condensed feedback, giving three pieces of advice – one thing to start doing, one thing to stop doing, and one thing to continue doing can be highly effective.
Deliver strong communication around purpose and vision
Delivering strong, clear communications around the purpose and vision of your organisation is doubly important with a remote workforce – particularly in times of change and uncertainty.
Seeing and hearing from key leaders is important. A video from the CEO, or an online talk with Q&A from the head of your division emphasising the direction the company is heading in, your common goals and shared aims, can have a strong cohesive effect.
Don’t forget new starters – for whom such information is doubly important. Online onboarding portals such as Eli can host a wealth of engaging information about your organisation’s vision and values, and what each person will be doing in their team to drive them forward.
Company or division awards with online award ceremonies can be a powerful tool for building company culture. Prizes can be awarded to those living organisational values – or delivering on key company objectives. Including recognition for those who have helped the business adjust to change can also be very effective in spreading best practice and encouraging flexibility.
Help your people avoid burnout and boost their mental health
With no commute, no official start or finish time, and no sense of others around you taking lunch or coffee breaks (or winding down for the weekend) it can be very easy for boundaries to slip, and people to end up feeling as if they are on call every hour of the day. This, combined with additional caring (or teaching!) responsibilities brought about through lockdown or self-isolating can all lead to added stress.
Set up rules and boundaries within teams – so that team members understand they are not expected to habitually work outside of set hours.
Organise free or subsidised online yoga, or keep fit classes. They can be set at 8.00 in the morning or 6.00 at night, to provide a natural end or start to the working day, and to help signal that this is the time at which you’re allowed to ‘clock off’.
Communicate clearly any employee support programmes you have, where those who are experiencing bereavement, family financial problems, or mental health issues can go to receive support.
Include information on keeping mentally and physically healthy whilst working remotely on onboarding portals or your company’s other communication channels. Encourage your people to share ideas on your organisation’s social media channels on how to unwind, to emphasise the idea of a culture of work/life balance.
Build networks, encourage teamwork, fight social isolation
Social isolation, and the decline of constructive teamwork are two of the key challenges to be overcome in a world of remote working. A mix of regular online video calls, phone calls and more informal online chat spaces are key to combatting both problems.
Introduce weekly video team meetings where everybody is asked to discuss a challenge they’ve encountered during the week and a success they’ve had. This will help bring any problems into the open, and allow the sharing of best practice.
Give support for managers. A huge part of the responsibility of making remote working a success has suddenly fallen on their shoulders. Deliver clear communications around best practice for managing remote workers, and set up fortnightly online Q&A sessions with HR to help discuss any problems and share ideas.
Encourage managers to set up project teams with their own regular meetings, to ensure people really are working together, and not in separate silos of one.
Set up social walls for those experiencing particular challenges – whether that’s parenting during lockdown, tackling anxiety, or dealing with long COVID.
To help your people build new connections, set up a randomised weekly buddy pairing, where people from across your organisation connect with each other throughout the week.
Run online classes or clubs where people can bond and unwind. Painting lessons, book clubs, fantasy football leagues – or even an evening cookery class where everyone cooks a recipe together can all be highly effective.
Listen to your people: the co-creation of an evolving culture
The sudden transfer of huge swathes of the workforce to remote working has been challenging. But whilst 2020 has inevitably been a year full of firefighting, it’s also delivering real opportunities for evolution and change. Now is an ideal time to assess your company culture, its strengths and weaknesses, and what the benefits and drawbacks of remote working are for your organisation and its people, as you start to plan for the future.
Survey your people. This can be done by adapting your current employee engagement survey, or creating a one-off poll. Questions around the challenges and benefits of remote working, and what mix of home and office work would be preferred going forward, are particularly key.
Create spaces for discussion and the sharing of ideas. Set up online workshops and chat forums to discuss company culture and remote working. How can remote working be improved – and to what extent should it be the new normal?
Pinpoint areas of change that might be affected by remote working. For example, how is reward impacted? Would online gym classes, film- streaming service memberships and Deliveroo discounts be good additions to the benefits package? Might renewable energy discount packages for home workers keep your company’s environmental impact targets on track?
Both in the short and the long term, considering how your company can improve the remote working experience for all your people is likely to reap big rewards.