Culture is the heart of your organisation. It’s a combination of your business’s values, mission, and goals – and it’s a long time in the building.
In this remote work environment, sustaining organisational culture becomes even more important and reaching everyone in various locations is even more challenging.
Leadership plays a critical role in cultivating an environment of productivity, safety and belonging that brings the entire team together, regardless of where we might be.
For several companies flexible and remote working had already been on the cards but the real world applications required deeper consideration.
So how should a company foster a positive culture for remote employees?
Share your company values
Values are the core pillars guiding your organisation and need to be at the forefront of your employees’ minds. For remote employees, company values are a concrete understanding of how your organisation operates and how you create a positive work environment.
It’s important to add values to the company website and ask values related questions from the hiring process. In times of remote working, instituting a weekly email roundup keeps feeling integrated and up to date.
One of the largest obstacles to culture in a remote working world is communication and connection. Because everyone is working from different locations, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks.
Building better connections builds trust which in turn helps to build culture.
You may wish to establish communication norms to ensure clarity, including chat best practices, response time frames, and email etiquette. Setting communication standards will prevent people being barraged with messages, reduce interruptions, and make communication easier.
These strategies to improve communication can build and maintain your remote culture:
- Give people the opportunity to share what they do and don’t like about the current culture and ways to improve it. This could be done through survey feedback
- Equip people with appropriate tools, and real-time chat applications to enable more seamless communication.
Build camaraderie and avoid isolation
Part of traditional organisational cultures is the environment employees work in. Typically, this is the office space including open floor plans, breakout rooms, canteen and coffee areas.
Distributed and remote working makes it a challenge to not only form, but preserve a sense of camaraderie typically developed around the ‘watercooler.’
These are some of the ways ideas to build camaraderie;
- Fun chat channels: Use Slack and Microsoft Teams to start channels for employees to bond over mutual interests such as movies, pets, and fitness.
- After-hours or late afternoon virtual socials: Team cocktail hours which may include things like games or simply touching base with each other
- Lunch break wellness activities: Take time at lunch and try to consistently exercise
- Brunch / lunch learning activities: short and sharp key learning lessons which focus on the softer skills that are important to navigate times of uncertainty.
Feedback remains an important part of building a trust culture. In a distributed workforce, changing the face of feedback will see important strides in continuing to build connections. A few things to consider are:
- Getting to grips with what creates a negative feedback experience or the fear related to feedback and cultivating changes in team behaviours linked to feedback
- Creating a team feedback framework
- Sharing your own feedback as a leader with your team – based either on your experience over time or in the moment
- Make feedback conversational and not an event – always leading with positive intent
Make face to face meetings a priority
There is no replacement for seeing your colleagues face-to-face, even if it’s via a screen. Seeing and hearing others allows you to pick up on subtle cues like voice inflection and body language, helping you identify issues and connect with your teams. It establishes trust and helps people feel like a part of the team. These are our suggestions:
- Weekly 1:1s: Designate time for managers to meet individually with employees via video to establish trust, build connections, and celebrate individual accomplishments.
- Mandatory video meetings: Promote teamwork and reinforce values when you see your colleagues face-to-face. You may encourage your teams to be on video at the start of the meeting and then go off video until they speak.
EY employees in South Africa continue to work from home, and are able to access the office should they want or need.
We do expect, over time, to return to the office and are currently redesigning our physical workspaces to accommodate a more hybrid model.
Dr Hayley Haupt is an EY Africa Workforce Consulting Leader.