What is workplace culture?
“You don’t need everyone physically together to create a strong culture. The best cultures derive from actions people actually take.”
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of Basecamp and authors of New York Times bestseller ‘ReWork’.
“Culture” is hard to define, as it means something slightly different for every company. However, it is widely accepted that culture in a team isn’t about individual performances, personalities or attitudes, it is about how a team works together as a cohesive unit. Cultivating a positive company culture is challenging, even without the added complication of having remote workers. But with the current climate accelerating the use of remote working, it is now important that companies ensure a positive culture thrives outside of the office environment.
Maintaining a sense of unity
Managing from afar and working with virtual teams requires a tailored approach, focusing on delivering an understanding of the aligned objectives between the employer and employee and how they can be achieved, as well as how connected teams feel.
Remote working can sometimes create obstacles to communication, collaboration, relationship building and accessibility within your team, however, with the right strategy and communication techniques you can still maintain a unified and remote workforce.
It might help, when working out how to maintain your workplace culture remotely, to consider discussing the following:
- The communication channels you plan to use (i.e. Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams)
- The collaborative tools you think work best (i.e. Google Docs)
- How you and your team communicate your working hours and availability to each other
- Ways of communicating and deciding who should be in the loop on which discussions (for example ensuring key team members i.e. designers, copy writers, web developers etc aren’t left out of processes)
So what are the key elements to nail if you want to maintain your workplace culture remotely?
1. Clear and transparent communication
When managing remote workers, effective and open communication is crucial. It is important that you establish frequent communication via the right digital tools, taking advantage of all channels at your disposal to arm employees with the resources needed to continue to perform effectively and encourage new mediums for collaboration.
When the team cannot be together in person, therefore, the next best thing is to connect via video. It could simply entail a weekly call, where the first five minutes is allotted to management to update team members about how the company is doing, any changes and then allow time for questions. You can then use the rest of the conference call as an opportunity to align priorities, keep everyone informed and share news. By scheduling regular conferences you can effectively lead a real-time conversation with a clear, unified objective. Send an agenda prior to the call and encourage everyone to add to it.
As these calls are now your equivalent to team meetings you need to stress the importance of attending, making sure that everyone receives the update and in turn everyone can be heard. This will ensure that every remote worker is being kept in the loop and part of their team.
2. Building a rapport
Remote working removes the opportunity for those impromptu interactions that can often build a personal rapport and foster working relationships between employees. This could be sharing ideas about work or simply catching up about their weekend, generally just spending quality time together, which is essential for team bonding. This is particularly important if you have new team members who may not have yet had the opportunity to fully integrate into your organisation yet.
Therefore, as well as maintaining transparency, it is important to build in ‘team time’ on conference calls to provide the opportunity to encourage small talk and build relationships. This time could be used to recognise accomplishments and have ‘unofficial’ chatter, creating a consistent positive part of each week. On the occasion when conference calls aren’t possible or necessary, technology now provides alternatives to sustain regular communication between employees, and you could look at setting up a group chat – for example using Yammer or Slack.
3. Knowledge sharing
Many of your team members possess specialist knowledge that it’s easy to share in the office, but more difficult to do remotely. Perhaps get one of your employees to create a PDF, webinar or podcast on their specialist subject? This could be a unique opportunity to encourage your team to appreciate one another’s value and really understand the strength of their contribution. Ensure that this is followed up with recognition and public praise of team members.
4. Engaging with colleagues
It may be easy in person to read people’s body language and play off their reactions, but on the phone this is more difficult. Where possible, arrange video calls so at least team members are able to see each other, making it easier to collaborate and resolve issues.
Whilst reading each other’s body language can still be tricky on camera, this can be mitigated by paying closer attention to tone of voice and identifying changes in pace or pitch. Unifying teams at this point is crucial, and it’s important to make employees understand that despite the distance they are still part of a unified team working towards the same company goals. Encourage inclusive language such as ‘we’ and ‘our’ when referencing counterparts, a subtle technique that fosters cohesion and unity and also help new team members feel welcomed and included.
5. Recognising an opportunity
Whilst remote work can add an additional layer of complexity, when done well it has been argued that having flexibility around remote working is a strengthening force. Where people are trusted and empowered to work in the interests of the organisation, then it’s possible to get to a place where culture influences mindset. When this happens, where people are located shouldn’t matter, and it’s this that can still create a sense of collaboration in-tune with the organisational culture.