“Hey, you’re still on mute.” Sound familiar? There’s no doubt that the pandemic imposed a renegotiation with our conception of the traditional working environment when 69% of American workers started working from home to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus.
As recently as October 2020, 33% of workers reported they were always working remotely, and many prominent organizations have made declarations that the expectation of reporting to a physical office has been reset.
Over the past year, companies have gotten creative keeping culture and camaraderie alive in the absence of physical workspace. From virtual water coolers to asynchronous ice breakers, almost every workplace has taken a stab at mimicking the in-person hangouts we used to enjoy.
But, at the end of the day, culture is sustained and its benefits are reaped when doing actual productive work. Let’s dive in.
What Is Company Culture?
Culture is what makes your company your company. Culture is the umbrella under which you could group all the values, norms, attitudes, language, and achievements shared by your team.
Employees embody your culture in every interaction with their colleagues — and never were those interactions stronger than in the office. But even if that isn’t a possibility right now, those interactions and what they symbolize are still crucial to the employee experience.
The challenges of sustaining culture within remote and hybrid work environments have demanded more of HR teams, managers, and company leaders, and caused companies to rethink how they sculpt their corporate identity.
The remote work environment imposed by the pandemic has made the culture question more difficult, but in a very encouraging way.
The endeavor to craft an effective post-COVID culture demands purposefulness and forces organization to reckon with what actually motivates employees by way of means of collaboration, standards of behavior, and finding meaning in their day-to-day roles.
Why Remote Company Culture Is Still Important
Company culture matters because it motivates. For most employees, your company invariably becomes part of their identity.
And that identity manifests in any number of ways that directly impacts work output. It is seen in how eagerly employees are to collaborate, the means by which and on what grounds they achieve rewards and recognition, and whether they are motivated by fear or inspiration.
If you’re concerned with engaging and retaining your employees, it’s hard to do so without first examining the culture.
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Every company can find a way to intrinsically motivate employees, even if its product or service isn’t easily tied to a greater purpose. Your business went to market because it offered some kind of differentiator, whether it’s a better product, a new means of delivery, or a lower price.
Consider how your unique selling point improves the lives of your customers. Harness, distill, and package it so that employees can tie the company’s mission to their personal goals of making the world a better place. (If that’s too lofty, look for any moments of delight that your customers experience through your product or service offerings.)
Employee Retention during This Time
No matter the current availability of job-seekers, retention is always a top priority. Gallup estimates that the cost of employee turnover is anywhere from 50% to 200% of their annual salary. Attrition directly and adversely impacts your bottom line through training and HR administrative efforts, as well as relationships of trust being reestablished from scratch.
Two landmark studies from the late 20th century showed a correlation between employee retention and cultural values, showing that “different strategies result in psychological climates that foster varying levels of commitment and retention.” Some things never change!
How Can a Company Create and Maintain a Remote Culture?
When it comes to creating a strong remote company culture, don’t rely too heavily on extracurricular activities like team events, because culture doesn’t start at 5pm. Instead, simply ponder the question of what makes for a strong company culture in any working arrangement. The keys to success are tools, hiring, and managers.
Tools — The right tools foster productive and positive relationships between colleagues. For largely computer-based workers, the biggest logistical hurdle is identifying a replacement for the physical conference room. We’ve all heard the pitfalls of Zoom fatigue, and teams are starting to pick up on asynchronous collaboration — examining both of these tool-based can preempt burnout and maintain motivation. For workplaces transitioning to a hybrid workforce, allow these lessons to carry you through.
Hiring — The number one tactical step you can take when building and sustaining a strong culture is through thoughtful and deliberate hiring of the right people. Create a hiring rubric that identifies the talent that will be most effectively motivated by what sets you apart from the competition.
Managers — Culture is created through experiences, and managers are the cornerstone of setting the tone for employee experience. Managers’ actions and interactions are the touchpoints that reverberate out into the broader organization. In the modern-day workforce, managers are the key to a more human workforce.
A strong relationship of trust between managers and their reports also affords opportunities for employees to surface any mental health challenges they may be facing. It is a best practice to train managers in mental health first aid and in how employees can utilize your EAP, so that they can readily offer resources to those who may be struggling.
While these conversations can be uncomfortable, getting ahead of employee mental health can help managers plan for any potential lapses in coverage and contribute tremendously to retention when employees have a positive experience that’s driven by empathy.
How Do Hybrid Teams Factor in Work Culture?
A hybrid workforce, in the post-COVID context, refers to teams that are split between those who physically report to the office and those that work remotely on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.
If you’re in the process of inviting some employees back into the physical workspace, it’s crucial to be proactive in combating the renewed sense of isolation that remote employees might feel.
Conversations around work/life balance are not new, but they might prove to be a classic solution to a novel problem. When working at home all day, remote employees may struggle to draw healthy boundaries between work and home. It’s been said that some newly remote workers have traded the time once spent commuting for longer working hours.
Even if your workplace have evolved to a results-oriented working environment not tied to a traditionally rigid work schedule, you should consider setting core “collaboration hours” during which employees are expected to be reachable and online.
Discourage your staff from sending emails or reaching out to colleagues outside of these times, so that all workers can feel at ease in closing their computers for the evening.
How Do Hybrid Teams Stay Connected?
If you decide to structure your office in a hybrid workplace arrangement, it might be prudent to discourage in-office employees from leveraging the advantages of proximity when it comes to communicating and collaborating.
For example, if some folks are gathering in a conference room while others are dialing in, it should be expected that each individual will attend the meeting using their own device. This goes for company social events as well.
A successful hybrid workplace will leverage technology to foster connection and collaboration between all employees. It’s fair to say that physical proximity makes collaboration and innovation easier, but not necessarily better.
For example, be sure to broadcast your company’s all-hands meeting virtually in real-time, rather than solely addressing employees who have physically reported to the office that day. Major announcements should be shared for the first time electronically, so that everyone has an equal chance to take advantage of new opportunities and process new information.
Keeping Hybrid Teams Together
Company culture manifests itself in the work we do, and how we go about doing it. Before spending too much time planning your next virtual happy hour, take stock of your collaboration tools, hiring practices, and managerial staff’s acumen.
Your collaboration tools should meet the productivity needs of all workers, and not favor those who are willing and able to report to the office. Hiring decisions need to be made deliberately than ever, with purpose and measured against tangible values. Finally, invest in developing your managers to be the champions of culture within your organization. Every interaction is an opportunity to lead by example in making yours a company for the ages.
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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.