10 Ways to Create a Positive Company Culture with a Remote Workforce
10 Ways to Create a Positive Company Culture with a Remote Workforce
Around half of UK employees are reportedly still working remotely despite the government’s plea for businesses to return to their offices. A survey by LinkedIn reports that 60% are worried about going back to their workplace due to concerns it will not be Covid-secure. Around the same percentage of staff still want to continue to work from home due to the work/life balance benefits. So, another key challenge for business leaders is how to create a positive culture when the majority of your staff are not co-located.
As with any relationship or situation pre-Covid, existing issues became accentuated during lockdown. Therefore, if there were problems with a toxic leader, silo working or poor performance management beforehand, those challenges would be aggravated during the enforced home working necessitated by the global pandemic. Organizations who had already embraced digital transformation, flexible and remote working had existing mutual trust and transparency with their workers; global companies, such as Google, Twitter, Shell and RBS are encouraging staff to continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future. The positive for many large organizations is that they have seen a 20% hike in productivity during lockdown, with employees working through their commuting time and being less distracted by their colleagues.
However, on the downside, incidences of stress and burnout are on the increase. Added to the gloomy economic outlook, the end of the furlough scheme, predicted ongoing mass redundancies, and the likely prospect of a hard Brexit, leaders and HR teams are now facing a potential perfect storm over the Autumn and Winter.
Against this backdrop, there are 10 actions employers can take to create a positive culture:
1. Increase Communication: Anyone who has lived through a major Change Management Programme, knows that the key to positive engagement is communication, more communication, and then some! At the onset of lockdown, amidst all the uncertainty and anxiety, team members wanted to hear the truth from their leaders and to be reassured. Holding regular virtual town halls and all-hands meetings is still a valid intervention to update staff, even more so if job cuts are on the horizon.
2. Communicate and align any revised Vision, Strategy, Plans and Objectives: We all had to change and cancel our plans in March, whether that involved postponing holidays, weddings, sports events or trips to the theatre. Those who have their own personal vision, strategy and goals will no doubt have had to adapt them, as marathons, ironman challenges and yoga retreats were moved to 2021. The same is true for firms: their vision may have been to become the largest retailer in 2020, their strategy may have been to open more shops or restaurants, but they have had to adapt swiftly too, which is why leaders also need to communicate any revised vision, strategy and business plans. Line managers then need to explain how the changes impact key objectives, deliverables and team members KPIs.
3. Recreate the Water Cooler Conversations: Working in an office has many benefits, most notably, the ad hoc interactions at the water cooler when a problem is solved, the impromptu corridor conversations when a solution is found, the sudden spark of creativity at the foosball table during lunch hour. In order to ensure that innovation is not stifled by MS Teams, Zoom meetings and resultant screen fatigue, it’s important for line managers to recreate these casual but pivotal moments with informal stand-up meetings and impromptu telephone calls. To ensure this happens, it’s imperative to keep space blocked out in the diary for creative strategic thinking and planning time.
4. Hold regular Team Meetings virtually in order to deal with strategic and operational issues, but also for more informal social interaction. It’s important that line managers in particular, but also peers and colleagues have the opportunity to show personal interest, build rapport in the ‘new normal', and share stories about home schooling, baking disasters, or new fitness regimes. During lockdown your line manager suddenly had a lens in to your home life, discovering the colour of the curtains in your spare bedroom, how noisy your children are, how stressed your partner is, how loud your dog barks when the online delivery arrives! With this unparalled level of intrusion in to our personal lives, a new bond and stronger working relationships could be formed. Allow all team members to speak, don’t mute mikes, hold short, focused video calls to see the whites of everyone’s eyes.
5. Continue to Manage Performance, whilst demonstrating Empathy: Leaders and line managers have had to tread a fine line between still managing output and performance, whilst showing empathy towards team members regarding sick relatives, childcare issues, and bereavement during the peak of the virus. It's important to encourage collaboration and deliver positive encouraging feedback morning and afternoon so that workers feel connected and have the sense of belonging. The key is to take a proactive approach to health and well-being, offering support, such as Resilience Coaching and EAPs.
6. Revisit your Company Values: Ask for feedback on what employers want the company to look and feel like in the ‘new normal’. Are your values still relevant and do new ones need to be added, in particular to feature sustainability and Diversity and Inclusion? During the current crisis and with the Future of Work looking very uncertain, it is even more important for leaders to practice authentic leadership, to lead by example, metaphorically walk the floor by being visible online, and communicating regularly.
7. Use Pulse Surveys to ‘temperature check’ the mood and morale of your workforce and measure general sentiments. Whereas the water cooler conversations were an accurate reflection of company culture, what do you think the IMs between colleagues are discussing? Which functions are feeling happy, overworked, or demotivated?
8. Value your Talent: Most business people are familiar with the expression ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ which is attributed to the late management guru, Peter Drucker, and was popularised by the COO of Ford Motor Company, Mark Fields. At Ford, Fields replaced a culture which was characterised by distrust, fear and betrayal (needing to lay off 30,000 employees) with one of creativity, innovation and responsibility. Over the past 5 months we’ve witnessed some big brands fall from grace as a result of their approach to the pandemic, furlough scheme and workers’ rights in general. Now more than ever customers will vote with their thumbs online – as opposed to their feet! Despite the shocking employment figures and future negative predictions, top talent will still be able to vote with their thumbs too, so value them.
9. Look out for Digital Presenteeism: With the much-publicised 1,000 applicants going for just one role, there is a danger that poor morale will spread remotely. In the knowledge that it is now very difficult to source a new job, many workers will stay in their current positions even when very unhappy. Watch out for any nay-sayers who could derail future plans for restructures, stifle innovation and contribute to a toxic culture.
10. Invest in Outplacement Support: In order to maintain an engaged workforce and retain your employer and customer brand, it is worth investing in supportive Career Transition Coaching. The resultant attitudes of departing employees and those retained will contribute to the ROI.
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