We tend to think of remote work in 2021 as something imposed on us from on high, without our consent. It’s easy to feel nostalgic about water cooler conversations and the buzz of a morning coffee with colleagues. Company culture appears thwarted by the move away from all this.
While we’ve seen a rapid acceleration of the trend, the move to remote-work has been happening for some time. As early as 2016, Gallup found that 43% of the US workforce spent at least some working hours remotely. Work-from-home was part of a pre-pandemic vision for a new world of work - a more inclusive, flexible and creative one.
So how can we think about work from home as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance, to a positive company culture?
Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work, strikingly defines corporate culture as “the side effects of working for your organization”. The tasks an employee has to complete in a job may not vary drastically from company to company - but the way they think and feel about the work will change. It might seem soft, but in fact company culture deeply drives output from employees. All transactions, relationships and goals fall under its umbrella.
Culture is the working environment at your company. It’s the stories you tell about what it means to work there. It’s how employees relate to each other, and the long-term intentions of your brand.
Values are the building blocks of a strong organizational culture. Ensure these are clearly defined from the outset. They are a touchstone for all interactions with employees – from onboarding, to offering feedback to examining staff turnover. They keep managers grounded in times of uncertainty – allowing us to approach problems with our ‘better angels’ to guide us.
Culture and values should be consistent. But it’s worth considering how these values can evolve to become more relevant to the work-from-home world.
Before the pandemic, remote-work was viewed as a way to make working life more inclusive. An estimated 43% of women quit work when they have children. Telework and greater flexibility were thus posited as potential cures to the gender pay gap. Pre-pandemic experiments with this have been successful.
Amazon’s ‘Virtual Locations’ policy allowed employees to work from any location well before 2020. Eloise Smith, Group Creative Director at Amazon EU, says that ‘Flexible working practices open up a pool of diverse talent that otherwise might avoid corporate life’. Beyond a four-day-week at Amazon, Smith writes children’s fiction. Starting with the employee’s needs sparks creativity and a more positive culture.
Think about how work-from-home can usher in new beginnings for your employees. What wasn’t working before the move to remote-work? Did staff experience burn-out or struggle with work-life balance? Greater flexibility can help. The 9-5 structure is changing, and many employees are better motivated by a results-driven approach.
Flexible working prioritizes high quality work over the number of hours. These changes might challenge conventional practices. But they provide the chance to create a more equitable work environment.
According to Harvard Business Review research, workers at high-trust companies reported 74% less stress and 50% higher productivity. WFH relies on a strong culture of trust. When you can’t see your remote team members working, a traditional ‘Management by wandering around’ strategy isn’t going to work. Try to rest in uncertainty. Again, prioritizing results over hours worked can help. Remember, if you monitor your employees hourly you will only add to their stress.
Give your people the space to address the challenges of home-working. Leeway through periods of change is crucial – Twitter suspended its performance reviews for a year in light of the pandemic. By creating a psychologically secure environment, your employees are more likely to excel. Remote-work can provoke positive change – by requiring us to develop trustful employee relations.
A culture of trust relies on avoiding over-communication. But making yourself available to your staff is also important. Take care to listen actively. Roy T. Bennet wrote that ‘the greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.’ We often make the mistake of thinking communication is just speaking our own mind. In reality, effective communication is mostly about listening and asking questions. Use the communication channels you have (video-conferencing tools on Zoom, chat functions on Slack, etc.) to open up discussions.
Try to simulate face-to-face interaction. Virtual one-one-ones can facilitate more natural discussions. Where possible, switch video on. Non-verbal cues such as open body language and eye contact are key to building trust.
Encourage employees to be honest about the transition to remote-work. Use weekly pulse surveys, as well as wellbeing and mood surveys to check-in with them in an anonymous way. This enables you to pinpoint any problem areas. If you are starting your companies WFH culture from scratch, be open to trial and error.
Behavioral values allow you to set clear expectations for your staff. These values are the most measurable day to day. For example, if you value attention to detail over speed –emphasize this to your staff. If teamwork and collaboration are core skills, then praise the co-operation you want to see. As employees transition to working from home, behavioral values may change. Think about how values like ‘consistency’ and ‘reliability’ might play out from home. Setting a regular weekly deadline for tasks can really help clarify expected behaviors. This helps staff set realistic and useful intentions.
When we are working in our living rooms, it’s easy to feel secluded in our own bubble. We lack the thrill of presenting our projects to our peers. We miss compliments from our colleagues for our hard work. It’s not self-indulgent to feel this way. Peer-to-peer recognition is known to improve employee experience. A supportive culture makes work more rewarding. To achieve this, avoid favoritism and recognize excellent work across teams.
Beata Souder recommends focusing praise on behaviors instead of traits. The same goes for constructive feedback. Rather than feeling strengths or weaknesses are fixed, this inspires a growth mindset. Pay attention to how remote-work impacts on communication. More regular, informal check-ins can help create an open and responsive environment for feedback. Place employee engagement at the heart of any review system – as their purpose is improvement, not censure.
A healthy company culture requires managers to reflect on every aspect of their business. Incorporate your core values during interactions with your staff – and make these values actionable. Culture is more than just be a PR strategy, it should be an ideal you actively work towards. With the move to work-from-home, ensure your values are transferable.
Now is the time for cultural reflection – what principles will help guide your company through the new world of work? If you want to learn more about HR software can help remote teams excel, book a demo with PeopleGoal today.
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