“Culture” as a term is hard to define, as it means something slightly different for every organisation. From trust and mutual respect to a clear vision and regular communication, people describe culture in many ways. The one thing most people agree on is that culture can ultimately be distilled down to the unique and collective way in which a team behaves and works together as a cohesive unit. In other words, how it works.
Cultivating a positive organisational culture is challenging, even in co-located teams. Given the recent rapid acceleration of remote working, it is now more important than ever that organisations ensure their positive culture thrives outside of their standard workplace.
The good news is that this is certainly possible – it just requires a slightly different approach. Following are the key elements to nail if you want to maintain your workplace culture while your team works remotely.
1. Reinforce values. No doubt everyone in your team already understands and is aligned with your organisation’s unique way of working. After all, you recruited them, in part, because they had the right cultural fit with your team and its values.
However, when teams are not co-located, you need to take some time to reinforce these values and ensure everyone remains committed to them. After all, a team’s culture is built on more than just gathering in the lunch room together for a game of table tennis. As mentioned above, it’s about how the team works together.
For example, if the team is known for being solutions-focused, its inside jokes, a strong sense of ethics or a creative and collaborative approach, these need to be upheld.
If you sense an employee’s way of working is slipping out of alignment with these, you’ll need to address the issue promptly.
So, keep your team’s values front and centre – which leads into our next point.
2. Clear and transparent communication. When managing remote workers, effective and open communication is crucial. Take advantage of the channels at your disposal, such as Skype, Slack or Microsoft Teams, to establish frequent communication with and between your team.
When your team cannot be together in person, the next best thing is to connect via video. Over the phone, you cannot read people’s body language whereas on video calls team members can see each other, which makes it easier to collaborate and resolve issues. It also allows you to stress your team’s values and way of working.
So, set up a weekly team call in which you can share a management update about how the organisation is performing and any changes. Invite questions. Then align priorities to keep everyone on the same page and ask each team member to share what they are working on.
By scheduling regular conferences, you can effectively lead a real-time conversation and reinforce a clear, unified objective.
As these calls are now your equivalent to team meetings, stress the importance of everyone attending so all your remote workers are kept in the loop and maintain a sense of team unity.
After all, bringing your team together at this point is crucial. These calls allow your employees to understand that despite the distance they are still part of a cohesive unit with clear objectives and a unique way of working.
One simple trick to help keep your team united is to use inclusive language such as ‘we’ and ‘our’. This is a subtle technique that fosters unity and helps team members feel included.
3. Build rapport. Remote working removes the opportunity for impromptu interactions that build a personal rapport and foster working relationships between employees. From sharing ideas about work while sitting at their desks to simply catching up about their weekend, such interactions are essential for team bonding. This is particularly important for new team members who may not have yet had the opportunity to fully integrate into your organisation.
Therefore, as well as weekly team updates, it is important to establish time for social communication too. From a quick IM to say ‘hello’ to your team when you first log in each morning, to a regular Friday afternoon conference call designed solely to encourage small talk and unofficial water cooler-style conversations, such interactions are important for morale and maintaining team relationships. They also help employees overcome any feelings of isolation when working remotely, which is essential for health and wellbeing.
4. Knowledge sharing. Many of your team members will possess specialist knowledge that can be easily shared in an office but is more difficult to share remotely. In such cases, look for new ways to share this information. For example, perhaps your employees could 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 this is followed up with recognition and public praise of team members.
5. Collaborate. Working remotely doesn’t mean the end of collaboration. If collaboration is part of the DNA of how your team works, make sure you create opportunities for this to continue. Collaboration tools such as Google Docs can help your team continue to innovate, support each other, pool knowledge and share ideas.
6. Recognising an opportunity. While remote work can add an additional layer of complexity, when done well it can be a strengthening force. When people are trusted and empowered to work in the interests of the organisation, it’s possible to get to a place where culture influences mindset. When this happens, it doesn’t matter where people are located.
Creating opportunities for regular communication, collaboration, rapport building and knowledge sharing will keep everyone connected, aligned and engaged, allowing you to reinforce your values and maintain your culture when your team is working from home.
If you have any questions about hiring, please contact your Hays consultant.
Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.
Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.
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