How to Keep Your Company Culture Healthy in the Era of Remote Work
For millions of employees, the pandemic was a period of isolation and disconnection unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. As COVID-19 steadily yields to mass vaccination campaigns and the broad outline of the post-pandemic economy comes into view, this difficult period will prove to be instructive. Remote work is here to stay, and the past year-plus has taught companies invaluable lessons about how to maintain a healthy workplace culture even when employees don’t see each other in the office every day.
There’s nothing more important for the maintenance of employee morale, engagement, and productivity than developing and sustaining the right culture. Culture underpins everything a company does, from establishing clear values and norms of behavior to the facilitation of open communication between departments and teams. Companies have to be capable of galvanizing employees around a shared set of goals and principles, whether they’re in the same office or thousands of miles away. This is something we’ve learned firsthand at Enable, as we have offices in the UK and the US.
Remote work imposes plenty of constraints on company culture. It’s harder to build workplace relationships when you can’t just drop by a colleague’s office or bump into someone in the hallway. But there are many ways companies can mitigate these disadvantages while leveraging the elements of remote work that can actually bring employees closer together.
Establish and Refine Your Company’s Values
When a company has a core set of consistently articulated values, employees have a clearer understanding of norms and expectations. While many companies offer perfunctory explanations of their values, these efforts aren’t registering with employees. According to Gallup, 27 percent of employees strongly believe in their company’s values, while less than half strongly agree that they even know what their company stands for and what makes it unique.
These figures indicate major cultural problems. When employees don’t believe in what they’re doing at work, showing up at the office can begin to feel meaningless. This problem is particularly serious when one considers that more than 90 percent of employees say they would trade a portion of their lifetime earnings for the opportunity to do more meaningful work. The connection between meaningful work and an understanding of a company’s mission is clear. A study by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and the Globoforce WorkHuman Research Institute found that meaningful work — defined as an understanding of the company’s mission and the value of the work employees do — was the biggest contributor to positive employee experiences.
Finally, when employees understand your company’s mission, it’s a boon to productivity. When all employees know what they’re working toward, it’s easier to secure buy-in at every level of the company and keep everyone moving in the same direction. This is all the more important when you have a distributed workforce.
Focus on Effective Communication
COVID-19 forced employees to radically reconceptualize how they communicate and collaborate. Although companies are steadily bringing employees back into the office, there has been a permanent shift in how organizations view remote work. A recent PwC survey found that 83 percent of executives believe the transition to remote work has been successful, while just over one-fifth think it’s necessary for employees to be in the office five days per week to maintain a strong culture. Meanwhile, well over half of employees say they would like to work from home three or more days per week, while only 8 percent aren’t interested in working remotely.
When employees are no longer working in a single office, regular communication via video chat is paramount. Designate time for managers to meet individually with employees to establish trust, build connections, and celebrate individual accomplishments. If someone is having problems, it’s easier to find a solution with a partner. Hold all-hands meetings often. This is a chance for the leadership team to update the entire organization on important events and milestones.
In a Slack survey, 45 percent of new remote workers said their sense of belonging suffered at home, so companies should create opportunities for employees to connect over conversations that have nothing to do with work. Social events give employees the opportunity to build relationships and participate in activities they might not have taken up on their own.
A Healthy Culture Is All About Engagement
Even before the pandemic, many companies faced employee engagement crises. According to Gallup, just 22 percent of employees were engaged at work in 2019 — and that fell to 20 percent in 2020. Gallup also reports that companies with engaged employees have lower rates of absenteeism and turnover; higher productivity, customer ratings, and sales; and greater profitability.
There are many ways companies can create cultures of engagement. Share goals and highlight achievements to bring the entire organization together. Recognize specific team members regularly if they’re doing exceptional work. Companies should also ensure that there are open lines of communication when it comes to employees’ needs and priorities. There has never been a better time to offer flexibility. As long as employees are getting their work done and meeting expectations, give them some leeway in terms of hours and the division of labor. One reliable way to keep employees engaged is to show them that their opinions matter. Actively solicit feedback and ask employees to help the company craft its mission and values.
In the era of remote and hybrid work — and as young workers increasingly value the ability to work in offices around the world — all these elements of engagement are only becoming more important. While companies face many historically unique obstacles to building healthy workplace cultures, they’ve never had more tools to help them do so.
David Hunt is chief operating officer at Enable.
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