For many businesses, COVID-19 has dramatically altered the way they work now and moving forward. Nowhere is that truer than how it has accelerated how companies embrace and adapt to remote working.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 49.2% of employed adults in the UK were working from home as of April 2020. While the trend towards remote working has been recognised for several years now, this rapid shift has forced organisations to think on their feet about many factors, like:
- Do they have the technology in place to support efficient remote working?
- How do we support the wellbeing of employees that need to work remotely?
- How are we going to maintain communications with our customers and other audiences?
- What will this mean for our company culture?
That final question is what we are focusing this article around. Many organisations are understandably fearful about employees feeling abandoned or disconnected from their employer brand if they aren’t in their traditional workplace.
They may have invested in brilliant workplace bonuses like cafe areas, beanbags, ping pong tables, exercise machines and more to encourage a positive, fun atmosphere and engage their employees. Without these cool perks, how will existing staff and new hires feel part of the team and understand its core values?
Well, in this article we will explain why maintaining company culture is possible while working remotely, and why it might in fact enhance the strength of this over time.
What is company culture and why is it so important?
As great as a table football set or an in-house cinema can be to make work a more interesting place to be, those that think they represent the essence of company culture are going about things all wrong. They may make people happy in the short term and even tie in with your company values, but they are no more than “nice-to-haves”.
In reality, your company culture is the mission, visions and values that underline who your brand is and what it stands for. It represents the attitudes and behaviours that team members demonstrate on a day-to-day basis.
For instance, are you a company that’s rooted in tradition and your local community, or one that’s laser-focused on the future and globalisation?
Do you promote a formal, hierarchical style of management, or a more free-flowing approach to employee participation?
Do you push a practice of 9-to-5 office hours from Monday to Friday, or do you favour a flexible approach to working times?
The great thing about company culture is that there is no wrong answer to these questions, as it will depend on what values you uphold within your organisation. The key is building this culture and getting employees to buy into it, as this will ensure they’re connected to your brand and that everyone is working towards a shared goal – the continued progression of the company.
You may be thinking “that sounds great, but what impact does a strong company culture actually have in practice?”. We’re glad you asked, as the all-encompassing nature of company culture impacts an organisation in many ways, including:
- Recruitment – 77% of job seekers will assess a company’s culture before applying there
- Retaining staff – 63% of employees say company culture is one of the main reasons for staying in a job
- Productivity – Employees satisfied with their workplace culture are 12% more productive than unhappy employees
- Stronger leadership – Employees are 23% more likely to stay with a company if their manager clearly explains their role and responsibilities
- Revenue growth – Companies with strong cultures can see revenue growth of up to 682% compared to just 166% for those without
Now, establishing and reinforcing company culture is easier said than done, and it definitely takes more than setting up a slide in the middle of your building.
Is remote working actually great for company culture?
We believe this forced transition to remote working, while problematic in the short term for many, could actually inspire more companies to take a well-thought-out approach to developing their company culture.
In a communal office environment, for instance, it is easy to fall into the trap that many have in the past that perks = culture. A pool table, a branded poster down the main corridor and after-work drinks on a Friday and the job’s done, right? Wrong.
By adding the additional challenge of keeping a remote workforce engaged and up-to-speed with the values that the company upholds above all others, particularly if it involves bringing a completely fresh face into the mix, it forces those responsible for company culture to think more clearly.
There’s no assumption that it will develop naturally over time or a few incentives will do the work for them. They enter the process with their eyes wide open. So, if you find yourself in this situation, what steps can you take to keep your culture strong while your team is spread out?
How to inspire company culture across your remote workforce
Define and document your core values
Firstly, it’s important that you take the time to assess the values that make your company what it is. What do you stand for as a brand? What do you aspire towards? How do you look to make life a better place for your customers and the wider world?
Clarity on these is essential – if you’re fuzzy on what your company’s core values truly are, then that confusion will trickle down to your employees, making it likely they feel disconnected or disengaged with your brand. Once you have nailed down your values, these can be communicated internally to help bring the team together under a common goal.
And remember, when you have your values, put them somewhere virtually so your team can access them and understand them. That’s a huge factor in why BAM by Papirfly™ incorporates an “Educate” section, where our clients can house critical documents like their core values to ensure that your team members, even those working remotely, know what your brand stands for and will present that through your marketing collateral.
Plus, your values may change over time as the world around us evolves, so make sure that you review them annually or quarterly.
Make your values central to internal and external communications
Once you have your core values cemented, instilling them throughout your remote team takes more than just slapping it on a poster or a page on your website. They need to become inherent to how you communicate and operate as a team, and be a constant presence within your organisation.
How can this be achieved? Techniques we’d recommend include:
- Institute a company-wide newsletter to share big wins and exciting news within the company
- Establish designated channels in your chat systems like Slack or Google Hangouts to encourage communication among remote workers
- Celebrate achievements through your social media platforms as well as through internal channels
- Ensure all team members utilise the same communication channels when working, rather than being left to their own devices
- Hold frequent performance reviews and one-to-one meetings with team members to discuss their work and reinforce your values
- Host creative learning courses or training sessions with remote workers built around company values
- Guide staff through new processes virtually so they can work autonomously and capably without the need for micromanagement
By instilling each of these communication points with your core values, they become a more constant presence for your employees, connecting them with your overarching culture.
Showcase your company history during onboarding
As part of the onboarding process for new employees, or even as a recurring meeting or session with all members of your team, present a timeline of your company and how your connection to your values and visions has contributed to your progression.
This historical example will not only present tangible examples of why your company believes in its approach, ensuring your employees don’t consider your brand as “all talk, no action”, but it will help new recruits feel like they’ve been part of your organisation for a while by giving them a strong sense of where you’ve come from.
The sooner you can get recruits invested in company culture and motivated by your brand vision, the faster they will be delivering top-quality work for your cause.
Encourage video conferencing for more than meetings
Programs like Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts have enjoyed a boom during 2020, as more and more businesses begin to rely on them to keep in touch with employees, customers and more in this challenging environment.
But, to support your company culture further, try and find ways to harness this technology for more than meetings and training sessions. Just because remote workers can’t all gather around the water cooler for a chat doesn’t mean the same effect can’t be achieved virtually. In fact, it’s better, because now you can schedule these well in advance!
Dedicate time during your working day or after work to informal discussions and catch-ups among your workforce. This will not only familiarise them with their co-workers, build stronger relationships and ensure people don’t become isolated, but it will also help them let their hair down.
Take these informal chats further by hosting gaming sessions, movie nights and more through your video conferencing technology.
Blend core values into company workflows
As noted earlier, it’s crucial that your core values are integrated into working practices, and recognised when they are upheld among your team members. Discuss these values when interviewing or onboarding new recruits and during team training sessions, and then celebrate it when an employee does something, whether it’s related to work or not, that embodies your core values.
For example, if one of your key values is being environmentally conscious, if somebody does a fun run that raises a lot of money to save the rainforests, then shout it out. By identifying and rewarding people who are engaged with your company culture, it makes them feel more connected with the team and encourages others to follow that example.
Bring the team together from time to time
With lockdown restrictions coming to a halt, take some time to plan out company-wide retreats and get-togethers than bring your remote workers together.
There is sometimes really no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but if your team typically is spread far apart, it makes these events even more meaningful and effective than if it was just spending time with the people you’re sharing a building with 8 hours a day.
These events can concentrate on team bonding and building that united front without the pressure of work, which will then translate into employees being more connected with their co-workers and more empowered in their own working environment.
5 brands nailing company culture while working remotely
As part of their commitment to Relationship Care, employees at American Express regularly receive coaching on how to connect with their customers and inspire loyalty. In this new age of remote working, this is now achieved by side-to-side virtual training as opposed to in-person coaching.
Buffer, which has a 100% remote workforce, maintains a strong, unified culture by frequently asking for team feedback and suggestions through surveys, and by establishing a People Team that is dedicated to employee engagement and experimenting with new approaches to building company culture.
ICUC Social’s commitment to developing a capable remote working culture incorporates initiatives like Happy Hour Fridays on Google Hangouts, cluster parties in various cities for their global teams, and a Sherpa Program, where someone is assigned to closely support and guide new recruits for their first month in the role.
Activities that have helped boost employee engagement at SitePen include all-hands meetings on Monday mornings, an array of project chatrooms where remote workers can discuss an array of topics, and frequent one-on-one mentoring catch-ups.
In order to promote the company’s value of celebrating travel and adventure, Toptal will often encourage team members in meetings to discuss where they’re working from, and this will often lead to discussions about exotic locations and traditions. They also regularly host team meetups in a variety of places worldwide.
Communicating your company culture
We hope that this has been an eye-opening examination of how company culture can thrive in a remote working landscape. While the creature comforts of on-location working have their undoubted benefits for boosting employee engagement, we feel the challenge presented by this reliance on virtual technology will encourage organisations to think more about what they can do to cement and express their values throughout their workforce.
At Papirfly, we are supporting our clients’ efforts to achieve this united front through our all-encompassing BAM portal. Through our software’s dedicated Educate section, we ensure all guidelines, training videos, assets and more are available to team members across the globe, so everybody is conscious of who their brand is and what they stand for.