Company Culture is Contagious
Sunday, 29th August 2021
Having worked in an environment of remote/distributed work for the past 30 years and having managed and grown my remote teams throughout EMEA during the recent pandemic, I believe that the following remote working tenets have been established globally:
- Remote working "works"!
- Employees can be trusted to self-manage while working remotely
- Remote working improves employee productivity
- It is more cost-effective for employers
- Physically centralized organizations are not essential for effective business
- It opens up a global talent pool of candidates to hire
- Company Culture can remain Contagious with the right level of communications and connectedness
Before sharing my learnings with you, allow me to make some introductory remarks.
Why is company culture important?
- Company culture affects nearly every aspect of a company. From recruiting top talent to improving employee satisfaction, it’s the backbone of a happy and productive workforce.
- Without a positive corporate culture, many employees will struggle to find real purpose in their work and this can lead to negative consequences to the bottom line. There is a strong correlation between employees who claim to feel happy and valued at work and those who say their company has a strong culture.
- Generally, company culture is contagious and is transmitted to new employees through training, communications, interaction with their peers and observation of leadership behaviours.
Company Culture in a remote work environment
- There is much debate about the future of remote working in the aftermath of the current coronavirus pandemic and many wonder whether remote working will become the new norm for many employees.
- This future state still remains to be fully defined, but most companies are reaching the point now when they need to provide their employees with clarity on the company stance on remote working long-term.
The impact of remote or distributed working on Company Culture
- Remote companies and traditional companies define their culture in the same way. Company culture comes from the people not the physical space they inhabit.
- However, on the premise that company culture truly is contagious, we need to address how to embed and maintain our company culture when large numbers of our employees are partially or permanently distributed workers.
- Based on my recent experience of managing a distributed organization through the pandemic, I am very optimistic that we can continue to build and reinforce company culture despite the current challenges.
- Below are some of my learnings on how to maintain and reinforce your company culture when employees are working remotely.
Clarity of expectations, goals and project milestones
- It’s important to establish boundaries and guidelines between managers and their direct reports.
- Managers might need to change the frequency or way they’re checking in on employees. Goals and milestones need to be discussed, agreed, monitored, and measured.
- Managers need to be clear on the rhythm of business and when progress updates are required. They can stay up to date on team projects with periodic check-ins or monitoring, using any of the communication, project management, or collaborative tools available such a Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
- Balancing the line between checking in and micromanaging may be tough, but essential for the new permanent work-from-home experience. In the absence of the ability to check up on progress through the typical “office drive-by”, it is critical to demonstrate employee trust by reinforcing and rewarding progress to goals.
Virtual Team meeting etiquette, behaviour and inclusivity
- During this time when people may be making a move to permanent working from home, it’s important to create a culture of empathy for others. Connecting on how people are doing is essential for good leadership. Build this unstructured check-in process into the start of the agenda for your meetings. You could call it structured – unstructured time.
- Leaders can also help their teammates by making sure everyone is well-prepped for their meetings by sending out agendas and meeting materials beforehand, with clearly defined expected outcomes for each topic on the agenda. Setting the tone of meetings can help participants feel willing to be engaged and contribute.
- Kick-off by stating the goal of the meeting and what will make for a successful outcome. Encourage the use of the “raised hand” signals to ensure all participants can contribute equally.
- Meeting participation by video should be mandatory. Encourage participants to ensure that their room lighting and backgrounds are suitable. Dress code should be dictated by the purpose of the meeting. Minimise background distractions.
Relevant employee communications
- Constant communication of your company culture is even more important with a distributed team. It needs to be clearly documented especially for the benefit of new hires. Welcome new hires in front of the team and require them to set up 1:1s with all of their peers and stakeholders. They will learn a lot about the culture from talking to peers.
- Encourage an environment of open communications and feedback. Set expectations on communications methods and frequency. As the manager, take the time to learn about everybody on your team. Run virtual all-hands or town hall meetings monthly, and schedule multiples of these meetings to include different time zones.
- It’s critical to provide updates on decisions that directly impact employees and their work and also the rationale for these decisions.
- Make face time a reality by scheduling team face to face meetings at least quarterly (if possible) and encouraging intact group training sessions.
- In general the information being communicated to employees must be relevant and of value to them. Focus more on the content of the communications than the frequency or volume. There is no such thing as over-communicating but there is the possibility of irrelevant information overload, which causes the key messages and understanding to be lost.
Remote employee engagement and team health
- Observe employee behaviours during team meetings and watch for lack of participation. Follow up with 1:1s to understand team members issues or concerns.
- Run quarterly team health surveys and specifically include questions to assess the health of the company culture. Conduct skip level 1:1s and employee open fora to pulse for organization health and effectiveness.
- The need for more structured coaching is necessary with remote teams as much informal training and coaching happens in traditional organizations due to proximity.
- It is good practice for managers to schedule some open time in their calendars at a set time each week where employees know that their manager is accessible to talk. This is in addition to the normal scheduled 1:1s but it provides an opportunity for people to ask questions in a more comfortable environment than the virtual online team meetings.
- We have not beaten the pandemic fully yet, but things are now looking up with the increase in vaccination rates and a gradual return to normality. As business leaders, we have weathered this storm and in some sectors, we have kept our businesses running and indeed some businesses have experienced explosive growth.
- Whatever the final “new normal“ looks like, there is enough evidence to suggest that despite the challenges of distributed workforces and large numbers of employees working from home, businesses can continue to reinforce their culture and required behaviours to deliver exceptional results.
Note: If you would like to contact me about any of the points made above, please feel free to do so at email@example.com.