How do you create and sustain a positive company culture when your employees are working remotely? It’s one of the questions many employers have wrestled with for the past year. It’s also an issue we expect to remain at the forefront of business conversation as we begin to work toward our post-pandemic futures.
A recent “Emerging from the Pandemic” survey found that 57% of employees are still working remotely and employers expect that 37% will be remote at the end of 2021. (Willis Towers Watson)
Guiding principles to Keeping Employees Connected and Motivated in a Remote World
Regular communication, including social time
It can’t be overstated; making time for ongoing communication is the most important thing a leader can do. It’s also one of the hardest. That’s especially true during COVID-19 when business owners and managers are facing many of the same personal struggles as their employees.
Being offsite has eliminated the easy opportunities to communicate that many of us took for granted—the chance conversations in the lunchroom, the quick chats in the hallway, the talks over a cup of coffee. When you’re in the same physical space, exchanges happen organically. You see people’s faces; you sense their moods.
In a remote environment, the leader who truly checks in to see how employees are doing demonstrates the company’s caring approach to company culture. You can also urge your people to touch base with one another. At NPR for example, they’re encouraging journalists to phone a work friend and say hello. They even have a hashtag for it: #CallAColleague. Other companies have voluntary ‘coffee roulette,’ where people are randomly assigned to coworkers for a once-a-month, virtual coffee. At NEMR, we end large group zoom calls with breakout rooms of 3 to 5 people for a few minutes of more personal socializing.
Make transparency the norm
If there’s one thing that we humans can’t tolerate, it’s uncertainty. At the beginning of the pandemic, we all wanted answers—business owners and employees alike. The mistake made by some leaders was not sharing what they didn’t know.
Lack of transparency leaves room for negativity and speculation. The important lesson is to let your team know what it is you’re figuring out, and the factors going into your decisions. If possible, ask for workers’ input. At the same time, be clear that you’ll strive to balance their ideas with the needs of the company.
Setting, and sticking to boundaries
When your office is also your kitchen, bedroom, living room, school and gym, it can be difficult to maintain a line between work and personal time. Without published office hours, it’s tempting to schedule meetings at any time of the day, even before or after normal office hours. Yet respecting individuals’ calendars (including your own!) is paramount to positive morale. True, it might be difficult to find times that work for everyone, but don’t let that be an excuse.
A shared company calendar showing everyone’s work hours, lunch breaks, and scheduled project time can prevent meeting overload and overbooked employees. It can also help ensure that employees have the hours needed to accomplish their goals, and shows your team you respect their time.
Individual boundaries are important as well. Many smart businesses encourage their people to establish start and stop routines. It could be a morning walk or meditation to get mentally ready for day. Coffee lovers might set aside time alone with a cup of Joe. For those who live with others, it could be an official ‘goodbye’ with hugs and kisses, mimicking leaving the house. The key is for individuals to create a mental boundary for themselves.
Celebrate, and don’t forget to have fun
People appreciate being appreciated, now more than ever. So, make sure to acknowledge individual wins. Also celebrate personal milestones such as marriages, work anniversaries, and yes, birthdays. NEMR has a tradition of singing for everyone’s birthday and we’ve kept it up on Zoom.
Speaking of Zoom, video happy hours may be getting stale, but the idea of socializing isn’t. You can have virtual lunch get-togethers with DoorDash or Grub Hub delivering everyone’s favorite meal. Send home cookies or edible arrangements. Better yet, surprise a team member with a hand-written note to their home. The joy of receiving mail is one we never grow out of.
Don’t go it alone
As a leader, your role in establishing and maintaining your company culture is paramount. Yet one person cannot create a positive business environment on their own. Work with the other leaders within your organization to create unity and cohesion throughout the company. If you struggle with developing ideas for fostering relationships remotely within your team, look to the natural connectors in the office. Ask for their ideas for uniting the group and let them shine!
After more than a year, almost everyone I know is fatigued and stressed from the pandemic, but now is not the time to lose focus on company culture. For business leaders struggling to keep their employees connected and engaged, the long-term, negative impact to talent acquisition and retention, innovation and productivity can’t be ignored. NEMR Total HR is here to help. Chat Live with us to learn more or Email Us.