It’s probably safe to say that our idea of what makes a proper work environment has shifted. We’ve been thrown into our colleagues’ living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms – pretty much whatever space has offered them some privacy in their homes. We’ve seen pets and children in the background, overheard spouses’ conference calls and student instruction, and missed entire sentences due to forgotten mute buttons. For most of us, it’s been a big adjustment.
As many organizations continue with remote workforces (to some extent) into 2022 and beyond, it’s time to talk about company culture and how it translates from water coolers and open-office concepts to Zoom rooms and Slack channels.
Breaking down culture
First, we should clarify what we mean by culture. We’re not talking about shipping ping-pong tables to employees’ homes or setting up online game breaks in the afternoon (as fun as that may be). These playful perks have long been mistaken for culture, perhaps because they’re easier to implement than an intentional environment of trust and accountability, or innovation, or whatever culture you’re looking to promote. Real culture takes real work. Perks are simply that: perks.
Plainly stated, culture is how things get done. It is how employees act on shared company values and make decisions to enable an organization to thrive. It’s a common misconception that culture is about a business being a “fair place to work,” or whether employees feel like they’re being listened to, or anything else that indicates a workplace isn’t toxic. These may impact engagement, but they’re not culture in and of themselves. Engagement has a big impact on ensuring work gets done (and done well), but it’s not how that happens. In other words, engagement and culture are related, but they’re not the same thing. (If improving engagement is your primary concern, check out the 8 Factors of Engagement program.)
If you don’t intentionally create a culture, one will naturally form around you. Culture is the air we breathe. It’s unavoidable, and it won’t wait for you to be ready to tackle it. Will it align with your strategy? Only if you align it to your strategy. It’s up to you to make sure your culture is working for you and not against you.
Identifying culture in a virtual workplace
Culture exists whether your employees are in the same building or hunkered down in their home offices. Some aspects of culture may have transitioned to the remote workplace fairly seamlessly, but what if the core systems you have in place for accomplishing tasks have been significantly shaken up? Chances are, the culture has been shaken up a bit, too.
The first step in solidifying your culture in a virtual setting is to understand what it is. Get a benchmark for what culture naturally exists. (Note: This is helpful even if you have a great culture but you’re not sure why it’s great. Understanding the “DNA” of your culture can help you maintain it!) If this is something you’ve done recently (but before March 2020), you’ll have a sense for the virtual shift, but only after you’ve gotten recent data from the new work situation.
Understanding your culture begins with a perception exercise, either in–person (erm, via Zoom) or through a survey. Culture is a perception-based construct; different people within your organization may perceive the culture differently. It’s important to give everyone a voice to get a full picture of what your culture is. Then, have a team session to discuss the culture make-up before Covid-19 hit, how the culture has shifted with the move to the virtual workplace, and how to move forward.
If you ignore it, your culture will shift with a change as drastic as moving to a virtual workforce. It takes intention to ensure the shift aligns with your strategy, to build trust within your community, and to ensure there is clarity around a shared purpose.
Translating your culture to a virtual environment
A transition to working from home doesn’t need to unravel a winning culture. Once you’ve taken the steps of identifying your culture and potential shifts that have occurred, you can recognize where you need to adjust and make space for your intended culture to exist.
- Highly collaborative and consensus-driven cultures
One-time five-minute chats by the water cooler are now 45-minute meetings, and your team is losing time and progress. If your culture is typically high on “drop-by” meetings and quick check-ins, consider the tools at your disposal to maintain that spirit of collaboration. Chat options like Microsoft Teams, Slack, or Skype allow for efficient touch-base opportunities. Some organizations have also found success in keeping an online call open for a specified period of time to allow anyone to join in whenever they’d like.
Cultures heavy on consensus-driven decision-making may find themselves paralyzed by meetings. Chat platforms or team management solutions like Asana or Monday.com can allow for asynchronous conversations to gain consensus without losing productivity.
- Data-driven cultures
Some cultures emphasize using concrete data to make decisions. Moving such organizations to dispersed, remote workplaces may lead to some confusion over where data is stored. It’s important to take a step back and make sure employees have access to the data they need. This can involve reorganizing data or training on how to get to it while off-site.
- Cultures with a heavy leadership presence
It can be jarring to move from an environment in which employees have regular access to leadership to a virtual one full of meetings, calls, and extra emails. Leaders in these organizations can adopt the idea of “rounding,” like doctors in a hospital. Being intentional about attending group meetings and being available for staff used to their input can help leaders maintain their culture.
Ultimately, your culture should align with your strategy. And the only way to achieve that alignment is through intention and action. Not sure where to start? Sicora Consulting can help you assess your current culture, facilitate discussions, and adjust for the “virtual factor” to attain a Purposeful Culture of Trust. Schedule a free consultation to learn more.