It’s becoming clear that remote work is here to stay, even after we’ve reached some sort of ‘normal’ following the Covid-19 pandemic. This is due to the many benefits that organisations have discovered over the last year. On the other hand, remote working has its challenges. One of these is maintaining your company culture and ethos when employees are working from different places.
In this article, we explore what exactly company culture is, why it can be central to running a successful business and how you can maintain it remotely.
What is company culture and why is it important?
First off, when we say ‘company culture’, what do we actually mean? Broadly speaking, this refers to the social order, behaviours and attitudes of an organisation and its workers. Company culture can be seen in the way that a company’s employees interact with each other and their clients and the decisions made on behalf of the company. Over time, this becomes an integral part of how a company is perceived by both its own employees and those outside the business.
Company culture encompasses everything from the working environment, to the values held, to the leadership style and overarching business goals. Some businesses very deliberately create a company culture while others allow this to develop naturally. It is important to both employees and businesses as a positive employee/employer relationship is more likely to develop if both parties share the same values. This makes the experience of working for the company more rewarding and enjoyable for the employee and the employer can be sure that its workers are acting in its interests.
So, when we’re not all in the same room, how does company culture work?
The good news is that some of the things that you might consider central to the culture at your company, such as the team coffee break every friday morning or the ongoing table tennis tournament, are actually by-products of that culture. The tournament is a result of a company culture that values team bonding (and perhaps a friendly bit of competition). The challenge now is to continue upholding these values in a way that works remotely.
1. Define your company culture
The first thing to do is to ensure that you are clear on what your company’s culture is. This step is the same whether or not you’re working remotely, however, the importance of doing so is increased when remote work is involved. You need to be more deliberate when defining company culture when working remotely as there are fewer opportunities for it to develop naturally away from the office environment.
You may think you know what your company culture is already, however, don’t skip this step. A clear definition can be really helpful when deciding which steps to take next.
Your company may have this already written down somewhere, in the employee handbook for example. It is likely, however, that your company’s culture is something that people know intrinsically rather than something that has been defined before.
Start by establishing what your company’s mission is. Do you produce an outstanding product that provides real value for your customers? Or do you provide a service in some way and strive to develop the best customer experience possible?
Once you’ve defined your mission, think about what your company’s values are. For example, do you champion teamwork or do you prefer a bit of competition amongst staff? Do you prioritise work-life balance? Are respect and transparency key to the way you work and interact with your colleagues?
This will help you define how you go about fulfilling your mission and plays a big part in determining your company culture. For example, if one of your values is teamwork and collaboration, you should see your employees sharing ideas and working together to reach their objective rather than competing with each other for the next promotion.
If you find that the actions of your employees are not matching up to your company values, there is some work to do.
2. Share the message and ask for feedback
Once you’ve done the hard work of defining your company culture, make sure you’re not the only one who knows what it is. Gather the team, or if you have a large company, the management team, together (remotely if you’re not heading back to the office) and share what you believe the company culture and ethos to be.
Give them the opportunity to give you their own perspectives on the company culture. They may have points to add or issues to share that you weren’t aware of. This is also a chance to gather ideas on how to implement company culture. This may be a case of taking the things that your company does already and translating them to a remote working situation.
For example, returning to the table tennis tournament mentioned above, this company has teamwork as one of its core values and encourages managers to do regular team building activities. Shifting to remote work clearly makes the tournament tricky to continue unless they meet up in person regularly. However, there are plenty of team building exercises that can be done remotely. This team seems to enjoy activities with an element of competition so this could be included in the activity. A weekly quiz could be set up with a rotating quiz master and a leaderboard. Or, if there’s been a collective groan at the thought of another Zoom quiz, you could set up a fitness challenge, such as who can clock the most steps through the week. A bit of friendly competition can really help to bring a team closer together.
3. Divide and conquer
One of the advantages of setting out your company culture and ethos line by line is you provide yourself with an action plan. Ensure that your company policies are in line with your company mission and values. Once you have this foundation of a clearly defined company culture and a set of policies that support this, it’s time to start implementing them.
For example, if one of your company’s core values is communication and transparency, you might find that your communications channels need a shake-up following a move to remote work. You could review the software you currently use for communication, survey your staff to find out what is and isn’t working and redefine what channel should be used for what sort of communication. The software is just one side of it, however. Your line managers need to be adept at communicating with their team members via digital channels and regular one-to-one meetings need to be scheduled. Staff members need to know who they can talk to should issues arise and that these will be dealt with in a sensitive manner. Good communication is key in tackling some of the challenges of remote working. One of these challenges can be feeling isolated. Something as simple as encouraging your team to say ‘good morning’ and check in for a quick chat over a morning coffee can help get the day off to a good start and get team members communicating from the word go.
If one of your core values is trust and respect, ensure that your employees know this when they’re working remotely. When it comes to measuring productivity consider employing a results-based system instead of asking for detailed time sheets. Some businesses have even resorted to installing tracking software on their employees’ computers which is a sure way to erode trust.
It may seem a little clumsy at first, taking these points one by one and implementing them, however, once you start seeing results it will all become much more cohesive. Breaking your company culture down to its constituent parts and then putting it back together again is a useful exercise whether you’re based in the office or working remotely. The goal is to make these things second nature and present in everything you and your employees do without consciously having to implement them.
4. Hire the right people
Finding people who are a good fit for your company culture should be at the heart of your recruitment strategy. It’s not always the candidate who has the longest list of skills who will be best for the job. After all, you can teach your staff new skills or train them up on a new piece of software. It will be much more difficult if you hire someone who already has the skills but whose core values clash with those of the company.
5. Use company culture to help your recruitment efforts
If you get it right, company culture can be a really effective tool for recruitment. It can have a big impact on how your business is perceived by others and can be one of the driving factors in why people apply for your jobs. For example, if your company culture celebrates learning and development and your staff have the opportunity to develop and improve their own skills, they may well post about this on LinkedIn, for example. This will be really attractive to top candidates who are looking for this kind of support from their next employer.
Equally, if you get it wrong it can work against you and put some of the top candidates off. If someone leaves your company due to a toxic environment, they might write about this on a corporate review site like Glassdoor.
Company culture can be central to a successful business but when you’re working remotely, you might need to put a bit more thought into how you ensure this culture thrives. If remote working is just becoming a more permanent part of your business, now is a good time to revisit your company culture, define it and share this message with your staff. You may need to translate some of the ways you maintain your company culture to more remote-friendly methods, however, if you take this step-by-step it can be easier than it sounds. Finally, company culture can be a great asset to your recruitment strategy, so follow the steps above to help you get it right in an age of remote work.