EngagementCultureCoronavirus: Maintaining company culture in remote teams

Coronavirus: Maintaining company culture in remote teams

COVID-19 has displaced workforces across the globe. How can HR maintain company culture in remote teams? HRD Connect and Mari Ryan examine the role of culture in the coronavirus business landscape.

Where salary was once the core insensitive in the job market, company culture now presides as arguably the most crucial proposition for a candidate. Many feel that culture makes up the DNA and identity of an organization and is one of the key factors in engaging a workforce and providing them with a positive employee experience.

One study showed that over 77% of adults would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job. However, as co-located teams arguably adopt and maintain a culture far more effectively, many are beginning to question how it can survive under the enforced remote working measures caused by the coronavirus.

This will pose a new and complex challenge for employers, with figures showing that just 55% of remote employees feel like they are part of a team. Other side-effects may include decreased productivity, satisfaction and happiness, and a general feeling of disconnectedness from employer brand. Moreover, this could muddy the waters of future recruitment.

However, there is still considerable scope for employers to adapt to these changes. With the availability of sophisticated technologies to aid communications, companies with strong values and an agile workforces can find a formula that allows culture to thrive amongst a remote team.

Mari Ryan, bestselling author of The Thriving Hive: How People-Centric Workplaces Ignite Engagement and Fuel Results, and workplace strategist, gave her views on this scenario, stressing the importance of corporate culture and outlining how culture can survive during these pressing times.

“Culture is certainly influenced by whether the team is co-located or not,” she said. “The opportunity to interact, deepen personal relationships, share experiences and support each other is enhanced when we are together.”

Ryan argues that creating and nurturing these connections is still possible, but that teams must find a new method of doing so in the COVID-19 work landscape.

Technology is a major factor in achieving this, with many modern businesses already operating on sophisticated internal systems that allow appointment scheduling, instant messaging, conference calls and communication amongst groups.

Moreover, major tech vendors such as Slack, Zoom, Microsoft and Facebook have begun offering their tools for free in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which may be of great appeal to smaller businesses who are not yet ready to take the financial leap of investing in better internal systems.

“Employees, first and foremost, need the tools to do their job”, Ryan continued. “We live in a world in which the technology supports our ability to work from anywhere.”

“Leveraging technology to foster collaboration is another key element,” she said. “This may be conducting meetings online, providing team collaboration tools for document sharing, task management and communications, or establishing processes for touch base times to keep connected with colleagues.”

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This is predicated on the idea that company culture partly centres around communication; a view shared by many. However, countless businesses neglect this principle, with a Gallup report showing that just 13% of workers said their leaders practice effective workplace communication.

According to Ryan, these organizations are far more likely to be impacted by moving to remote working.

“One of the most important steps to keep culture alive is communication,” she said. “Keep communication flowing and transparent.”

“At the organizational level, regular communication on the state of the business, the impact the work of the organization is having and resources that are available to employees is essential.”

According to Harvard Business review, several steps can be taken by leaders in attempting to replicate the intimacy of sharing an office space and attending face-to-face meetings. These include structured daily check-ins, offering encouragement and emotional support and attempting to establish a social outlet for the team.

“At the team level, having regular huddles for connection, coordination and collaboration will ensure expectations are set,” said Ryan.

According to one study, 42% of remote workers said they lacked daily support compared to their office counterparts. So, the importance of new communication measures is clear.

But aside from establishing how leaders can maintain culture, for some it may be equally useful to come to terms with how significant a factor it can be in maximising productivity, and ultimately, profit.

Research shows that 86% of entrepreneurs believe culture is directly linked with productivity, and Ryan goes on to stress this herself.

“Culture defines behaviours, norms, rituals and functions,” she said. “Strong cultures are created by leaders who create a vision of a larger purpose and mission that the organization fulfils.”

“This purpose creates value for the organization and all the people who work there.”

With major companies such as Amazon, Google, Twitter and Facebook now operating remotely, and most others beginning to follow suit, it is vitally important for business leaders to seriously consider the safeguarding process of their company cultures.

In the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, leaders must make the transition to remote working as seamless as possible for their employees. A well-defined and effective company culture is the strongest way to do so, and is the only kind of culture that will survive out-of-office displacement. Businesses that have prioritised their culture will be in a better starting position – those that have not will need to quickly follow suit.

Let us know what you think. Start a conversation by tweeting @HRD Community or joining our LinkedIn Community.

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