To say the world has changed since March 2020 would be the understatement of a century. The age of COVID-19 has ushered in an era of innovation, isolation, and industry changes unlike anything we’ve ever seen, bringing with it a new way that we interact with each other and with our work.
No one has felt this shift more than the modern day employee who has moved from working in the office five days a week, to suddenly using their kitchen table as their desk. With so many workers transitioning to remote work for the foreseeable future, one of the biggest, and most impactful areas of change that they experience is in their company culture.
Studies have shown that 94% of employees say culture is important to their company success, while 63% said it’s essential. The importance of strong company culture does not disappear when team members move remote - but the way a healthy culture is achieved shifts dramatically.
A common misconception business leaders may have is that if their company had a strong culture in the office, they will automatically have a healthy and thriving remote culture without making any adjustments to their protocols. This could not be further from the truth. Remote culture and in-office culture are of the same brand, but two separate entities entirely. If conscious effort is not made to establish a strong foundation for remote culture and maintain it with consistency and intentionality, teams will feel the repercussions and their performance will reflect it.
The question is, how is the establishment of in-office culture and remote culture different, and how can business leaders transition their culture seamlessly from one to the other?
1. Team Bonding
The biggest shift your team will feel when moving remote is in their connectedness as a team. Studies show that 19% of remote employees say that loneliness is their biggest challenge at work, while more than half say they feel disconnected from their co-workers.
In-office team building events, or even simply getting drinks after work, is a huge part of what builds relationships organically, and strengthens teams’ interpersonal bonds. It’s imperative to make space for fun social events that will connect your remote team and allow them the room to build those relationships from a distance. Rather than trying to organize Virtual Happy Hours to encourage this connection (which, let’s face it, can get awkward quickly), you can rely on companies like LiveSounds to do it for you. LiveSounds provides virtual team building events specifically for companies with a new remote workforce that combines live stream entertainment, interactive games, and personalized shout outs to facilitate organic relationship growth and better communication in your remote teams. Considering that companies with a highly engaged workforce are 21% more profitable than their competitors, virtual team building events are definitely a wise investment.
Micro-interactions are those little moments your team has when grabbing coffee from the office cappuccino maker, or waiting for a meeting start. They are small interactions that build rapport and relationships between you team members little by little. Though these kinds of moments are no longer available in the office, they can be encouraged remotely in innovative ways. For example, the app SquadPal facilitates micro interactions through team games that can be played throughout the day. These kinds of micro interaction don’t distract from work, but encourage connection through small, consistent, fun ways that will strengthen your team’s bond in the long term.
3. Organic conversation
Have you ever joined a casual video conference meeting and had no idea what to say? These are called forced interactions - they are created for the specific purpose of getting people to connect, which then inherently puts pressure on the interaction. Though the intention is good, the results are usually less than ideal if they are not facilitated properly. Organic interaction, on the other hand comes from team members who simultaneously are part of an event, or stumble upon a topic naturally, which then launches them into a conversation. These kinds of interactions feel less forced, so they are more impactful. Organic conversation can be hard to manufacture remotely, but it can be encouraged with fun virtual events or even with the tools your team uses. For example, designating a Slack channel called #breakroom and encouraging people to send things like funny memes or news articles they find interesting will motivate people to interact without putting them on the spot. This creates a space for organic conversation to be born naturally.
4. Meeting new team members
Even though many companies have moved their workforce remote, a ton are still hiring! That means you might have a bunch of new people joining the company that your existing team have not yet had interactions with. Your onboarding process for your new remote employees will look different than it did in the office because people can’t physically meet the new recruits. Studies have shown that around 93% of communication is nonverbal, so it’s important to find the next best alternative to integrate your newbies into your office culture. The process of virtual onboarding is different for everyone, but one thing that is important is doing a video introduction with your team. This will allow people to get a feel for the new hire and get to know them ‘in person’ rather than through email. You can use a popular platform like Zoom to host an ‘ice breaker’ meeting - but don’t put all the pressure on the new hire! Have every team member introduce themselves and say a fun fact to help everyone get to know each other. Virtual onboarding is an art in and of itself, so if you would like more tips and tricks, you can find them here.
5. Office perks
Many companies rely heavily on office perks, like free food, fun get togethers, and cool events to make their team’s work days less dull. The appreciation for these office perks don’t disappear when everyone moves remote - in fact, your team probably really misses them! That’s why doing everything you can to make your employees’ remote work space feel special will do wonders for boosting morale. Companies like SnackNation provide fun snack packs that you can send to your team members' doors, and are a great resource to help recreate a break room in your employee’s living room. Another option is to give your team members each a small budget to add something useful or fun to their remote office. Get creative to let your team know that even though they can’t come into the office, the culture that drew them to work for your company in the first place is not going the way of the dodo.
6. Recognition and reward
Studies have shown that a whopping 69% of employees said they would work harder if they felt more appreciation from their management, and 31% said that recognition and rewards matters most to their satisfaction. Those numbers are likely to increase now that face to face interactions are only happening periodically and through screen time. Instead of assuming that your team knows when they’re doing a good job, make it extra clear! Start sending company wide newsletters using a tool like Hubspot, and add a section that highlights the team members who are doing exceptional work. Be generous; don’t feature just one! Heap on the praise and let your appreciation for your employees be known company wide. This will make your team members feel like the work they do matters and will encourage them to keep putting in their best efforts.
7. Sharing ideas
When a team member has a new idea on how to move the company forward in an office setting, they can easily turn to their co worker or manager and share it. If the idea is a good one, they’ll talk about it for a while and maybe changes will be implemented. If it’s not, a simple ‘Mhmm’ from a manager will shut it down. However, bringing new ideas to the table as a remote employee has an added pressure. To explain it properly, a team member might try to organize a video chat with a manager, or send a long email that might get lost in the fray, which could discourage them from even trying. Using a virtual suggestion box like Vetter is a perfect way to implement a low pressure idea sharing platform that will allow your remote team’s voices to be heard without making them feel that every idea has to be worth a video conference.
Going remote does not have to mean the loss of company culture - it just requires a bit of restructuring to make sure your employees feel it’s benefits. Luckily there are so many amazing tools on the market and in development that will help your new normal work for everyone.