By Tamara Littleton, CEO of The Social Element
Despite many of us hoping 2021 would bring something better than the year that we just experienced it certainly seems that 2020 has passed on the baton to 2021. In the UK, we now find ourselves in the same position we were in nearly a year ago – with the only advantage being that this time, we know what we’re looking at. As we face the prospect of continuing to work from our kitchen tables and parents across the country don homeschool teaching hats once more, it’s more important than ever that businesses double down on boosting morale and investing in people.
A company’s people are its greatest asset. They are the key component for nurturing company culture and bringing a business’s values to life. Over the last year, company cultures around the world were put to the test as team members were furloughed and families struggled to balance work and life commitments. With teams disconnected, Zoom fatigue taking hold and difficulties in providing remote employee development, our wellbeing has suffered, with 60% of us saying that our mental health suffered during the first lockdown.
The challenge for businesses in 2021 is now two-fold. We are facing yet another lockdown where our teams are apart and many businesses will also now be considering the removal of their physical office spaces as a cost-cutting exercise since remote working is finally being hailed as a long-term possibility.
So what can businesses do to support their teams and build a long-term culture in a virtual-first environment?
Leaders are the custodians of company culture
As individuals, we have our own responsibility to practice self-care. However, we also cannot forget that business leaders also play an important role in the morale and well being of staff. It’s not just about saying the right things, there needs to be action taken that enables employees to think about the steps they can take to safeguard their health. We, therefore, need to see the emergence of a new type of leader that is able to unite us under this vision without needing to be in person.
Business culture is often tied to a place. It is the water-cooler moments in the kitchen and collaboration between teams across an office and the after-work drinks. Now, the importance needs to be placed on leadership taking care of their team, and dedicating time and resources to ensuring their welfare. As we head into another uncertain year, build a culture based on openness and inclusivity. Be human and transparent about the company strategy and plans, give employees the opportunity to talk through any concerns or ask questions and provide a set of shared behaviours to follow. This means creating a culture of virtual interactions. What was once a quick nip to someone’s desk to catch up now needs to be a conscious effort to book in video interactions that can often be neglected when working from home. It’s also important for leader to remember different personality types and communication styles and ensuring those who are less vocal in a remote meeting get a chance to have their opinions heard.
If leaders are visible, available, consciously inclusive and able to communicate their plans effectively across the company so that every individual understands their purpose, what the goals of the company are and how the company is set to grow and achieve, it will align missions and attitudes no matter where in the world you are.
Invest in your people to invest in your culture
If people are a company’s culture, to build a strong culture means growing and developing your teams. With remote working, this can be difficult, particularly for young workers, who often learn by osmosis – picking things up from colleagues, overhearing conversations or catching a quick coffee with a line manager. But keeping your teams engaged and learning is important. It maintains the connections between each other and the company and brings them along on your growth journey, and there are a number of things you can consider to do this.
But staff training isn’t the only consideration necessary; accommodating different learning styles is just as important. Whether it’s creative training sessions to help people unlock their thinking and learn new skills, or commercial training to help teams build relationships with clients or fellow colleagues during lockdown, an effective training programme will incorporate elements that suit all styles of learning- whether it’s visual, auditory or social.
At The Social Element, we’ve been using video conferencing, break out rooms and even using role-play with an actor so the team can develop muscle memory and keep refreshing their people skills which is great for social learners. We’re also using our in-house learning management system to provide everyone on our team with lots of different courses on a whole range of topics they can dip into and take online whenever they like – perfect for visual and auditory learners who are much better at processing information alone. For all learners, there’s a really practical tip that we’ve learned over the years- not trying to pack an hour’s learning into an hour’s session. Having buffers at each end of the session gives everyone the chance to settle in and catch up, and ultimately creates a more relaxed session. If you create a culture that embraces these different forms of learning and formats, rather than spending too much time trying to make square pegs fit into round holes, you will increase engagement, satisfaction and ultimately, productivity.
Whilst we can’t be together in the same room, there are ways in which our businesses can recreate an office environment. Nurture your team spirit by sharing moments of joy, create a sense of belonging through strong leadership and vision and support wellbeing by giving staff the right tools to do so. Being virtual isn’t the death of workplace culture. Done with care it can, in fact, build a stronger one. It just requires a bit more proactivity and outreach.