Back in the day when offices were a thing, ‘company culture’ and staff relationships were often built and solidified around communal breakfasts, Friday afternoon drinks or team days out. Whether events like these will return or are condemned to the history books remains to be seen, but with two thirds of businesses who have adopted remote working planning to continue this way of operating long-term or even forever*, it seems the days of such get-togethers could, for many, be over.
Last year, Twitter famously announced that some of its workforce will continue to work from home indefinitely. Added to that, Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify, announced: “Office centricity is over. As of today, Shopify is a digital by default company.”
So, if this is the way forward, how can a company’s personality be formed and maintained with the absence of in-person interaction? Or will the death of the office mark the death of company culture?
Gina Hollands, Commercial Director of creative marketing agency, PMW, who in 2020 won a Lotus Award for Positive Workplace Culture, says:
“Like most companies, we are working remotely at the moment, but we work hard to keep our culture strong. Our culture is everything to us; it provides a vital identity for our team, reflects our strong values and ethics, and is one of the reasons why clients choose to deal with us—because we’re a people-first company.”
Here, PMW, together with other companies who pride themselves on the strength of their company culture, give their tips for how culture can be maintained in these times of decentralisation.
1.Pick up the phone!
While team video calls, whether for fun or business, can bring the team together, people can become fatigued from too many. Try the personal touch instead. If your culture is all about relationships and connections, make a good old-fashioned phone call to your folk (and if your company is big, suggest department heads do some of the calling). Ask how they are—how they really are. Then let them do the talking.
2.A little goes a long way
Take a moment to consider what you could do for your team which would be appreciated and show them you’re thinking of them, then do it! It doesn’t have to be expensive. It could simply be an email—or even better, a letter—which tells them how grateful you are for all their hard work in these difficult times. Talk about your company culture in this communication in order to keep it alive. Is your culture about caring, nurturing and sharing ideas? If so, this is a great way to live by your own values.
Many modern-thinking companies’ culture is about treating staff as individuals, and recognising that what is good for one may not be good for another. As Matthew Phelan, Co-Founder of The Happiness Index and author of Freedom To Be Happy: The Business Case for Happiness says, “Some people prefer to work from home, some people prefer to work from an office, some people prefer a blended approach. 100% of people want the flexibility to choose.”
4.Keep in touch
When teams are remote it’s easy to become disjointed unless there’s regular communication. Never underestimate the value of spoken contact. Try not to rely too heavily on emails or written messages. The danger of this is that people can go off on their own tangents and cohesion is compromised. You’ll always learn something more about a person or project if you speak to them. If your culture is based on listening, communicating and working as a team, then this is a must.
5.Walk and talk
Lockdown rules permitting, and social distancing measures adhered to, of course, consider taking a walk with a member of your team. This could be either to discuss a project or to talk about how they’re coping with working from home. If your company culture is centred around ideation, being creative and investing in thinking time, then walking can really get those juices flowing.
The fresh air is also good for the soul and can help if you have a team member who you think might be struggling with the isolation. It’s easier to talk about sensitive issues when you’re walking as you’re not looking each other directly in the eye.
Making everyone feels just as valued as the next person and fundraising for their chosen charities are values that are integral to the culture of digital transformation partner Cancom. During the pandemic they’ve continued to organise virtual quizzes, music bingo, bake sales and race nights, albeit now online, to ensure that there is something to be enjoyed by everyone, while raising money for a good cause at the same time.
7.Ask how you can help
What does your team need in order to make working from home easier and healthier? There’s only one way to find out for sure and that’s by asking them. Is your company’s culture all about looking after each other, having a work-life balance and listening to people’s needs? If so, asking the direct question of ‘What can we do to help?’ is a good way to show your people that your culture is still very much alive. And once you have the answers, you might be able to help improve people’s situations too. Perhaps someone is struggling with technology or hardware and the company needs to invest in equipment for homeworking, or someone else is finding homeschooling a challenge and requires more flexibility. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know!
With almost a year of homeworking, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to think that some people may have forgotten what their company’s culture is all about. That’s why it could be prudent to remind them. Consider putting together a short document or infographic outlining the company’s core cultural values and sharing this with the team. Coupled with that, you could ask for suggestions from your team as to how the company can keep these values real and relevant during the pandemic. There could even be prizes for the suggestions which are implemented. This is a great way of getting the team to think about company culture themselves, while incentivising them to get involved.
A healthy culture isn’t all work and no play. “We’ve implemented a digital team coffee so we can spend some time chatting and socialising.” Says Petra Haverland from Roland Assistance in Germany. “It means we can have a break, stay connected and take 30 minutes out of our routine.”
It can be all too easy to become insular when working from home and forget how your contribution serves a wider team. At Zilveren Kruis & Eurocross, the management team sends regular messages to employees to stay in touch. The tone is open and employees are invited to respond. “We also have the Corona Newsletter, which includes online drinks and pub quizzes,” says Corine van de Geijn from the HR department. “The team catches up daily to inform each other about recent developments. This has connected us more than ever before.”
So, whatever a business’ culture, it seems that there is one common factor among companies who are working hard to keep theirs alive: keeping in touch with their people. Whether there will be a return to the office or not, ensuring there is contact between colleagues—and not just to discuss working matters—appears to be the overriding factor in companies who are living by their values.