Although businesses are reopening at full capacity, the sudden shift to remote work due to COVID-19 has left a lasting impression on organizations. There are many benefits to remote work1 and a Gallup survey2 revealed that 59% of employees would like to continue working remotely. Leaders learned the importance of having an agile workforce and technologically sound business operations.
“The most efficient and adaptable organizations work in unison from almost anywhere in the world.”3
Of 127 company leaders surveyed by Gartner, Inc.,4 82% of respondents will allow hybrid work arrangements after COVID-19. This includes flex time (42%), flex days (43%), or permanent remote arrangements (47%). It’s important for organizations to embrace the new way of working and think long term to maximize the benefits, while minimizing the challenges, of a virtual work environment. This may leave leaders wondering how to create and maintain a strong company culture when the office is no longer the central hub of activity.
Here are tips for creating a strong remote culture – redefine culture, retrain managers, and rethink productivity.
First, organizations should consider if they have the proper foundation to maintain a hybrid or permanently remote workforce. It is not feasible to translate every element of the current culture to a virtual environment and doing so may be detrimental to the workforce.5 Create new cultural norms for a digitally connected and highly engaged workforce. Start by assessing the current company culture and consider the following:
- What are the core elements of your company culture? Be sure not to confuse office culture with company culture. Office culture may include perks such as free lunch or tickets to a local sports event.
“Virtual culture is based on shared values, mindsets & team rituals.” 6
- What aspects of your culture do not align with a virtual environment? For example, are free lunches and events used to facilitate teambuilding and informal knowledge sharing? If so, remote employees may feel isolated. Consider alternatives such as sending GrubHub gift cards and hosting quarterly virtual lunches. Identify a topic for the meeting to maximize time and facilitate meaningful conversations.
Next, create new culture norms that:
- Build the 3 Ts – Technology, Transparency, and Trust: Provide employees with the technology they need to work effectively and tools for managers to track progress. These may include Asana to visually manage projects and team workload, Miro to strengthen team collaboration, Rhabit to encourage a culture of feedback, and the A3 template for team problem-solving sessions.6 These tools encourage accountability by providing insights into project outcomes and challenges, thereby increasing transparency and trust on teams.
- Emphasize Engagement: Shift the focus from being present in the office to being engaged when working remotely. Aside from one-on-one project updates, carve out time to discuss employee’s career goals, ideal projects, collaboration challenges, and work/life balance.
Managers are a vital element in the structure of a company. The shift to remote work required mangers to develop new skills to manage the changing workforce and maintain the company’s culture at the team level. Here are a few topics to cover in a management training:
- How to offer encouragement and emotional support: To promote a culture of wellness, managers must know how to recognize signs of stress, listen to employees’ anxieties, and show empathy. Include training on emotional intelligence and how to respond to clues that employees might need help.
- How to set expectations: Nothing undermines company culture quite like unspoken rules. When working across time zones and interacting from behind screens, communication becomes even more paramount. Managers should be trained on how to establish and communicate team norm and rules of engagement. This includes setting clear expectations for work hours, availability, communication systems, problem escalation, and recognition and rewards.
For many decades, there has been an underlying belief that “time in office” correlates to productivity. Measuring productivity in hours alone can discourage workers from being more efficient with their time. Emphasizing outcomes over hours with your team is the new frontier of remote work. Trust your employees to get work done when and how it best works for them.
- Focus on results: Managers of remote staff should focus on results rather than hours. Productive and focused employees can get the same amount of work done in 6 hours instead of 8, as the Harvard Business Review reports7. An employee’s ability to complete quality work and move projects forward is more indicative of their productivity than how many hours they work. When employees feel trusted and empowered to do their best work without being micromanaged, they’ll be more productive, happier, and more engaged team members.
- Agree on new success metrics: Discuss with senior leaders and direct reports how best to assess success. Identify key factors that drive your organization’s success, then tailor metrics to employees’ roles. Did the team member come up with a new idea to solve an emerging problem or develop a process that eliminates redundancy? These accomplishments — not the hours logged — are more meaningful success metrics.
- Create a culture of trust: Thriving remote teams start from a place of trust, not fear. Managers will have to let go of fear and learn to trust that their staff will get their jobs done, even if they are out of sight. Consider co-creating and setting guidelines. This sends a message that you care about the employee experience and trust them to know what is best for them and the company. In other words, you are assuming good intentions, which builds trust and drives creativity, innovation, and dedicated progress.
Like any major change, organizations can realize the benefits of implementing a long-term hybrid or remote workforce if they prepare for it. Having a consistent and healthy remote culture is possible if leaders provide the tools and support that align with the new way of working.
Looking for more tips on managing a remote workforce? Check out another one of our blogs on this topic – Cultivating Culture: 3 Tips for Managing a Successful Remote Workforce. Also, contact us if you are interested in offering new training to your managers. FMP offers courses such as Cultivating Inclusive Teams, Emotional Intelligence in Diverse Settings, and Leading Virtual Teams. Review our Course Catalog to learn more about our available courses.
Stephanie Branch joined FMP in January 2021 as a Senior Consultant. She is currently working on a variety of initiatives, including eLearning development, strategic communications, and stakeholder engagement. Stephanie enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, and attending art shows and poetry events.
Joy Oguntimein, a Senior Consultant in FMP’s Learning and Development Center of Excellence, is a happiness activator sprinkling compassion and humor wherever she goes. When she isn’t designing fun learning experiences, getting creative with learning innovations, or sharing learning and development best practices, you can find her volunteering with groups providing services to those experiencing homelessness, writing, or trying to solve a crime on TV.
- Build Remote. 23 Benefits of Working from Home (For Employees). (July 24, 2020). https://buildremote.co/home-office/23-benefits-of-working-from-home/
- Brenan, M. U.S. Workers Discovering Affinity for Remote Work. Gallup. (April 3, 2020). https://news.gallup.com/poll/306695/workers-discovering-affinity-remote-work.aspx
- Accenture. Virtual Ways of Working: Creating a Thriving Digital Culture for Nonprofit Organizations. (June 2020). https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-127/Accenture-Virtual-Ways-Working.pdf
- Gartner. Press Release: Gartner Survey Reveals 82% of Company Leaders Plan to Allow Employees to Work Remotely Some of the Time. (July 14, 2020). https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-07-14-gartner-survey-reveals-82-percent-of-company-leaders-plan-to-allow-employees-to-work-remotely-some-of-the-time
- Gartner. Press Release: Gartner HR Research Shows Organizations Are Eroding Employee Performance and Well-Being with Virtualized Office-Centric Design. (May 4, 2021). https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2021-05-03-gartner-hr-research-shows-organizations-are-eroding-employee-performance-and-well-being-with-virtualized-office-centric-design
- Kanbanize. A3 Problem-Solving: Fight the Root Cause. https://kanbanize.com/lean-management/improvement/a3-problem-solving
- Glaveski, Steve. “The Case for the 6-Hour Workday.” Harvard Business Review, 11 Dec. 2018, hbr.org/2018/12/the-case-for-the-6-hour-workday.