Why is a healthy organizational culture more crucial now than ever? It’s one of the things that makes your employees look forward to coming into work and interacting with their colleagues each day. And in the midst of a wide-open job market and the Great Resignation, that can mean the difference between retaining your top performers or watching them walk out the door.
But what about when coming into work means logging on from home offices and most interactions happen via video, phone or instant messaging? Can managers really build and maintain a unified remote work culture?
Yes, they can — and must.
Nurturing corporate culture in the age of remote work takes a little extra effort, but it’s essential to retaining your best people. Plus, it gives you a potentially powerful advantage in attracting the talent your business needs in an intensely competitive hiring market.
Ways to foster on-site, hybrid and remote work culture
Whether your teams work on-site, remotely or in a hybrid workplace, if you aren’t actively promoting your company culture, you risk having what you’ve built slowly fall apart.
Here are five tips to help keep it strong regardless of where your employees work:
1. Start with trust, and don't micromanage
Trust is the bedrock of any good organizational culture, especially when managers are physically distanced from their reports. Two years into the pandemic, remote and hybrid workers have long found their groove and expect managers to have confidence in their ability to deliver great work on time. Communicate regularly with your people to ask if they have everything they need — but don’t micromanage with too many meetings or calls to check on a project’s progress.
2. Embrace asynchronous collaboration
Much office culture revolves around real-time interactions, from team meetings to watercooler conversations. Video calls and chat threads allow you to replicate some of this with your distributed team, but too much instant communication can be a distraction and drag down productivity and morale.
Try to balance real-time and asynchronous collaboration. That’s when people work toward a common goal, but not simultaneously. For example, instead of calling a meeting to discuss a new proposal, you can distribute it as a cloud-based doc and ask people to leave comments in their own time.
3. Stay alert for drops in performance and morale
Top-notch work cultures can rapidly go south if team members start underperforming. Managers of office-based teams can easily spot when individuals are struggling and help them turn things around before the malaise spreads. With remote and hybrid workers, whose struggles may be invisible, you need to be especially vigilant for any signs of stress and low morale.
Has the quality of a top performer's output dipped? Is a previously reliable employee missing deadlines? Has a normally vocal person suddenly gone quiet in meetings? Reach out quickly to offer support in cases like these. Also, emphasize to the whole team that you appreciate the unique problems remote workers face and that you’re always open to flexible solutions.
4. Stamp out proximity bias
Proximity bias is when managers unconsciously favor employees they are in close contact with. In a distributed team, that could mean workers who spend a good chunk of time in the office are more likely to receive raises, promotions and career-boosting assignments than their remote colleagues.
This kind of favoritism is toxic to your remote and hybrid workplace culture and could even be seen as discriminating against groups who are more likely to work from home, such as working parents. To eliminate proximity bias when assessing your staff, focus on qualitative measures that reflect actual work and productivity rather than quantitative ones like time-at-desk.
5. Use tech to help them connect — and disconnect
The ease with which teams stayed connected when offices closed is one of the success stories of the pandemic era. Furthermore, the shift to digital communication can help broaden the conversation in many companies: Those who communicate best in writing can shine in chat threads, while their more talkative colleagues might take the lead in video calls. Encourage everyone to participate in the ways they feel they excel the most — or even to push themselves outside their comfort zones and speak up in different channels.
The next step? Use technology to help people disconnect. A remote-friendly work culture promotes autonomy and collaboration (real-time or asynchronous), giving employees the chance to shut out distractions for several hours while completing core tasks. To help them do this, build and maintain an online knowledge base so that workers can quickly access the resources they need without having to always chase after you or other colleagues.
The last two years have proved that teams can bridge geographical divides to come together and work toward common goals. Building and maintaining a remote work culture where everyone feels seen and valued can help keep your record of success running strong.