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"Corporate culture" is difficult to define. Often it is only understood implicitly and evolves organically instead of being explicitly expressed and planned from top to bottom. Your company's culture becomes its personality and has a major impact on how the public perceives it and how employees, partners and other vendors interact with the public and with one another.
Today, with so many businesses being forced to keep their offices closed in this era of social distancing, working from home has become the "new normal". Research by the FYI Digital Document Organization app found that "enhanced culture" is one of the most important responses when asked about how businesses can help improve the remote working experience during the coronavirus crisis.
So how can you make sure your culture survives when there isn't a physical water cooler to congregate around?
I often want to remind the executives I work with that this was a major challenge even before the Covid-19 crisis broke out. For example, larger companies with multiple locations have always struggled to maintain a coherent corporate culture. This becomes even more difficult as companies expand their ecosystem to include partners, third-party vendors, and freelancers outside of the immediate corporate structure.
Corporate culture is an essential leader, but how does it develop when the majority of a company's employees, vendors, and freelancers never enter the office? Data from Global Workplace Analytics suggests teleworking was widespread even before the Covid-19 lockdown, and has increased 140 percent since 2005 – and not just among self-employed and gig workers. 4.3 million employees now work from home for at least half of the time.
At the same time, the number of self-employed rose by 2.4 percent, the number of self-employed at home by 7.3 percent and that of teleworkers by 1.7 percent.
Corporate culture when personal interactions are out of date
Working together in a remote environment requires some extra work – but a distributed team is really just like any other team, whether or not they are face to face. A recent Harvard Business Review podcast found that successful remote working is based on three principles: communication, coordination, and culture.
Communication and coordination can be easily achieved through any number of sophisticated real-time communication and social sharing tools. However, the culture creates a real sense of trust and commitment.
There's more to corporate culture than creating a friendly break room with comfortable chairs and bringing in a box of donuts on Friday. As you develop these, you need to target employees, train them, and provide places for interaction, knowledge sharing and training. Traditionally, this was done live with on-site in-services or special off-site events. However, this becomes problematic when a company has thousands of remote workers and partners spread across multiple countries.
These events can still take place virtually. Fortunately, virtual meeting platforms have evolved to a point where they can be highly interactive, visual, and most importantly, effectively reproducing the feeling of being there. And yes, there are many ways to spice up your "virtual happy hours".
Your culture starts with onboarding – and especially when remote workers are involved, interactive video conferencing sessions can be an extremely effective way to get those workers involved from the start.
The key to success is at the level of engagement – and instead of a one-way webinar session, the culture can be developed and sustained by ensuring that teams meet regularly, though not as often and until the “Zoom Striking the right balance between live and asynchronous meetings is as important as investing in giving people easy access to the information they need to do their jobs independently.
Related: 5 Ways To Build Team Culture In A Remote World
Best practices for remote corporate culture
A 2017 study by Deloitte found that 80 percent of respondents consider culture and engagement a top priority. The Deloitte report found that traditional learning management systems are rapidly being replaced with new tools that better meet the need for interaction and participation.
Best practices in developing this culture include holding managers accountable for training, communication, and collaboration, and equipping them with the tools they need to meet the expectations of digitally savvy employees.
More importantly, consistency and frequency become even more important in a remote environment. Regular interactive video meetings should be held to reinforce messaging, corporate culture and provide specific training information.
Because of the efficiency of video conferencing, micro-learning becomes much better possible. In contrast to live training courses, which require more coordination, distance training opportunities can be held more frequently and at the same time adapted to the specific needs of the individual employee groups.
Finally, measure the results – see the social interactions, comments, and social media sharing that occur as a result of each session. Measure user satisfaction and participation, and encourage feedback and input from participants. This allows you to create a virtual environment that is not just "the next best thing to be". In many ways, it's better than being there.
Related: A New Way of Working: Developing a Corporate Culture for a Distant …
To thrive as a collective from afar
Maintaining a coherent corporate culture is challenging, even when you're dealing with a relatively small team, all of which work in one location. Multi-office teams, teams built to operate remotely, and teams that suddenly have to work from home during a health crisis have it even more difficult. But with the right perspective and approach, your team can stay as coherent and invested as ever.
Related: Corporate culture is everything