Keep remote work from killing your company culture

A colon followed by a parenthesis. Or, you could start with a semi-colon if you were feeling a little cheeky.

These early emoticons came in handy (long before the deluge of emojis) to help us inject some human inflection and emotion into electronic communication—which, as we’ve all learned, can easily be misinterpreted.

As more employees work remotely – especially healthcare IT consultants – your company culture can suffer a similar fate if not carefully nurtured. But with so many aspects of culture based on in-person interactions and activities, how do you adapt culture to the virtual world—without everything getting lost in translation?

Keeping culture front and center

Pandemic aside, this culture issue isn’t necessarily a new one, but it has taken the spotlight in 2020. Culture has only grown in importance to workers, especially as the demographics have evolved and new generations enter the workforce. At the same time, remote working has become more common around the globe: A report from Global Workplace Analytics shows the trend has grown 173% in the last 15 years, with 80% of employees now wanting to work from home for at least a portion of their work week.

Yet, IT leaders know it often takes extra effort to prevent these employees from feeling like they’re on an island, while at the same time respecting the flexibility and diversity of environments this changing employee base values.

But for employees used to that daily connection – coffee breaks with a co-worker, morning standup meetings, happy hours – the shift to remote work can be a bit jarring. Aram Lulla elaborates in Forbes:

“Coronavirus has upended not just our traditional workplace, but also our daily work routines … With this change comes a loss of normalcy and connection. As many of us have found in recent weeks, technology – no matter how good – can’t replace what the workplace provides: community, camaraderie and shared purpose. Now, more than ever, keeping company culture alive matters.”

So, as you struggle to keep your arms around scattered employees, what’s the best game plan moving forward?

4 ways to sustain your company culture

Culture is often hard to describe, yet its importance is paramount to your company’s success. SHRM defines it as the “shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding.”

If you’re like most business leaders I know, you fiercely defend the culture you’ve helped create and even give it great weight in your hiring decisions. Which is why it’s so important to constantly reinforce that culture with every employee, especially those who can’t physically be in the office right now. Start with these important steps:

1.     Trust is vital.

Now more than ever, IT employees need to know they’re supported and trusted by management to get the job done. Especially during this pandemic, many professionals are balancing a full workday on top of homeschooling and daycare (and the endless parade of distractions those bring)—which means work schedules and productive periods will definitely shift. (Of course, this can be a good thing: Studies show that productivity often goes up when employees can make their own schedules.)

In a blog for Sprout Social, Stephan Hovnanian writes about the importance of trust:

“Take the time to understand your remote employees’ unique needs and build connection and empathy … Flexible working is all about versatility, and you’ll build a strong culture around remote working if you give employees freedom and trust.”

2.     Don’t skip the small talk.

When you’re not face-to-face, it’s easy to treat planned meetings and video calls with a strict business-first approach. But with kids screaming in the background or dogs hogging the camera, work from home simply can’t be “all business.” Make room in your meetings for chit-chat and personal conversation. Often, these types of human interaction are the building blocks to a cohesive team and a strong culture in the first place. They shouldn’t be minimized just because you’re no longer in the same room.

3.     Recognize and reward.

While you can’t spring for cupcakes for the team right now, it’s still important to find ways to recognize special events – such as birthdays or work anniversaries – as well as the good work being done. For some people, working from home can be an isolating experience, so these small acts and words of recognition and thanks go a long way. Don’t skip them.

4.     Offer professional development and training.

Even if you can’t send employees to a seminar or conference right now, offer additional opportunities to your team. From webinars to online classes, there are many choices that allow your remote employees to explore topics that interest them and to work through them at their own pace.

Check out popular online platforms such as Skillshare, Udemy and Coursera for starters. Simply by encouraging your employees to expand their knowledge shows your investment in them as people and valued members of the team.

Communication is key to culture

Remember, building and maintaining a strong company culture isn’t accomplished overnight, but try to commit to incorporating small daily acts that contribute to it in a positive way.

Whether it’s a virtual happy hour with the team or a personal phone call to check in on an employee, remember that communication is key. It’s also the glue you need to keep a solid connection with all your employees, no matter where they are.