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How to Cultivate a Positive Culture for Your Remote Workforce

by Siv Rauv

08 Sep 2020

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Your workplace culture can make or break your organisation.

Cultivating a positive culture within the workplace helps to draw in talent, promotes engagement, drives employee satisfaction, and impacts their overall performance.

Many organisations have employees who work away from head office including those in regional offices or frontline employees.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, workplace cultures are facing a turning point. Organisations that previously had few remote employees now have a large workforce of remote employees to effectively support. They now have to support a distributed workforce, with support for office-based employees who are working from home. 

Many are also experimenting with a hybrid workforce set-up, combining remote and on-site working now that the pandemic is slowly easing up.

Creating a solid strategy, implementing open lines of communication, and having the right and well-equipped digital workplace tools will be key to motivating employees and encouraging productivity.

Related reading: [Blog post] Key Areas Not to Overlook When Setting Up a Modern Digital Workplace

Why Workplace Culture Matters

Having a positive workplace culture:

  1. Draws talents in. Thanks to the internet, employees can now leave public reviews of a company on websites such as Glassdoor. They can also share opinions on everything from social networking sites to their own personal blogs. All of which can be viewed by prospective employees.
  2. Promotes success and commitment. Culture impacts your workforce, how they collaborate, and how they complete tasks.
  3. Impacts engagement and satisfaction. According to a study by Deloitte, a good working culture is directly correlated to employee retention and workplace productivity.
  4. Influences employee performance. The same study found that organisations that have stronger cultures financially outperform their competitors and are generally more successful. Companies that proactively manage culture have shown a 516% growth in their revenue in a span of 10 years. 
  5. Improves customer experience. Several studies show that improved employee experience improves customer experience. Organisations build satisfied employees when they clarify work expectations, promote positive co-worker relationships and environments and provide the employee experience focused technology people need to do their work.

“At times of change and uncertainty, teams benefit from having a strong compass in the company culture,” said Karen Anderson, chief human resources officer at IT security company Mimecast. “Often this comes in the form of norms, values and the ways in which we communicate.”

Most organisations let their workplace culture form naturally, allowing the pieces to fall where they may. This often results in unclear and unrealistic goals and expectations, with organisations:

  • Creating rules and work programs based on other employers instead of what fits their work environment.
  • Tolerating management styles that hamper employee retention and engagement.
  • Hiring employees who are not suitable.
  • Having a monotonous and uninspiring work environment.
  • Being insensitive to how managers and stakeholders influence workplace culture. 

Because of these reasons, it is important to understand your workplace culture - both for what it currently is and how you envisage it in the future - and routinely check if it needs to be updated in light of the growth in remote employees.

Not sure where to start?

Harvard Business Review found 8 distinct culture buckets: purpose, caring, order, safety, authority, results, enjoyment and learning driven cultures. Where does or should your organisation sit?

Harvard Business Review Culture Buckets

Need more inspiration? Here’s LinkedIn’s well-documented Culture of Transformation.

Once your team is in agreement on your workplace culture, ensure you put in place the people, processes and tools to reinforce this for your remote workforce.

7 Ways to Cultivate a Positive Culture

Here are 7 practical ways to build and improve company culture with your remote workforce.

1. Demonstrate strategic leadership

Cultivating a positive culture starts with the leadership team. Keep remote employees in the loop by getting your top executives to encourage behaviours and priorities in line with the culture they want to build. Focus on the goals and vision for your organisation to ensure your employees are aligned around purpose and what their roles are really contributing to.

Give leadership the tools to communicate effectively and consistently organisation-wide, and in turn ensure employees are given the tools to listen, ask questions and provide feedback.

Work with the HR and communications teams to proactively identify key scenarios, both internal and external to the company, that will affect employees. Then align leadership’s response and proactively provide resources for employees to better deal with these scenarios.

2. Holding weekly AMAs (Ask Me/Us Anything) meetings

Let employees know that they matter by taking time to listen to what they have to say, and keep them in the know with progress and developments within the organisation. Have managers and stakeholders provide as much transparency as possible to gain employee confidence and leave no room for doubts with regular meetings for their own teams.

Monthly or bi-monthly meetings can be also organised where department heads share information about what their teams have been working on. You might also have a regular virtual company-wide gathering where employees can submit their questions to be answered in advance by the leadership team.

Be careful not to encourage excessive collaboration, where employees deal with too many meetings, conference calls and reporting in, and too much time is spent on unnecessary back and forth. It can be helpful to look at:

  • Whether the meeting is necessary – can employees perform their tasks sufficiently without it?
  • Who needs to attend – can employees be asked to attend only during relevant times?
  • Should it be a regular meeting and how often should it be scheduled for?
  • How long should it last?
  • Where will the information from the meeting be shared among employees for easy access – both shortly after and at a later time to reference?

3. Circulate information and encourage transparency

Like the game of Chinese whispers demonstrates – the further someone is from the source of truth, the more likely the information will morph into different inaccurate versions.

The McKinsey Global Institute found that “the average office worker spends 28 hours a week, or nearly 1500 hours a year, writing emails, searching for information and attempting to ‘collaborate’ internally".

Remote workers don’t have the benefit of being in the same physical location. What information they do hear can often be out of date or out of context.

Also, organisation's will often send all communication via email, leading to email overload. So how do you improve internal communications for your workforce.

Instead, map out what channel and/or tool is best for each communication type. You might instead publish news on your intranet news section, which allows you to segment the group of employees who see the content.

Also, be aware of an employee group's awareness of that channel. There is not point posting information on a channel that employees never access or posting at a time when they will not be available to see it.

Tip: For official policies and procedures, you can host them as pages on your intranet. Then send out an email notifying employees about the policy or procedure and where to find it. This stops employees from saving local copies on their personal drive and using it well after it becomes outdated. It is also much easier to find, then searching through emails and looking for the right attachment.

Go beyond official work documents, and encourage ‘nice to know’ content through informal channels like Slack, Yammer or social tools on your intranet. This can include managers talking about new initiatives, down to employees sharing best practice tips for working from home.

4. Building a collaborative workplace platform

With a remote workforce comes additional challenges for managers.

They need to proactively mitigate employee burnout and disengagement, such as excessive leave days or breaks. While also avoiding micro-managing employees and sending excessive emails and messages. 

There are many workplace platforms that automate and improve business processes, supporting and encouraging collaboration and communication - all of which can be overseen by managers.

Intranet software, for example, designed for team workspaces helps employees stay better connected with those who work in the office. It augments collaboration and enables teams to create easily accessible workspaces for participating in conversations, document sharing, news streams, or RSS feeds. They can opt in to automatically receive notifications.

These workspaces provide a centralised platform that goes beyond email threads to form efficient and searchable collaborative areas for project-specific communication and content.

Related reading: [Blog post] A Game Plan For Overcoming Remote Working Challenges Using Your Intranet

5. Promote social engagement

Implement enterprise collaboration tools and strategies to facilitate the water cooler effect, whereby employees casually get together to chat about topics that interest them, from new TV shows to their new and adorable pets. 

You can write basic guidelines such as words that cannot be used, however, employees should be free to have the same kind of casual conversations they would in person.

Start by creating a handful of seed channels or spaces, and then encourage employees to create their own based on topics that interest them. Then enable employees to join and opt in to receive updates when there are new posts or resources added.

Craft engagement specifically with remote workers in mind:

  • Videos highlighting how employees are working from home, from their set up, to a sped up day in their life.
  • Virtual competitions.
  • Content highlighting new remote employees.

6. Acknowledge achievements, accomplishments, and successes

Research from O.C. Tanner Institute indicates that improved communication, clear expectations and frequent recognition are instrumental in avoiding employee burnout.

Yet, as organisational psychologist Dr Sarah Cotton, co-founder of mental health consultancy Transitioning Well, explains, “We’re so quick to jump on things when they go wrong, but we’re often so busy we don’t have the time to acknowledge the good…We need to be better at that – and often, all people want is a ‘thank you’ for the effort they’ve put in.”

You would be surprised by how a little appreciation can go a long way – not just for the employee being recognised, but the entire workplace.

One study found that publicly presenting employees with awards such as milestones for ‘x years at the company’ could increase the belief by other employees that the organisation cared about their contribution.

People, by nature, respond positively to appreciation because it validates their efforts and boosts their self-esteem, which are essential ingredients to drive employee engagement and motivation. Celebrate both the combined efforts of teams, as well as highlight the individual efforts of employees.

Go beyond work achievements, and celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and milestones, and make them feel valued even when they’re working remotely.

There should be consistent recognition from management and leaders, along with peer recognition programs that allow employees to nominate and recognise one another.

Use both formal rewards and recognition programs, as well as news and social tools – all of which can be hosted on your intranet – to publicly recognise remote employees who are performing their jobs well and/or are demonstrating the values of your company culture.

Keep in mind that remote employees will not have the company networking building opportunities as employees who work at the same location. Intranets can also help by highlighting employee skills and interests in employee directory profiles.

7. Connect employees with your organisation

As a remote employee, it’s easy to feel like one of many faceless, insignificant cogs in a wheel - not truly understanding how they contribute to the success of the business. Often, their jobs are too distant from the end users of our products and services.

A key strategy for delivering a great digital employee experience for your remote workforce is to help them connect to their purpose within the organisation. Enable employees to draw connections and understand how they contribute to the organisation’s long term vision or mission, as well as a more short term ‘what’s happening’ across the business.

Start by creating a central communication and resource centre. Remote employees often work at varying hours and days, so let them easily access information at their own convenience.

Then ensure you proactively share positive news and information via videos, photos, bulletins, blog posts, news articles and social posts such as:

  • Sharing client feedback and directly acknowledge teams and/or individual contributes involved
  • Sharing end user feedback i.e. those who are directly impacted by your solution
  • Inviting clients and end users to share their experiences directly with your staff
  • Sharing feedback and stories of teams that have benefitted from other teams

What's Next?

Want more insights on how you can deliver a positive culture to a distributed workforce?

We recommend you watch this webinar on 'How to Effectively and Efficiently Support a Remote Workforce'.

We delve into how you can support the short term needs of your staff who work remotely, while also preparing to support them in the long term to ensure you build an engaged and high performing workforce regardless of future disruptions.

Support a Remote Workforce Webinar Blog Mar 2020 Image Final

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