As remote working becomes the norm, how can we maintain company culture?

Remote working has now forged a firm role in the more flexible future ahead of us. And working in the office or remotely is no longer seen as a binary option.

But, with business culture having evolved over the last hundred years or so around the office, how do we adapt it to a dispersed workforce to maintain all-important morale and productivity?

Integrating ‘office’ policies

Procedures for managing and motivating people in the office or remotely need equal consideration and complement each other. Gareth Evans, CEO, BizSpace explains that a good place to start is looking at your practices set out for the office environment and creating the equivalent for remote working. For example, a typical onboarding programme introduces new employees to colleagues and clients as well as the firm’s operations. Homeworking needs its equivalent. Consider virtual introductions to the team via a group video call and one-to-one video briefings with various managers. This needs to be as comprehensive and well-structured as its in-person counterpart, and a good mix of facetime, albeit virtually, to ensure a good quality new starter and onboarding experience to the company.

It’s also sensible to set clear standards. Expectations and codes of conduct are generally well instilled in the office environment. For those working remotely, it’s perhaps even more important to be clear on hours of operation, contact-ability, and required outputs.

Get equipped

It’s essential the business and staff are equipped to operate as effectively – and securely – as they can in the office. There is now a wide variety of well adapted digital tools available, with both flexible and affordable user options. Have these set up, ready to go on all company hardware, with user training in place and clear guidelines on the role of each in the working day. For example, is Zoom or WebEx the platform for external meetings, customer presentations and webinars, while Teams is for internal work conversation and collaboration? Is Workplace or Slack the go-to for company information and informal colleague chatter?

Keep company values front of mind

Company values are the core of every business and its culture. It is important to ensure they are clearly and effectively established in everyone’s mindset, regardless of their location.

Make sure they’re clearly communicated via multiple touchpoints in the remote working experience. They should feature in the remote induction processes and be reflected in all remote policies and practices. Publish them on your website and company intranet; promote them through internal newsletters and EDMs. Do you have inspirational posters or collateral in the office? Post them on your company chat platforms and virtual noticeboards.

Keep communicating

Effective communication is the key to success, and the way staff members interact when working remotely needs to be carefully considered. For more formal communication, e-mails are probably best, especially if documents need to be referred to either through links or attachments. But inboxes can easily get overloaded with the ‘quick questions’ and ‘FYIs’ that form a startlingly large part of our usual day. This more informal communication is equally important both in productivity and culture, and should be actively encouraged.  The likes of WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc are ideal for chats and meetings, and each diverts traffic from the Inbox. Web-based intranet packages like Workplace, the corporate version of Facebook, are great for keeping people connected within the firm.

Making remote staff feel part of a team as well as engaged is a challenge. Beyond getting the communication technology right is the question of when and how to use it. Setting goals and feeding back on progress is normal good practice, but requires extra planning with remote staff. Also be sure to strike a balance – while the tech allows for more working flexibility, meeting in person is key to motivating and maintaining relationships.

Stay social

What is especially hard to replicate with a remote team is the casual, friendly atmosphere of an office. Consider creating opportunities for non-business-related and informal interactions that tend to happen naturally in a physical work environment and cultivate that all-important sense of a working community.

Virtual tea and coffee breaks offer a regular opportunity for colleagues to drop-in and catch up, while drinks, hangouts and quizzes have become popular features of the Friday afternoon diary during lockdown.

This might not be quite the same as the casual conversation around the watercooler or afterwork drinks but is the next best thing, especially in the short-term. As far as team bonding is concerned, nothing beats getting together in the real world. With this in mind, when we can, look to balance the virtual get togethers with occasions that bring everyone together as often as possible.

Structure the day

A key issue facing new remote workers is a lack of structure of the day, which is often conducive to productivity. The lack of physical signposts to the order of the day can lead to lack of motivation and, in some cases, colleagues working at different paces. One way to provide this is to have regular morning virtual check-ins to discuss the day’s work, set a united working agenda and align expectations across the team. But be sure to keep them concise and productive.

Opportunity for feedback

It can be hard to know whether remote work colleagues are happy and engaged. Online surveys can help assess how everyone is doing. Design them carefully to be quick to complete and seen to add value, rather than as an administrative nuisance.

Managing a remote team in principle is similar to managing people in an office environment. Making people feel valued, providing guidance and encouragement, setting goals, and praising for good work are all ways to help people to succeed We now have the technology to really embrace a flexible working future, but it will only be truly successful if we use it in the right way, and combine virtual and physical environments to keep employees engaged and motivated.