Let's be real: working remotely has its downsides, too.
Probably the biggest downside is that feeling of disconnection that sets in after a prolonged period of working from home. It can be very difficult to go without the usual face-to-face contact with coworkers and friends. The casual banter in the lunchroom, the post-work drinks at the local pub, the impromptu desk conversations—all of the human connections that imbue your workplace with that special something that makes it unique.
If you're feeling lonely, isolated, and disconnected from the rest of your organization, especially now, remember that this is normal. We're all dealing with it the best we can.
But some organizations are applying strategies to keep their people feeling involved, connected, and valued. They're able to maintain their unique company culture even as everyone works from home. And they're that much stronger because of it.
So what're they doing differently?
Company culture is more important than ever
We've spent a lot of time on this blog explaining how company culture takes form in organizations, why it matters, and what keeps it strong. Company culture is a transient thing that changes all the time, but it's directly linked to a company's values which are lived every day throughout the organization, all around us.
Say for instance your company values open communication and transparent sharing of information. On a given day people might live that value in the form of the CEO sharing financial news with the company, or a marketing team member sharing results from a new initiative. When we're actually in the same room together, witnessing firsthand how we each value and practice open communication, this value is much more immediately apparent than if we're working alone in our homes.
That way of working might be something we're all still practicing, maybe via chat or video calls, but the independent nature of remote work means that we might lose our connection to that particular value over time. We're no longer observing it in regular practice in our physical workplace. That kind of missing out on org-wide values and working habits can take its toll.
Over an extended period, we might begin to lose track of what our company stands for, how we work together, and even the idea that we're a part of a larger organization altogether. Think about it: working at home right now it feels a little weird, doesn't it? It can feel a bit like we're all freelancing and not part of a wider team. When that happens, shared goals can seem arbitrary, intangible, or unattainable.
That's why it's imperative that organizations find ways to reinforce their values and recreate elements of their culture remotely. That way, we can all stay connected to each other and practice those shared values, habits, and relationships that shape our broader culture.
Staying connected remotely
If you or your leadership team hasn't done this already, one of the best things you can do is put together a strategy for making sure your people don't lose sight of what matters and begin to feel removed from their team.
Your plan will tie together a number of aspects that are critical for maintaining a strong sense of community:
1) Company news and internal communications. Your announcement cadence will likely need to increase or shift to a more regular schedule so that your people can stay informed of company policy changes, video events, news about the coronavirus, and whatever else they need to know to feel like they're a part of a wider organizational culture.
Pro-tip: a weekly blog or vlog from the CEO can help to establish a sense of regularity and routine, which is extremely valuable to remote workers who may be feeling disconnected from their normal work routine.
2) Events. You'll want to hold more events than you would under normal circumstances. This can include a combination of company-wide All Hands conducted by your leadership team, more small-scale team-building activities, education and development webinars, and informal events conducted over video: games, happy hour, dinner parties, etc.
3) Employee outreach and support. Managers, take note: your remote workers need your support right now. Chances are a lot of them are feeling anxious, disconnected, isolated, and lonely. That's why it's crucial to connect with them throughout the work week, not to check in but to offer support.
An effective strategy will tie together each of these aspects in a way that really centers the core values that your culture is based on. The goal here is to offer remote workers a sense of connection to the larger organization and the people that comprise it. Centering your people and culture champions in this effort can go a long way towards keeping everyone aligned and feeling like they're included.
Recognition is key
Because company culture is so closely related to how a company works together, being aware of what's happening and how it's happening are extremely important right now. Publicly recognizing employees who enact certain company values in their work helps strengthen that crucial sense of camaraderie that remote workers need.
If someone's finding ways to unite colleagues around a common purpose or helping to reignite the culture, give them a shout-out on the company intranet or call out their contributions in a team Zoom call. That way, remote workers can see that they're not only doing great work, but also contributing to the culture of the organization.
Staying connected means supporting your people
Above all, staying connected in a remote work world is all about offering support and comfort to your remote work force. People need to be reassured that their efforts matter, that they're a part of a community, and that they have a support network that they can rely on.
Leaders, managers, HR: it's your job to reach out and make sure your people have the tools and support they need to do great work, especially now. A lot of your people are under pressure to do more, which can have an adverse effect on their stress levels and mental health. Remember that these are extraordinarily stressful times and productivity should take a back-seat to employee well-being. Try to create a balance.
Culture-building activities in particular are such a great way to center your people and develop that cohesion that's made your organization so successful. Make your people a priority and create a plan based around them and you'll do just fine.