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How to Intentionally Foster Culture in Today’s Remote Work Environment

Posted on Categories Culture/Employee EngagementTags

Learn why you need intentional culture that is values- and behaviors-based for a virtual and remote work environment.

At Savage Brands, we talk a lot about culture. In response to the realities of COVID-19, most companies have switched gears to a virtual office. This got us thinking: can a company successfully maintain its culture in a virtual workforce situation? We work with many companies that have remote workforces – sometimes very remote (think offshore rigs). How do we translate what we know about remote workforces to virtual workforces – even for our own company? What do you need to make it happen? Hint: purpose, values and behaviors are the foundation that keep culture and collaboration going.

Even as many companies are doing it out of necessity right now, there’s certainly long-term value to working remotely/virtually. There’s an increase in productivity. There’s a reduction in the carbon footprint with less commuting, not to mention time saved in the commute. In hiring, there’s a wider talent pool to choose from. There are also benefits in work-life balance, and health and well-being. However, some folks might see these advantages at the perceived expense of culture, connectivity and collaboration. I will be anxious to see if opinions change after this “forced” grand experiment.

But let’s get back to culture. Great cultures are created as a direct result of a company’s ability to communicate and live by a very clear purpose, values, mission and vision. The cultures of “legend” (e.g. Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, Container Store, etc.) were built and cultivated very intentionally. Whether your company shares an office or has a remote workforce, your company’s values should drive behaviors that support the culture you want. Culture is not about having a ping-pong table in the breakroom. If there aren’t solid value-based behaviors behind the ping pong table, nap room, or coffee bar (i.e. we value fun because it allows us to think more creatively), it’s just fun for the sake of fun – a perk, not a culture.

Culture transcends what you sell as a business. Culture doesn’t care whether you are B2B or B2C. At the end of the day we are all in the people business – your people and your brand are what ultimately differentiate you.

In thinking about your culture, make sure you know what the company stands for (your higher purpose) and be crystal clear on your values and your behaviors. Values and behaviors should show up in any environment, remote or in-person. When you are solid on those things, you can start creating the environment, conditions, rituals and traditions that foster the culture you want to have. More importantly, make sure you put in place a way to constantly communicate and reiterate those values with your employees.

Some of our clients with remote workforces send short CEO videos to all of their employees for important updates and reminders of the company’s mission and values. At Savage, we created a set of value cards that peers give to each other to commend a coworker for going above and beyond in demonstrating the company’s values and behaviors. At the end of our all-staff meetings, we take a few minutes to share an article, watch a TEDTalk or play a game that relates to one or more of our values. Working remotely, our fun committee has moved our Friday happy hours to virtual video happy hours. Many of your existing rituals can be replicated in a virtual work world – you don’t have to leave it all back at the office.

Let’s be honest. Remote culture will not mirror in-house company culture exactly. You’ll need to get creative regarding team building – imagine how you could pull off a company-wide virtual lunch using technology. Good, high energy can still thrive though, while low energy days can be kept at bay.

In addition to taking your traditions and rituals online, here are some things you can do to foster a positive culture in a remote workforce situation:

  1. Ensure you have the latest technology and digital resources such as direct line forwarding, video chat and project management tools such as Google Hangouts, Slack, Monday and BaseCamp.
  2. Replace in-person team-building with virtual team building – lunch together through video chat or host a happy hour where everyone shares drink recipes.
  3. Support the health and well-being of your team through an online workout, meditation or a contest.
  4. Instill a weekly video all-hands meeting with check-ins.
  5. Keep the energy and collaboration flowing by sparking group chat brainstorms.

Have you identified your company’s core values? If not, we invite you to check out this short exercise to help you uncover or refresh them.

Avatar photoAs President at Savage Brands, Bethany is known for forging powerful connections – connecting people to people and connecting companies with the fresh ideas that make their brands purposeful. In her recent book, "Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line and Build Your Brand on Purpose," Bethany conveys to business leaders the importance of leading with purpose.