It’s been more than two months since corporate America’s unexpected leap into the deep end of the remote work pool. Behind the backdrops of our endless video calls, we’ve been juggling unexpected incursions from children, pets, and other household activities. Despite the occasional drama, we’ve been largely successful at adapting to this new paradigm, answering the question of whether people can work remotely. Clearly, they can, but now companies are asking a new question: How does our culture work remotely?
Where does culture come from?
Culture has always been a hard thing to define. We know a great culture when we see it. It drives engagement and innovation. It is the secret sauce that helps some organizations punch above their weight in the market. But when it comes to defining culture, it’s a bit more complex, because most of what drives great culture is invisible.
When organizations talk about culture, they often cite Apple and Google as their role models. They see visible success and hope that by adopting the stocked kitchens, game rooms, and inspirational slogans, they will be able to ignite that same success in their own environment. It doesn’t work that way. Culture comes with values, not cold brew coffee and karaoke. So the first question to ask is what you, your employees, and your customers value. If you can’t answer that question, anything you do to create culture will feel disconnected, inauthentic, and, ultimately, disengaging, no matter where your employees and customers are working.
So how do you make the leap to remote culture?
Prior to the pandemic, workplace culture was expressed in a variety of ways, from the physical office layout to ways of working. If you think of your company as having a personality, that’s culture. Whether your culture was well established prior to the pandemic or you are starting to build something new, you can start with these five key activities.
What about the community?
Culture is, in a sense, a shared expression of our community at work. When we share values, we work together to achieve goals; a connection is formed that then becomes a part of our own sense of self. It’s why we feel personally ashamed when our company behaves badly or gets in the news for all the wrong reasons, even if we didn’t have anything to do with the situation. Prior to the pandemic, many organizations included rituals such as celebrating birthdays with cake or afternoon cocktails and social hours. With the sudden shift to remote work, employee experience professionals scrambled to find ways to incorporate these activities in a virtual setting.
There’s nothing wrong with offering online trivia nights or virtual cocktail hours. These activities may appeal to some employees, helping them to fill the social void that opened when physical offices closed. But it’s just as important to remember that these activities are not culture and do not appeal equally to everyone in the organization. Pool tables weren’t culture before the pandemic, and virtual paint nights won’t fill the gap now. You have to do the work that defines what brings you, your employees, and your customers together.
The original article by Katy Tynan, principal analyst at Forrester, is here. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Photo credit: iStockphoto/vicnt