Keeping corporate culture alive in a remote working organization

An organization’s corporate values, behavior norms, and community spirit evolve primarily through daily physical encounters and informal face-to-face meetings. So just how do you keep the corporate culture alive and kicking in a virtual organization, in which most employees work outside the office?

It’s relatively easy to formulate your corporate values and disseminate them throughout the organization. In fact, with a Mandatory Read function in your intranet’s publication tool, you can even make sure that every single employee reads them. It’s not quite so simple, however, to ensure that everyone lives by the rules in their contacts with colleagues and with the outside world.

If your employees are all to move in the same direction, feel a sense of connection and adopt the corporate values of your organization as their own, regular communications and team-building activities are required. Your employees’ day-to-day informal meetings with their colleagues are of crucial importance in this process, not least since such meetings play a key role in terms of cementing the organization’s values. This is indeed one of the reasons why many organizations and work teams schedule regular Monday morning meetings.

But how can you keep your corporate culture alive and kicking when your employees are working separately in different environments and perhaps even different time zones? How do you build and boost their team spirit? And how can you counteract the sense of alienation and lack of connection that some employees may experience when working remotely? In this blog post, we’ll provide you with some tips.

Strong corporate culture dependent on healthy remote culture

For most companies and organizations, corporate culture is a critical factor behind the success of their operations. Corporate culture and employee engagement are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. A weak or vague culture leads inevitably to low overall engagement. And you need highly engaged employees to underpin a healthy and vibrant corporate culture.

In Deloitte’s study Global Human Capital Trends 2015, 87% of the interviewed HRM Managers reported that corporate culture and employee engagement are their top priorities for the future. There are plenty of successful and innovative companies, like Google, Apple, Facebook, Spotify and IKEA, in which corporate culture is a confirmed key success factor. In other words, if you want to improve the bottom line of your business, you should put more emphasis on its corporate culture. Especially if you have a growing number of remote workers.

In an organization with many employees working outside the office, you need a healthy remote team culture to prevent your corporate culture from crumbling. In some organizations, remote working may in fact even strengthen corporate culture. One of the reasons for this is that managers and team leaders have better and more efficient tools for communicating and coaching employees individually. And people who find it difficult to make themselves heard and seen in a busy office environment may very well blossom online. This is particularly the case if management invests their time in giving quick, constructive, and individual feedback on employees’ contributions and ideas for improvement. Flexible work is also seen by many as an attractive employee benefit, boosting their engagement and appreciation of their employer.

Companies like Trello, where most employees work offsite, have realized that a sound and distinct remote culture is a prerequisite for building a successful business and strong corporate culture.

According to Trello, a healthy remote team culture requires:

  1. A clear set of rules to live by for both online- and onsite-based communication.
  2. A well-devised system for meetings, events and routines ensuring that the whole organization communicates in a pro-active, inclusive and transparent manner.

Empathy and online tools provide a solid foundation

To create a vibrant remote team culture, powerful tools enabling efficient communication and collaboration are essential. You need modern, reliable and user-friendly online meetings, chat and collaboration tools like Teams, Zoom, Stream, Yammer, Slack, Planner and Trello. This is to ensure that your co-workers will be able to discuss, plan and collaborate effortlessly and efficiently, without any technological obstacles.

As stated by Trello, and other virtual organizations, empathy is one of the most critical factors behind the establishment of a healthy remote culture. In this context, empathy means everyone having the ability to understand and respect the situation of everyone else. For example, managers should get to know each employee’s remote work preferences, adjusting their work conditions accordingly. If an employee has children coming home from school every afternoon, then perhaps he or she would like to have an early start and end to their working day. Read what professor Lena Zander at Uppsala University says about this.

Empathy is also about adhering to respectful netiquette, adopting a friendly tone and positive attitude, and being inclusive and transparent in all communications. For instance, when people are working together in the office they shouldn’t forget their remote working colleagues, especially when they make decisions collectively, have onsite meetings or are collaborating in other ways. To prevent remote colleagues from feeling left out or finding it difficult to voice their opinion at an office meeting, onsite colleagues should also connect to the meeting online. In this way, everyone will be participating in the meeting under the same conditions, regardless of where they are in the flesh. Yet another advantage, in terms of empathy, of making online meetings default is that you can record them so that those who cannot attend in real-time can review the meetings afterward.

With empathy and powerful online tools, you can create a healthy remote culture by following these recommendations:

  • Make online meetings default and face-to-face meetings exceptions to the rule.
  • Avoid quick hallway decisions, unless there’s an acute need for immediate action. Decisions should always include the whole team and be made online. There are very few decisions that cannot be put on hold for 24 hours. Prioritize transparent and inclusive decision processes in order to boost engagement!
  • Follow a set process and structure before and during every meeting, so that it’s easy for all invited to connect to, understand the purpose of and participate in the meetings. You can, for instance, include an invite link and the meeting agenda in the invitation.
  • Show consideration for every remote worker’s situation and time zone. If you want your team members to be highly motivated and creative, you should respect their individual needs, preferences, life situation and circadian rhythm.
  • Ensure full transparency between management and the organization and between colleagues. The digital workplace offers unique possibilities to open all doors. A fully transparent communications environment unifies the organization, strengthens corporate culture, boosts engagement and stimulates knowledge-sharing. Ensure that everyone, with the right user permissions, has access to the same information and log chat discussions, record online meetings and make sure that someone takes online notes at meetings.
  • Establish virtual coffee routines. Much of the communication that shapes corporate culture and strengthens employee-bonding takes place during informal meetings and coffee breaks. For that reason, and also to remedy remote working alienation, it’s important to set up regular virtual coffee breaks at which remote workers can talk about non-work-related issues. Encourage them also to schedule informal personal online meetings with their colleagues.
  • Boost team spirit through virtual team building. There are plenty of online-based team building activities. For instance, you can practice online yoga, challenge each other in online gaming and quizzes, or take guided virtual tours in museums and art galleries.