Maintaining culture during mass remote working

Sam Wilson  |  March 18, 2020

We’re facing an unprecedented situation that is causing a tectonic shift in the way that most of us are working. As leaders, we’re being forced to juggle more than ever. Whilst most of the things that tend to fill our working day are still going on (in some form at least), we’re suddenly faced with a number of new challenges. Not least of these is working out how we can continue to deliver whatever it is that each of us deliver. With all of our proverbial balls in the air, something that could easily fall by the wayside is company culture – especially when all, or at least most, of our people are no longer in the office.

We speak a lot about the importance of positive working culture when it comes to productivity, creativity and performance. Culture still exists when your people aren’t together and therefore should still remain a priority during these strange times. As leaders and managers, there are a number of steps we can take to ensure that a positive working culture is still maintained when our teams are working remotely.

Keep checking-in

Isolation is a dangerous thing and there is no doubt that these extended periods of working alone have the potential to have a serious impact on people’s happiness and mental health. The first casualties of mass remote working are likely to be motivation and productivity – especially amongst those who are new to it. The feeling of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ will lead to members of your team feeling that their contributions aren’t as important and this can have a detrimental impact on both their work rate and feelings of self-worth and value.

Taking the time to check-in regularly with each member of your team can not only help keep them on track but also ensure that they don’t feel forgotten.

But not too much

Saying that, make sure that they don’t feel inundated with calls and emails from you when they want to be getting on with their work. There is a fine line between checking-in and checking-up – one is a friendly sign that you’re thinking about them, the other is a clear indication that you don’t trust them to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing.  

You will need to judge where this fine line exists with each of your people and approach your remote relationship with them accordingly. Some will be happier being left to it, others will appreciate the extra contact.

Trust them to work in ways that work best for them

This leads on from the last point. Trust is a key feature in positive working culture and remote working can very much put a strain on that. Giving your people a certain amount of freedom in the way that they work will demonstrate your trust in them and likely lead to a boost in productivity. Some will prefer to work traditional working hours, whilst others will enjoy the opportunity to work in ways that better suit them.

Continue to hold team meetings

If you regularly meet as a team – whether through weekly updates, retros, presentations etc – then find ways that you can still do this virtually. You might find that this is just done through a group Whatsapp call, a specific time on a Slack channel or through a group Zoom call (other products are available for all). Even if you don’t often hold these types of meetings, this is a good time to start – maybe begin with sharing tips on working from home effectively, as for many it is likely to be the first time.

Culture is created through the people in a team and in order to keep a sense of culture going you need to ensure that your team still feel like a team. Make sure that everyone is aware of what their colleagues are up to, what has been achieved and who is available to help should they need it.

Set up a Whatsapp group for ‘office chat’

For those that don’t regularly work away from the office, suddenly being separated from the atmosphere and buzz of an office environment is going to be quite a shock. Some will undoubtedly enjoy the peace and quiet but others will struggle. Culture isn’t just about work, it’s about the things that come along with it.

Make sure that your team still have a channel through which they can discuss things other than work. Whether it’s reliving the latest episode of Hot Ones or sharing the perfect #IsolationLife tweets, it’s important that they still have a way to maintain their ‘human’ relationships. That way they won’t feel like strangers when they come back to the office.

Keep treating them

Many managers find that treating their team to lunch or a drink is a good way to maintain good team morale and spirit. This obviously becomes significantly more difficult when everyone is working from their respective homes. However, you might find that there are still ways that you still treat them in certain ways and the likelihood is that these gestures will mean a lot to them at such a challenging time.

Deliveroo offer gift cards if you still want to ‘take’ your team for lunch, you could also consider iTunes vouchers so they can rent a film when the cinemas are all shutting down. There are many creative ways to recreate the team socialising that you would be doing normally.

Reassure them wherever possible

We are obviously operating in extremely uncertain times and we have very little idea of what the other side of this pandemic will look like. However, as leaders, we have a responsibility to give our people assurances and let them know that we are doing everything we can to maintain as much control as possible.

This is especially important when it comes to protecting your people’s mental health.

They will be hearing and reading so much about redundancies and businesses going under and will undoubtedly be worrying about what could be in store for your organisation and their jobs. Sharing whatever information you have and providing reassurance will help stave off anxiety and panic – neither of which are conducive to positive working culture.

Obviously, every team is different but we hope that at least some of these points will help you maintain some positive sense of culture in your remote teams. The paramount thing is that you do everything you can to prevent feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety. Not only will it impact their work but your duty of care as an employer is still very much in effect.

More than ever, it’s important for you to put yourself in your people’s shoes – how will they be feeling? What are the challenges that they’ll face? And, how can you best help and support them?

Stay safe and be good to each other x

Download this guide here.

MVMNT work with organisations to help them build and maintain inclusive working cultures and create first-class employee experiences.

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