5 Ways to Build a Strong Virtual Culture
While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly moved a lot of employees from the office to their homes, the number of remote workers has been expanding for some time. Regardless of your professional environment, it’s important for business leaders to keep their company culture growing. Creating a strong virtual culture is critical for continued success, and employee retention and happiness – which directly impacts your bottom line.
During a recent Facebook Live Event, Rick Porter, President of Cinch IT, Marc Haskelson, President of Compliancy Group, and Suzanne Straub, Vice President of People at Axcient, shared how they’re supporting a strong virtual culture.
1. Measure success by KPIs.
One of the biggest challenges of working remote is trust. Employers worry employees are not working when they’re at home, but does the amount of work matter? Regardless of where people are located, company culture should drive self-motivated, performance driven results. Key performance indicators (KPIs), create expectations between employees and employers that are mutually agreed upon, measurable, signals that gauge success over time. Using KPIs as the barometer for productivity gives employees the freedom to complete their work without strict policies of when and where.
Because all at-home work environments are different, employers need to leave room for the constraints of childcare or the responsibility of tending to a sick loved one. I’ll talk more about managing these personal duties later, but the grade of a good employee shouldn’t depend on the number hours, or the time of day that they work. Rather than micromanaging your remote workforce, an old school management style that leads to employee frustration, anger, and eventually, high turnover, rely on KPIs. These true measurements of success showcase how people are contributing to the business, spending their time at home, and performing overall.
2. Encourage trickle down transparency.
Let’s be honest, leadership doesn’t always have all the answers. In fact, if you’re navigating something catastrophic, like a pandemic, no one has all the answers – but business must continue. When the COVID-19 pandemic did hit, Marc was honest with his employees about what was necessary to ensure job security. He announced that 30% of expenses would need to be cut without affecting customer care relationships, and he opened the door for suggestions. Not only did his team deliver on innovative ideas, but they became part of the solution.
Demanding blind loyalty without question is not a culture, it’s a dictatorship. Encouraging teamwork and active participation for a greater goal is exactly the community-based approach to problem solving people want. Overall, transparency motivates action.
3. Foster authentic human connection.
One of the biggest losses in a virtual culture is the face-to-face interaction. There’s no ride up the elevator talks or chats next to the coffee machine, but that doesn’t mean human connection isn’t possible. As Rick says, you just have to get creative. Here are some suggestions from Marc, Rick and Suzanne on how to stay connected, both professionally and for fun.
- Schedule regular check-ins like team stand-ups and one-on-ones within each department.
- Increase the frequency of all-hands meetings to weekly instead of monthly or quarterly.
- Invite employee questions to be submitted ahead of meetings to better set your agenda.
- Accept the reality of remote work. Children, animals, spouses, and other loved ones are bound to make an appearance because, well, that’s life.
- Plan virtual gatherings like happy hours, donut and coffee, and lunch “dates.”
- Organize virtual team activities like Jeopardy or trivia. The team at Compliancy Group put together an office-based trivia game asking questions about employees so people could get to know each other on a more personal level.
- Encourage people to check in on one another, ask how they’re coping with the remote environment and stay-at-home orders.
- Reward people and teams with things they like. After Cinch IT’s help desk survived the influx of tickets during the initial phase of COVID-19, the company delivered pizzas to everyone’s home at the same time so the team could have a remote pizza party. They’ve also rewarded employees with alcohol deliveries and Amazon gift cards. Now these are rewards that motivate!
- Establish a buddy system for new employees where a long-time employee provides support, and the new employee has a designated person to turn to with questions.
- Be aware of people who may be struggling with the new environment. If someone isn’t meeting KPIs like they used to, isn’t as communicative, or regularly unavailable, they may need help adjusting and navigating conflicts.
- Create an employee net promoter score (eNPS) to understand employees’ overall loyalty, satisfaction and engagement.
- Survey employees about decisions that affect them personally, like whether to return to the office once your region loosens restrictions. If the majority are fearful, you might rethink your reentry plans.
Above all, make remote work connections authentic. Don’t force people to participate if they don’t want to. Make rewards something desirable, and understand that there will be interruptions. Whether it’s people and animals, internet connections, noise or novice tech users, remote work comes with it’s own special set of bumps.
4. Communication is still key.
Of course because a virtual environment takes place online, communication is more important than ever. All the things listed above are only successful with open and honest communication. When setting KPIs, both employees and employers need to be forthcoming about realistic expectations in order to create goals that can be met. Transparency can only be achieved with open discussion, and connection activities only work if you’re both receptive to hearing something new, as well as revealing something about yourself. Most organizations struggle with communication, so don’t be afraid to try new tools and frequencies until everyone feels as included as is necessary.
This is where those personal responsibilities come into play. Employees need to feel comfortable discussing their at-home work environment with their employer. Parents with young children might need to work odd hours, but that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve their KPIs. Similarly, if someone is caring for a sick loved one, they might be unavailable at times, but blocking time in their calendar could be the right workaround. Using empathy, technology and communication, employers should feel comfortable with the work their team is completing at home.
5. Change of course if it feels wrong.
Both Marc and Rick were asked how they would know if they got their virtual culture right…and both presidents of their companies were stumped. Instead, they agreed it’s a lot easier to tell when it’s wrong – and if that’s how you’re feeling, change course. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for creating a virtual culture, so be agile, welcome input, and know that it will probably take more than one attempt to get it right.
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About the Author:
Liz Mellem // Technical Copywriter, Axcient
Liz Mellem has been a freelance copywriter for over three years in the technology, education, and alternative medicine industries. She produces content, sales collateral, and email marketing campaigns that contribute to digital marketing strategies for sales growth and brand awareness. In her free time, Liz enjoys reading, exploring Austin, and Netflix with her cat, Harlem.