Best Practice

How to create a new culture when working remotely

Many of us are working from home for the first time. We’ve created workspaces in our bedrooms, built new schedules that accommodate homeschooling, and shifted our in-person meetings to video conferences.

All of these changes are happening at a personal level, but they’ve also the potential to impact work culture. We used to be able to chat over a cup of coffee. Now, we have to schedule a video call. We used to brainstorm at a shared whiteboard. Now, we’re at our individual computers.

Culture is what you get when a group reaches mastery and then wants to teach newcomers to this group what they know, even when they’re doing this subconsciously.

Culture is the culmination of organic and deliberate factors coming together. In this new mode of remote work, we’ve lost aspects of our company culture. We need to create new ones that accommodate remote work.

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Ethan McCarty, Founder and CEO of Integral Communications Group, offered some timely suggestions on how to think about workplace culture in a Poppulo webinar, COVID-19 & remote working: How to make it work when we’re not together. Here are some of his top considerations.

Establish a new remote work charter

Obviously, working from home is not the same as working together in person. However, many companies continue to operate as though a seismic shift has not disrupted the fabric of workplace culture.

Instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, see this as an opportunity to establish a new remote work charter. This is a moment to shed some of our less productive behavior and focus on new and emergent skills and capabilities. It’s also a moment to be emphatic.

You can start to formally establish a new remote team charter within teams and departments. What are the ground rules? Is it ok for team members to multitask during conference calls?

Are you going to hold all meetings on Zoom or are you going to embrace phone calls so that people can unload the dishwasher while having a chat?

Creating a new remote charter will provide a structure, one that begins to build a new culture for your team.

Support leaders as they find new ways to serve

Our leaders heavily influence workplace culture, but many of our leaders have depended on in-person connections to do their jobs. If they want to make an announcement, they gather the team together in person. In-person leadership isn’t an option right now. Our leaders need support.

“Many leaders are struggling in this new territory. They’ve been leading in the same way– in person– for their careers”, said McCarty.

Company leaders may be seasoned veterans, but this is new territory for them. What is going to be the new modality? How can we support our leaders so they can create a new culture?

We need to compassionately support our leaders in this moment, asking for what they need, suggesting solutions, and reminding them of the new paths available.

This may mean making suggestions for how leaders can connect and check-in. For example, Ethan McCarty is advising a client’s senior leadership to check in every day with their direct reports.

Although some are senior vice presidents with hundreds of reports, asking direct reports “how are you doing? Are you ok today?” goes a long way in making everyone feel valued and heard. 

Embrace the multiplicity of employee identities

A person’s identity is their idea of who they are. All of us have workplace identities, family identities, and many others that define how we operate in different circumstances.

Now that teams are working remotely, these identities are converging. For example, workplace identity cannot be so neatly separated from the family identity.

The more we can embrace the multiplicity of identities, the better off we’ll be. That’s because juggling multiple identities is exhausting for team members– this ongoing cognitive dissonance between identities can lead to a lack of productivity, an increase in stress, and general dissatisfaction with work.

“We can create environments at work in which people can express their vulnerability in this moment, and not be shamed for it, and not be judged for it, and instead be encouraged to grow,” said McCarty.

What does this look like in practice? It means making room for obligations outside of work. Being at home brings new responsibilities – cooking, cleaning, homeschooling, and more. Organizations that can make space for these new circumstances will gain a strategic advantage.

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