When COVID-19 officially became a pandemic, it sent office workers home in droves. Gone were the days of postwork happy hours, office birthday celebrations, and in-person team-building activities. The routines that make an office an office or a company a company were lost overnight as the coronavirus forced businesses to move their employees to remote work.
The resulting effects on company culture have been devastating. A June 2020 study by data analytics firm Clutch found that, during the pandemic, 63 percent of workers have spent less time socializing with colleagues. And more than one-third of companies say they have not held a single virtual culture event since the start of the outbreak.
Given the many signs that COVID-19 is going to persist for a while, companies can’t just wait for a return to normal to preserve their culture. Instead, they need to find ways of adapting, to accommodate a workforce that will increasingly include remote workers, maybe permanently. Here are some of the best pieces of expert advice we’ve found.
What Is Your Culture, Anyway?
Remember writing mission and vision statements when your company launched? It might be time to revisit them to see if you’ve strayed from your original plans, or if they just need updating in the current environment. Zoom recently published a helpful white paper on adapting company culture to remote work. Primary among its recommendations: defining your culture, your mission, and your values. Once you’ve done that, make sure your values reflect your mission, and vice versa.
Culture Is More Than Cold Brew on Tap and Ping-Pong Tables
“Culture is about how you work,” not the things you did at the office when you weren’t working, said Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier, a tech company that helps businesses automate their web applications. How does your company talk to its customers? Is speed more important than quality? How do employees talk to each other? In person? On the phone? With respect? How many hours do you expect people to work? These are questions every company needs to ponder as they align their onsite company culture with their remote workforce.
Let Your Employees—and Maybe the Public—Know What Your Culture Is About
It’s one thing to have an outstanding set of values. It’s another to make sure everyone knows them. The human resources firm 6Q suggested creating a document that makes company values transparent. Such a document should be digestible and easy to understand, but it also should be detailed. How do you measure performance? How (and when and where) do you expect employees to communicate with you and each other? How do you assess employees for cultural fit? Every single employee should have access to the document, 6Q says. Some companies have gone a step further and circulated their values publicly. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings published the company’s cultural expectations in 2009 and has consistently updated it ever since. At last check, it has been viewed nearly 20 million times.
Maintaining the Culture Over Time
Even companies that have a clearly defined and communicated culture will encounter difficulty during the transition to remote work. In June 2020, Forbes assembled a panel of experts to help businesses sustain their culture through and beyond the pandemic. Matthew Rolnick, vice president of sales at the event-planning firm Yaymaker, recommended recognizing and celebrating employees as a way to make people feel valued and connected. You don’t have to be at the office to send a birthday greeting or work-anniversary gift.
Marcus Jewel, chief sales officer for Juniper Networks, stressed showing empathy and, even more important, expressing hope for the future. IBM executive Rakhi Voria shared the company’s “Work from Home COVID-19 Pledge,” which encourages all employees to establish and respect boundaries, many of which have shifted because of the pandemic. The pledge includes promises to be sensitive to family issues and to support “not camera-ready” times.
Lisa Walker, vice president of brand and corporate marketing at online meeting software firm Fuze, is another member of Forbes’s expert panel. She emphasized just how important it is to use technology to maintain company culture. Communication and collaboration technologies are at the center of building a culture, Walker said. In addition to offering software, companies should consider providing hardware like headsets or high-resolution monitors to improve communication.
These days, there’s no shortage of software to help unite a team. Officevibe offers recurring, automated, customized surveys to get a read of employee engagement and interest in the company. Kudos is a way to recognize and celebrate strong work among coworkers. Lattice combines the two, measuring employee engagement and tracking performance.
Collect Feedback, Keep an Open Mind, and Adjust
Culture is dynamic, not static. To keep your company culture alive, online collaborative whiteboard company Miro suggests constantly getting feedback from employees, keeping an open mind, and adjusting. It’s unlikely everything is going to run smoothly from the get-go, especially if this is your company’s first attempt at building or maintaining a remote work culture. So pay attention to what works and what doesn’t—and stay nimble.
Many of the experts we consulted agreed that corporate culture is more important now than ever before, not to mention constantly evolving. Your employees need to be involved in the conversations that direct that change, even if they’re not there in person.