If building company culture has been tough for your organization throughout the pandemic, you’re not alone. Even just a month in, the Society of Human Resource Management found that two out of three employers were struggling to maintain employee morale, not to mention all the logistics of shifting to remote work.
Some companies, however, found strength by creating a culture in remote teams. HP, for example, hosted weekly town halls with doctors who provided the latest coronavirus updates, along with seminars on homeschooling for parents. As we look to return to work after COVID-19, Harvard Business Review advises that you will need to start building company culture from the ground up by:
- Hiring and promoting employees who are resilient and adaptable
- Sharing examples of how the organization is adhering to their cultural values (for example, if inclusion is a core value — make all meetings with remote workers remote for everyone)
- Model transcendent values (for instance, can you offer additional perks such as free entertainment subscriptions to switch off or paid travel to work?)
The opportunity for building new company culture
Other experts see this time as a chance to reassess company culture. For example, the recruitment company Morgan McKinley used surveys during the pandemic to start building company culture by offering more work-life balance. To do this, they implemented ideas such as a company-wide 3 pm finish on Friday afternoons, cutting hour-long meetings to 45 minutes, and encouraging employees to block out lunchtime each day on their calendar.
An important opportunity here for building company culture is to recognize that most of your employees will want some form of flexible working — Microsoft estimates this figure could be as high as 71%. Similarly, more than a third (37%) are considering moving to a new location in the next year due to the increasing opportunity to work from home, so the company culture you once had may not cut it anymore. You need to make employees feel included whether they’re working in or out of the office.
How to build company culture while including remote and hybrid workers
- Ensure your remote workers have everything they need to work comfortably at home, including a COVID-safe option if the internet or power goes out
- Reconsider your training methods to allow remote workers to gain the same level of onboarding and upskilling as in-office workers
- Make sure remote managers are trained in how to supervise, manage, and coach from a distance, along with remote team-building skills
- Create frequent opportunities for “virtual high five” moments in which both in-office and remote workers are acknowledged for their accomplishments
- Build a consistent timetable of virtual meetings and remote team-building opportunities, covering everything you would cover in-person, including frustrations, wins, feedback, and questions
- Every team will have “subject matter experts” — ensure they are given opportunities to share this information at employee meetings
- Ensure that your hybrid and work from home employees have ample opportunity to engage with management
Best practices for remote team building
- Start with an end goal for your remote team building and work backward. Allow employees to build their own schedules, but check in to see if they’re getting enough time to collaborate with their colleagues and how you can support that.
- Try to accommodate different personalities. Not everyone might be comfortable going on-camera. Some people may want different team-building activities such as book clubs or online games. Ask your employees what they’d like.
- Provide employees with opportunities to identify improvements in management and enable managers to access the skills they need.
- Make an extra effort to be proactive about creating remote team-building opportunities with all new employees.
How to plan safe in-office and remote team building activities
The first and most important rule here is to prioritize safety for employees going back to work after COVID-19. Another prime concern is to organize these events without excluding hybrid or work from home employees. If you are building company culture with these activities, it’s advised:
- Activities should ideally be designed so that both hybrid and work from home employees and in-office employees who are not comfortable can call in remotely.
- Ensure that the office has been reconfigured to enable maximum social distancing, with visual cues for where to stand and safety gear, such as face masks and hand sanitizer.
- For activities with limited space (for example, workout classes), enable a booking system whereby the first people to book can safely do the activities without overcrowding, while the rest call in from home.
- Ensure your cleaning staff has been briefed to clean down any in-office areas afterward while also encouraging employees to wipe down the area they used.
- Create open lines of communication for what employees would like for remote-friendly team building, what they are comfortable with, where their concerns lie, and how you might be able to address them.
- It may also be worth offering a mix of fully remote team-building activities so that remote employees don’t feel an element of missing out on events that may be based in the office.
How leading international companies are building company culture
Alternatively, you can take inspiration for building company culture from the world’s leading organizations. MIT Sloan Management Review shares that overall, company culture satisfaction has improved with the pandemic. In fact, Fortune 500 employees’ ratings of April to August 2020 emerge as the highest levels in the last five years. When they analyzed why this was, they found that the most valued topics for remote team building over the last year were:
- Top team communication
- Honesty of leaders
- Ethical behavior
- Leaders resolving difficult issues
- Regulatory compliance
- Transparency of leaders
- Resources to do their job
- Organizational transparency
In contrast, employees expressed the most concern about recession, mental well-being, transparency of leaders, health and safety, top team communication, diversity and inclusivity, and racial equity, so it might be valuable to consider these particular elements when building company culture.
How to build company culture across borders
A final consideration for building company culture is that more and more teams will be dispersed across borders. Your long-term approach will need to accommodate remote team building, hybrid team building, and team building for those who return to work full-time in an office environment. The best way to accommodate this is to plan for remote-friendly team building, collaboration, and company culture. Additionally, surveying your employees on their preferred activities will be an important step in ensuring inclusivity.
Your return to office culture must be phased and consider disparities in elements such as vaccine rollouts. First and foremost, you will need to follow local restrictions. However, you will also need to take into account cultural differences across countries in who is and is not ready to return to work and who may or may not want to stay working from home for the foreseeable future.