Jun 17, 2020 | Clare Chiappetta, MA, HRCI Contributing Writer
Creating a Healthy Remote Workplace Culture
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many organizations to pivot rapidly to remote work in the past few months. Company culture took a backseat to more urgent concerns, such as employee safety and virtualizing operations. However, in order to make remote work sustainable long-term, leaders must proactively shape their cultures to support distributed work environments.
In an office, in-person interactions facilitate culture. Face-to-face meetings, coffee breaks and water cooler chats create opportunities for co-workers to build relationships. “In an office environment you can casually run into a co-worker, stop by their desk or have lunch with peers,” says Jacob Morgan, author of The Future Leader. “It's easier to feel like part of a team as opposed to being isolated at home behind a computer.”
However, you can’t replicate workplace culture just by moving in-person processes online. When your employees are physically separated, leaders must be more intentional about facilitating workplace culture. Here’s how to create an inclusive, healthy remote work culture.
Draft Your Own Culture Code
A healthy remote work culture should be more deliberate than an in-person work culture. Write a culture code to prevent inequities in your remote work operations. “Clearly write boundaries around expectations for culture,” Kristen Mashburn, founder and company culture consultant at KPMashburn. Guidelines should establish expectations for behavior and communications whether employees work remotely or in the office, she says. This could include parameters around equal access to resources or creating policies for equal time on group calls, for example.
This is especially important for hybrid offices, where there is a combination of employees working from the office and from home. Your culture code should ensure inclusivity for all employees, no matter where they work. For example, establish clear, objective criteria for promotions that aren’t dependent on subjective factors like “fit.” Remote workers shouldn’t feel like they’re putting potential promotions at risk by working offsite.
Develop Open Channels for Feedback
Leaders rely on responses from employees when making effective policy decisions. In an in-person work environment, this often comes from unspoken reactions or “reading the room,” points out Alexander Noren, co-founder at Forgeant.
“Leaders and direct managers have to actively listen and solicit feedback from employees,” Noren says. “Be intentional about asking for feedback regularly.” To maintain a healthy and equitable work culture, workplace leaders must both accept feedback and be willing to act on it. Developing a cadence of scheduled check-ins and encouraging anonymous feedback, for example, will help employee voices be heard. HR can train direct managers to collect and collate employee responses so that leaders can make decisions that are good for everyone.
Support Your Employees' Changing Needs
Shifting to remote work is a big change for everyone. Your employees are learning how to balance their work and home lives without the compartmentalization that can come with working in an office.
Build policies and workflows that are grounded in empathy. “Great remote work policies allow employees to effectively integrate life and work together so that the two don't feel like they are in conflict with one another,” Morgan says. For example, scheduling deadlines ahead of time or allowing employees to set their own work schedule gives employees more control over when and how they work and lets them create the right balance between work and home.
Before COVID-19, many senior leaders didn’t work remotely. Now that the C-suite has a better understanding of what the remote work experience is really like, those experiences can help inform new work policies. Listen to employees’ experiences across the organization and understand what they need to be successful in their evolving workplace.