Today, many offices are buzzing with anxiety around COVID-19, so it’s natural that conversations about teams working remotely are at a high. Reducing heath risks through work-at-home policies may be great for employees’ physical well-being, but what about the potential damage to the health of your teams’ culture? How do you ensure that collaboration and innovation still happen while your employees are dispersed?
There are some simple things you can do now that will help ensure your teams stay in contact during COVID-19. If you do it right, these practices will have lasting benefits and will help your employees feel more connected well after this crisis has passed.
Articulate mindsets and behaviors
We like to start with laying out the mindsets that you’d like your employees to have and the behaviors you’d like them to exhibit. These are two keys for bringing any culture to life, and as you define these terms, use some specificity. Netflix defines their cultural mindsets and behaviors with a wonderful level of specificity, while also leaving some room for interpretation. For example, in their communications section they write, “You listen well and seek to understand before reacting.” In practice this means that employees who engage in active listening and who ask follow up questions to get more information before sharing opinions are held up as good practitioners of Netflix’s culture. These behavioral expectations improve the productivity of employee interaction — especially when conducted remotely through teleconferencing or videoconferencing platforms.
Get the right tools
To sustain culture, employees will need a full suite of standardized methods for group conversation, file sharing, group working sessions, and spontaneity. Ideally, there will be tools for transparency into how others are getting work done, and meetings will occur at a similar cadence as if employees were working together in the office. Ideally, all of these tools will support the mindsets and behaviors you’ve already articulated with some specificity. Some tools we suggest you think about include:
Group chat. Our team uses Slack, which offers the capability to create multiple, secure channels that support an unlimited number of groups and sub-groups. These groups can be permanent, or set up for specific projects or private conversations. For our purposes, we create a different channel for each client project and project we’re working on. We also create channels for general company announcements and fun posts. Employees feel empowered to share what’s going on in and out of the workplace on Slack, much like a typical mix of conversations that would take place in the office. Slack is great, but definitely not the only game in town. You’ll want to find something that fits in with your larger tech stack. Microsoft Teams, Jive, or other tools might make more sense.
File sharing. Cloud file sharing is something most organizations have already, but now is the time to make sure your employees are engaging in the right behaviors related to file sharing. This is important both for security and so employees can find each others’ work.
Security. Cybersecurity matters now more than ever. Make sure your cybersecurity experts have a good plan in place and have communicated how it works to everyone. If there’s a VPN that employees will need to use to keep your files secure, make sure employees have a resource to trouble shoot it while working remotely. Don’t only think about company computers, but also mobile devices. If your company is a bring-your-own-device organization, think about password protections.
Videoconferencing. This technology has come a long way in the last few years. Most of your employees are probably already versed in Facetime or WhatsApp technologies. They’re great for quick chats, but can make completing tasks together difficult. Take a look at the bigger software options like WebEx or Zoom and test them before everyone is remote. Help some employees who may need video cameras or better lighting so coworkers can see them during group conversations.
Tools only get you so far. You also need guidelines and incentives to get your employees using these tools in ways that help re-enforce the mindsets and behaviors that make up your culture.
Going back to the Netflix example of “You listen well and seek to understand before reacting” – what would that look like digitally? It could look like a manager sharing an opinion in Slack with their reports. Rather than the reports going off and completing tasks to address that opinion, employees could ask clarifying questions. Questions with the words “why,” “what’s our goal,” and “is there some other information I should know as background” before making a plan for action. Then, as with in-person meetings, the team could brainstorm possible solutions to address that opinion. If there’s something for someone to draw, that’s when the team could jump on their group videoconferencing software and start drawing solutions, assigning next steps among the team, and scheduling follow ups among the team. Encourage employees to breakout and do mini-tasks remotely, as well.
Leaders need to participate in all the various channels. It’s always important for leaders to mirror the behaviors they want from their employees. It’s even more important that they engage with their employees when they reach out to them digitally. An employee who does a lot of work will feel unappreciated if their work is ignored and their leaders don’t engage. Praise good work on digital channels often. Highlight great employee practices with the larger team to better illustrate the expected behaviors you’re aiming for in your remote community.
And don’t forget the humanity. Employees get more done when working remotely because they can concentrate, but they’ll also feel isolated. Keep human discussions, like encouraging team members to talk about how they’re coping in their isolation, sharing their lunch or activities they’re doing to keep sane. Basically any small talk you’d do in the office, encourage it through the community tools.
The great thing about all of these practices is that they aren’t disaster specific. When everything is back to normal, all of these activities can support your general community models, as well. If you’ve got a lecture happening in one office location, invite employees from other locations to join digitally. If you have an employee whose commute makes it difficult to be there every day, keep them included in your office group chats. If the team does something fun together, post pictures so your remote workers feel included, too. It can do wonders for morale and productivity.
For more ideas about building office community, read about the dPrism community model. And for general help in improving your organization’s digital culture, email dPrism at firstname.lastname@example.org and read our service offerings on our website.