Each business has a defined culture, and business leaders must identify it in order to start improving, building, or maintaining company culture in a virtual world. Your business’s culture influences everything you do, the decisions you make, the decisions your team makes, and the way you work with your customers. When you’re all together in the workplace, team members can easily share your company’s cultural values with each other. At Equinox, we prioritize maintaining a positive culture by focusing on consistent communication, collaboration, and recognition. We have our Celebration Unicorn that gets passed to team members to celebrate wins.
However, when we move into a virtual space, we can lose those key cultural aspects that connect our team members together. While we can still have our regular Monday status meetings and our daily huddles, the chit-chat that precedes and follows the meetings is lost. The collaboration of poking your head into someone’s office for a quick question or to share a story about the weekend is lost. And we certainly can’t surprise someone with the unicorn on their desk.
By initially looking at this shift to 100% work from home as temporary, it was easy to ignore these cultural losses. It’s temporary, after all, and we’ll be back to normal soon. But how soon is soon enough to not lose some aspect of your culture? Many of us are going on three months, and a significant number of larger employers have already stated that folks will continue to work from home for months to come.
Consider what business activities or behaviors are core to your culture and how those have shifted in the past two months. With the shift, is there anything missing? What did you change to better adapt in the virtual environment? How can you build or maintain your onsite company culture in the virtual workplace? We reached out to a network of business leaders who have extensive experience managing remote teams to get some essential insights. Each of them shared a strategy that has garnered success in building or maintaining company culture in a virtual world:
Consistency of Routine Meetings
Let’s start with something that seems like an easy win. We know that business meetings and rhythms are critical to company culture and communication. This is an “easy win” because we can replicate our regular meetings in a virtual world. At Equinox, we still have our daily, weekly, and monthly meetings. Jennifer Olsen, founder of Resourceful, a human resources consulting firm with a virtual team, says the consistency of their core weekly meetings is crucial. “I’ve heard from the team that having these routines steady during this time has been an anchor. It’s a tether that doesn’t move and it’s for all of us,” Jennifer shared. Each meeting has a different focus, and the team knows what to expect and how to prepare. They also have a company-wide quarterly book club that has stayed consistent. Humans generally don’t like change, and the consistency of business rhythms will ease anxiety and focus the team on what they know.
Collaboration & Camaraderie
A harder element to replicate virtually is the spontaneity of collaboration and bonding that you get from being together. Brea Starmer, founder of Lions + Tigers, a local marketing consulting firm, created an entirely virtual team from their inception. Their team actively uses their Slack digital community group to replicate the typical in-office camaraderie, providing a space “where folks work together to solve challenges, asynchronously: The channel #askmeanything is used to use our collective insights to break through client opportunities, and the channel #virtualwork has been great for folks to share a peek into their own personal working environments.” This helps them stay connected not only on work items but also as individual people.
Vulnerability and Trust
Lisa MacLean, Founder and CEO of Moxie Media, a national political consulting and direct mail firm, has always had a mix of in-office and virtual team members. Their team gets together a few times per week for short, standing video check-in meetings where an assigned team member offers up an intriguing question for everyone to answer. These may take any form — serious, silly, insightful. Lisa says, “The idea is to keep re-breaking the COVID-related ice that refreezes as you work remotely. Keep it personal, and don’t drift into a discussion of deadlines and deliverables. Save that stuff for other meetings. This is your team’s time to build connection.” These activities not only give a team some personal insights to their colleagues’ lives that might be otherwise captured by the water cooler; but it also promotes vulnerability which leads to trust that can be difficult to build in a virtual environment.
In addition, your team may need more one-on-one connection with you as the leader. They need your confidence, your guidance, and your empathy. Be keenly aware of how each member of the team is doing and support them in their own space. Some individuals will adapt quickly to virtual routines while it may take others longer to shift.
Team Transparency & Open Feedback
Finally, consider asking the team where they feel gaps exist in the virtual space and what would make them feel more connected to the team and the company. As a leader of your company, you are responsible for ensuring your team feels connected. That means finding new behaviors that proactively bring your culture forward. A culture-forward workplace must see past the screen to the individuals.