Remote Culture Under Pressure? Prevent Cultural Deterioration In 2021

Posted on February 10, 2021 by Bailey Crumpton. Tagged: Resources for Entrepreneurs, For Clients

Regardless of the unknowns that will continue in 2021, every leader should be prioritizing corporate culture in order to prevent cultural deterioration and burnout. You can enable individuals and teams alike to thrive when you foster a collective sense of experience and strength in your organization. After the trials and tribulations of 2020, many of which still linger, one thing we can say with certainty is that how companies function internally impacts their reputation, employees, and growth overall.

Preventing cultural deterioration can be viewed from two perspectives. Companies can hustle around, plugging leaking buckets in areas like lack of process, employee engagement, and organization around remote work, or they can be proactive in preventing these types of cultural leaks in the first place. We’ll outline ways to address cultural changes proactively, from big-picture thinking to simple add-ons that go a long way in remote work culture.

We’ve Adapted To Remote Work, Why Keep Working On Culture?

When the world around us is in limbo, we look for things we can rely on to build a foundation of people, services, brands, and companies we trust. It follows that strong company culture is even more significant in this atmosphere, and organizations should lean in on every competitive advantage they have. Impactful culture informs credibility and trust in this particular market.

As we know, effective culture is also closely tied with satisfaction and turnover among employees. When it comes to job satisfaction, over half of 5,000 respondents on a Glassdoor survey consider great culture more important than salary, and 77% would consider a company’s culture before applying for a position there. People who leave jobs due to poor culture cost companies billions every year, and many in the tech industry leave due to burnout and lack of career growth opportunities.

All of this information we are familiar with leads down the same road. Creating a quality, resilient company culture builds back businesses better and faster than those less focused on supporting their teams. Too often than not though, writings that define organizational culture struggle to get to the heart of what actually makes certain company’s cultures shine over others. In short, it’s not just about adding virtual birthday cards and extra social Slack channels.

Cultural Evolution Is Normal, Not One-And-Done

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With no particular place in mind, we have all worked for or visited organizations whose culture feels almost cookie-cutter, like bullet points posted on a website that do not really translate to the daily lives of the people working for the company. A culture that is codified once and never adapted or discussed does a disservice to a company’s growth and ability to operate in ever-changing business landscapes.

Like many things in life, company culture is not a one-size-fits-all jacket that can be applied to every situation and person. Logic follows that cultures should evolve and grow with the people that work for a company, incorporating new lessons on flexibility, structure, process, intersectionality at work, and a mirage of other topics. That’s why it is important to gather insights on how your practices can be improved, or where there are gaps in your values that could be acted on more regularly.

How does this play into remote work and maintaining culture on dispersed teams? From our research and conversations with industry professionals, the mangers who kept their remote teams productive tapped into communicating more frequently and intentionally, made expectations clear as day, and individualized their efforts in communicating with people on their teams. This is culture working and developing in action.

For those able to harness the right balance of productivity versus work-life balance, we know that remote in many ways delivers the type of working experience people desire, across generational preferences. Even in the face of a global pandemic, teleworkers’ who noted their manager built a strong online presence had higher levels of engagement and wellbeing, nearly 66% better wellbeing markers than the bottom-quartile of respondents in a massive Gallup poll on remote work.

Wellbeing And Culture Like A PB&J Sandwich

Wellbeing and culture are parts of the same invisible organism that cannot be untwined. Continuing to prop-up your company culture involves diving into the very real problems many workers are facing, not shying away from those challenges. For example, another Gallup poll found that across the board, baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials alike are being subjected to additional pressures, burnout, negative emotions, and long hours as a result of the transition to remote work.

While most note high wellbeing overall, the stressors of last year have still taken an emotional toll. Women in particular are being hit hard by the pandemic, as over 865,000 women left their jobs in 2020 as compared to 216,000 men. Noting these intersections of how changes from last year impact different groups of people differently can guide your approach on how to tend to the needs of various groups. Can some people benefit from even more flexibility on work hours? Are there opportunities to shift gears to allow an individual or team to create more reasonable expectations that alleviate stress?

Simply bringing awareness to these issues can help us do something about it. In another example, we know that older professionals often have greater financial security and are well established in community networks, leading to a more secure wall around their sense of wellbeing than younger employees. Are there ways to establish other types of security or network support for younger employees?

Great culture starts with defining these factions and chances for a company to create genuine relationships, and an environment of honesty, loyalty, and collective drive. If managers act as coaches as well as managers, they can supercharge engagement and wellbeing by articulating exactly what it is that makes WFH successful for their particular teams. At the end of the day, 2020 taught us that the working experience, not the physical place is what prevents cultural deterioration.

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Make Your Culture Visible By Calling It Out

The quickest and easiest way to not let your carefully crafted culture slip is to call it out, all the time. Though often masked in seemingly mundane interactions made among your team, habitual practices carry the core of company culture. Sociologist Ann Swidler says these habits, interactions, and decision making inform belonging and an organization’s cultural “tool kit.”

As with any decision being made, the problem-solving used to tackle new challenges should reflect your cultural values. Leaders can remind team members of why a certain approach works, or call out which cultural aspects are on display and why they matter. Swidler adds, “laying bare [an] aspect of the cultural tool kit not only reminds people of its existence but also signals its value; by authentically reflecting employees’ skills, the company’s solution should align better with customers’ expectations.”

By reinforcing where employees are excelling, mid-level and c-suite executives can emphasize how their approach in fact did reflect company values that are alive and well. Without physically shaking someone’s hand or giving a round of applause, we lose the small people-to-people interactions that flesh out culture so nicely, and there’s no reason those efforts cannot be made online too.

And finally, be open to modifications to your cultural tool kit. Basically, a good workman chooses the right tool for the task at hand. Some tools are like a trusty hammer, used time and time again, while other more unique tools are saved for the right place and time. They all create a complete set that is necessary for the project at hand. Consider what your different tools are and where your strengths lie. By and by, balancing the need to be entrepreneurial with the need for risk assessment, the need for internal competition against the need for comradery, and all other opposing pushes and pull of running a company cultivate a vibrant, strong culture.

How Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion Play A Role In Cultural Survival

Lastly, another significant aspect to preventing cultural deterioration goes back to creating a culture that is inclusive of everyone across race, gender, age, abilities, and all other intersections. More than ever, the public expects that companies to do more for their inclusivity and DEI efforts, and that is a great thing for our world. Diversity of people leads to diversity of thought, a driver in innovation and problem solving.

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans say they expect a company’s leadership to support racial equality, according to The Harris Poll. This is an enormous opportunity for companies in 2021 to prioritize both internal and external actions related to more equitable hiring and closing the wage gap between women, people of color, and their white male counterparts. The openness required to address these goals is not easy, but the breadth of educational information, consultants, and strategies available to work on it is impressive.

Including diverse viewpoints and establishing goals “in your brand purpose and infused across all your actions,” will help attract the next generation of talented, high-performing tech professionals. How can brand experiences be tailored for people of all backgrounds? Tech companies can expand their candidate pool and elevate the caliber of conversations on this topic by acknowledging their commitment to it.

Start Off Easy In Rebuilding Your Remote Work Culture

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As you can see, there are so many ways to address and work on preventing cultural deterioration. We would also argue that many of the available research shows cultures are not sinking as low as we think. Sure, the adjustments were massive, but what people really need is to see their company making an effort to keep up what was so great about working there in the first place.

Remember when we said it’s not all about b-day cards and Slack channels? Those tidbits alone may not be enough to hold up an entire company’s culture, but they still contribute to how people feel about working for your company. They should be just as frequent as if you were all in the office. We’re wrapping up with 10 simple ideas to kick-start re-energizing your culture:

  1. Company wide AMA: A popular reddit practice, have top managers or c-suite executives participate in an Ask Me Anything seminar, where employees can brainstorm ideas or get advice from others in your organization.
  2. Employee assistance programs: Make sure your team knows they are cared for and what resources are available to support their mental health and other issues that may arise, like virtual counseling programs.
  3. Social only Slack channel: If you don’t have one already, it is not too late to add a more personalized, open Slack channel for team members to share new media, indoor activities, videos, articles about working from home and everything in between. Make it it’s one space and invite people to have some fun with it.
  4. Employees recognizing other employees: We love that Slack created the chance for employees to send other employees a box of cookies when they emulating a company value or closed a major deal. Everyone can be involved in recognition and engagement!
  5. Birthday cards will always make the list. Shouting out someone’s special day, or acknowledging another personal milestone or accomplishment ensures your team feels like people, not drones. Send flowers, virtual cards, or anything suitable, but don’t pass up these chances to make people seen and celebrated.
  6. Random lunch dates. There are plenty of online generators where you can shuffle team members and set up surprise Zoom lunches. Socialize, brainstorm, future-plan or all of the above, but help people remember to stay connected.
  7. Volunteer days: Americans are generous with their time and money. This was more clear than ever last year as so many people needed additional support and dozens of support-groups popped up all over the nation. Allow your team members time to pursue this goodwill and giving back to your community, it boosts engagement and shows company values are based in action.
  8. Make sure your employees know that they can make mistakes. It’s one thing to set high expectations, another to expect no mistakes or slip-ups to be made. With proper guidance and support, employees know they can learn from situations and be honest, instead of possibly sweep something important under the rug.
  9. Give personal time freely. No one can do their best work running on fumes, and if there is a clear expectation that employees take care of themselves, in order to take care of the business, this will be apparent in output and the vibe of how a team works overall. Mental health days literally say, we care, and take care of yourself so you can do your best work when you return.
  10. Personal check-ins. We cannot stress this last point enough. Be aware of introverts and more soft-spoken employees receding into themselves and make sure they have a safe place and time to express their needs. Just because someone is performing does not necessarily mean their wellbeing is also high; everyone needs at least a moment for these kind of check-ins with a direct manager or peer.

For working on culture from a big-picture standpoint, write down the traditions, practices, or even memories of what brings up energy levels at the office. Note how they have moved into remote work, or how they need to be revamped for WFH. The day-to-day happenings are likely still there, just less noticeable, and therefore need to be noted again. In sum, recognition, adaptability, and wellbeing are the baseline warriors in preventing cultural deterioration.

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