Maintaining your company culture with remote employees

Hannah Davies, Learning Adviser, Nimble Elearning

Your organisation’s culture is part of its DNA; how colleagues interact with one another (and with clients) has an impact on overall effectiveness that’s hard to underestimate. So, if you’re faced with the task of maintaining your company culture with remote employees thrown into the mix, this can seem daunting. How will you support staff to act in line with organisational values without the day-to-day interactions that reinforce norms? Read on for some practical advice.

What is company culture?

Put simply, culture can be defined as a set of shared values and beliefs that translate into action. It tells us the ‘right’ way to behave. More than that, it’s about the values that permeate through everyone’s actions; as Herb Kelleher said, “Culture is what people do when no one is looking.”

A positive organisational culture is something that invariably takes a long time and a concerted effort to build but can be eroded quickly. Culture comes from the top. If the boss isn’t behaving in line with the company’s professed values, it’s unlikely that anyone else will either.

Culture also includes everyday behaviours that we don’t always give much thought to. What are the communication expectations at your organisation? How much emotion are employees encouraged to show? What’s given higher importance: tasks, or people? How quickly do projects move along? How hierarchical is the workplace: can you ping the CEO a message, or is there a clear chain of command?

Why is company culture important?

Most of us have worked somewhere with a culture that could be described as toxic, and would undoubtedly agree that the atmosphere in the workplace had a negative effect on not only productivity but broader wellbeing. This isn’t just anecdotal; research indicates that strong cultures breed success (Culture Economy Report, 2020). Here are just a few of the benefits of a clear, positive culture at work:

  • Improved morale and staff retention
  • Better customer service
  • Increased individual productivity
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Staff more willing to go the extra mile

What are the challenges with remote and hybrid work?

One of the biggest challenges when managing and supporting employees who work remotely is the issue of trust. Fundamentally, staff members want to feel that their employer values their contribution and trusts them to work hard, make responsible decisions and act in line with company objectives. In the office, managers may feel comfortable letting employees ‘get on with things’, but can struggle with this when colleagues are not in view (or potentially not even in the same country).

Fairness of opportunity is also critical, and of particular importance when working with a hybrid team. If those employees who are physically present always get given the best opportunities and the home workers are left out of the communication loop, resentment is bound to fester. This can quickly erode a supportive, positive organisational culture.

At the heart of combatting these challenges is one crucial factor: communication. To maintain your company culture in a remote or hybrid workplace, how you communicate (and to who) needs careful planning and attention.

What practical steps can you take to maintain your culture from a distance?

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to define your company values – and make sure everyone in the organisation knows what they are, and why. Values aren’t something that you can send out once and expect everyone to memorise. They should be apparent in the actions of senior staff, referred to in the aims and objectives of the organisation, and be reviewed regularly.

Make communication expectations crystal clear. Here at Nimble, it’s spelled out in our employee handbook exactly when to use email, when it’s best to give a colleague a call, and how we’re expected to make use of our internal chat system. Making these expectations explicit helps to avoid unnecessary conflict. It underpins the approach for the company as a whole (at Nimble, there’s one where we take care of each other and value honesty and kindness).

Don’t underestimate the power of casual chats. In the office, these might take place in the hallway, at lunchtime, or around a boiling kettle. If your team is working remotely, you’ll need to consider how to create similar opportunities for unstructured conversation. Be particularly aware of this if you have some staff working from the office and others at home; it’s all too easy to inadvertently create a sense that office-based employees have access to information that remote staff can’t access. Consider how to communicate key points equitably across the organisation.

In relation to this, bear in mind that personal relationships are more challenging to build and maintain when staff aren’t regularly meeting face-to-face. Plan social and team building opportunities for all employees, and check in with team members regularly. Keeping social lines of communication open encourages a culture of honesty and prevents staff from feeling isolated or out-of-touch with the organisation.

Finally, consider your new starter onboarding process carefully. First impressions count; how will those first weeks and months (including those before a recruit even starts!) convey your organisational culture? Elearning is a great tool for this. Developing a consistent approach to creating courses for new starters can reinforce company values. Why not try applying each of your values in context when writing e-learning materials? Use case studies or scenarios to help make those values concrete. For example:

  • If honesty is a key value, highlight this in any bribery or corruption training, giving employees a scenario that is relevant to your organisation’s sector
  • If your culture places high importance on being willing to make mistakes and learn from them in the pursuit of innovation, include an example that demonstrates this in a practical way (take a look at our free microcourse about growth mindset for ideas)

Find out more about Nimble Elearning, including our super-simple elearning authoring tool.