We’ve known for a while that an increase in remote work was coming, and the pandemic has accelerated this trend. Many workers are eager to return to offices (some have already), and many more want to continue working from home for the foreseeable future. Gallup found that 2/3 of the people who have been working remotely due to the pandemic would like to continue doing so.
As a leader, you have unique challenges depending on your circumstances. If your team is all back in the office, you may have challenges with the behavior changes required for workplace safety (masking, social distancing, etc). If your team is fully remote, you’ve got a lot of work to do to ensure the team is connected, feeling engaged and maintaining productivity. If you are leading a hybrid team with some workers in the office and others still at home, you have all the challenges of the fully in-person or fully remote leader plus the need to prioritize fairness, communication and inclusivity.
A PWC survey says:
“The number one reason employees say they go into the office is to collaborate with other team members (50%). Difficulty collaborating is also the number one reason people give for being unproductive as they sheltered in place (39%), second only to balancing work with home duties such as childcare (38%).”
In my research for this post, connection and collaboration are the common themes that crop up over and over again as the biggest risk for remote and hybrid teams.
A survey from Vital Smarts found that “leaders who have done little to address the new work from home dynamic” risk increased turnover, sinking productivity, weakened commitment and connection, strained teamwork, lower morale, and poor relationships with managers. How can you avoid these negative implications for your company culture and your bottom line if your team is still working from home?
The Vital Smarts study found that these simple interventions had a meaningful impact:
- Hold fun virtual events for the team and schedule social meetings for people to connect with each other
- Survey employees for feedback on what’s working and ask team members what they need in 1:1 meetings and company-wide gatherings
- Implement new tools and technology for better connection
- Increase team meeting frequency
- Change work hours or implement flex-time
- Offer counseling or psychological services
The main finding of their study is that “leadership matters more than location.” Managers who make efforts to help their team members feel more connected and productive in their remote offices can move the needle in a big way to maintaining healthy company culture.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Rebecca Knight offers some key principles for leaders of hybrid teams:
- Help the team focus on the most important work by setting clear priorities
- Remember inclusivity, and don’t hold meetings in the office without looping in the relevant remote team members
- Be honest about your own biases, and make efforts to give everyone on the team the benefit of the doubt
- Be flexible as circumstances continue to change
- Lead with compassion and empathy for your team members
- Remember to have fun together and plan time for your team to enjoy connections that aren’t about work
Many of our client companies are implementing these strategies effectively, and here at Rhythm Systems, we have had a hybrid team with some people working in the office and some working remotely for over a decade. In order to prevent these challenges facing remote and hybrid teams from sucking the joy out of working for your company, you need to be proactive in preserving your culture. The reality of the current work world is stressful - there’s so much uncertainty as the pandemic rages on - but as a leader, you can take some specific steps to ensure your team members are feeling connected, productive, and even joyful.
Here’s your Company Culture Checklist:
[ ] Anchor back to your core. The bedrock of your culture is your core values, and these are more important now than ever. Highlight them in your company meetings, call people out for living them, tell stories about what it means to demonstrate those behaviors no matter where you are working.
[ ] Have a vision for the future. Your teams are looking to you for leadership, and they need to know you have a plan. Revisit your 3-5 strategic plan, and revise it based on what we know now that we didn’t know a year ago. There are obstacles and opportunities out there that should be reshaping the direction of your company. Even if you don’t share all the details of your strategy company-wide, your culture will thrive if your employees know you have a vision for the future that is exciting and engaging to them.
[ ] Share the plan. Help each person prioritize their work effectively by sharing the company’s main goals and objectives every quarter. Be clear and specific about what you are focused on as a leadership team and how those goals cascade into departments and individual work. This is especially key if people are feeling burned out and uncertain where to focus their time to make the biggest impact on the business. Provide focus and clarity by sharing your execution-ready quarterly plan.
[ ] Get in a rhythm. In a remote or hybrid work environment, your meeting rhythms are essential. Have a weekly team meeting to solve problems together, have a regular cadence for 1:1 meetings with all of your direct reports, have a daily huddle for the team to align on top priorities for the day. Also, create a rhythm for informal gatherings to mimic the hallway or lunchroom conversations you’d have if you were all in-person. A virtual coffee break, a Zoom room for lunch or a team-building happy hour are just as important to make time for in this environment. Institute a “video on” norm for all your meetings to foster connection, and if some team members are together in the office and some are remote, have everyone join individually. This is key to prevent remote team members from feeling like second-class citizens in your meetings.
[ ] Provide many pathways for collaboration. You’ve got your meetings in place for collaboration, but you also need some asynchronous channels. Put together some ground rules for when to use email vs. chat vs. text vs. phone calls. How should people know the best way to communicate? Who needs to be in the loop about what? What is the right cadence for communication on key projects or pressing issues? Invest in the right technology so your team can collaborate in real-time on important work regardless of where they are located.
[ ] Be human. Lead with your humanity. Give each person grace, be flexible, provide support and resources, and create a safe environment for your team members to be honest with you about their struggles and successes. You may have team members who are thrilled to be back at work and eager to throw their energy at a big project while others are fraught with anxiety or struggling to juggle the demands of remote learning for children or taking care of family members who are ill. Meet each person where they are, and show up with compassion. If your team members know that you care about them, they will show up for you and do the best they can.
Please share your best tips for keeping your company culture alive and well in these changing times! I’d love to hear what’s working for you.
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