Working from home is one of the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many industries, remote working is now the new norm. But how do we keep up a positive workplace culture when staff are dispersed and disconnected? This is a prominent difficulty for HR managers, executives and employers.
What makes up a workplace culture?
Workplace culture is a culmination of the shared values, beliefs and attitudes of working members in a company. More than just the fun perks of office parties and free lunches, positive workplace culture is fostered through upholding the organisation’s values and effective communication between all employees.
Developing a positive workplace culture has more benefits than just keeping employees happy. In a study by Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe that a positive culture contributes to business success. A workplace in which staff feel valued and connected increases productivity, job satisfaction, staff retention and loyalty.
How do we normally nurture workplace culture?
Workplace cultures flourish when company values are clearly communicated, goals are incentivised, and staff members feel free to give honest and constructive feedback. This is not a task exclusive to the HR department, but requires the input of all executive members.
The Harvard Business Review recommends that, to boost productivity, bosses foster positive workplace cultures rather than ‘cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners’ environments. This is achieved through showing empathy, encouraging employees to openly communicate their problems and cultivating social connections between staff members.
In an office, these social connections are maintained through the ‘water cooler effect’. In a communal space away from desks, colleagues can interact and engage in small talk whilst grabbing a coffee or over lunch. Although menial, these conversations deepen employee relationships and maintain positive workplace culture on a daily basis.
Working from home: what’s the problem?
So… there’s an obvious problem. Due to COVID-19, the number of UK employees working from home rose eightfold from 5.7% in January 2020 to 43.1% in April 2020. This comes with a plethora of challenges, including the detrimental impacts on workplace culture, team communication and staff wellbeing.
In a 2019 report by Buffer, 49% of home workers claimed their largest challenge was wellness-related, with 22% unable to unplug from work and 19% feeling lonely. When staff feel disconnected, teams struggle to work effectively and motivation and productivity decrease. Colleague interactions are exclusively limited to work topics, limiting staff friendships.
So what can we do?
Developing a positive workplace culture doesn’t happen by accident. Extra work needs to go into maintaining communication and upholding company values. Effective and open communication is the heartbeat of a positive workplace culture.
Communication: To compensate for the loss of the ‘water-cooler effect’ separate channels of communication, using platforms like Slack, can be set up to encourage chat about non-work topics. We might have had our fill of online quizzes in 2020, but finding fun, relaxed ways for staff teams to socialise and bond is essential for nourishing workplace culture.
Setting expectations on the means and frequency of team communication helps employees know where they stand. Generally, video call is better than written communication (there is less space for misinterpretation).
Values: Similarly, executives need to work harder to disseminate company values. By circulating a document on company mission, vision and values, staff are reminded of their wider purpose and reconnected to the shared vision.
Even better, if your company values need to be updated, make this an inclusive process. Workplace culture in which staff actively have a part of defining and shaping is instantly stronger.
What tools can we use?
Recent technological developments have improved and updated the resources available for working from home. Business communication platforms like Slack allow real-time chat between team members via channels, which can be themed according to work or leisure.
Project management platforms are likewise growing. Trello, Jira, Basecamp, etc. help managers and team members track and coordinate tasks. Gone are the days of relying on long and confusing email threads.
Finally, AI is being developed to support employees working at home. With tools from Kaktus.AI, HR Managers will be able to track the stress levels and mental wellbeing of employees, allowing early intervention and prevention of mental illness.
- Go for extra communication, and make it fun
- Create or refine company values and send out a handout to the whole team
- Find ways of communicating about more than just work
- Research how tech developments can help your company – in project management and tracking employee wellbeing
Remote workplace culture might be different, but it doesn’t have to be worse.