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How To Shift Remote Work Culture Online Without Destroying It

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Two men sitting on couch laughing in brightly lit corner office pointing at and interacting with an opened laptopAs we approach the end of the year, the feeling of living and working in a science experiment is all too real. Between staggered hours at the office, video conferencing with colleagues in their pajamas, interviewing for a job at the kitchen table – everyone has had to make a drastic change or two in order to bend with the changing landscape of bringing the office home. Educational institutions too. Law firms, healthcare, banking – the list goes on.

The working-from-home and telepresence phenomena no doubt has molded – and is in the process of continuing to reshape – the workforce. As a result, our attitudes and habits are changing regularly based on the ebb and flow of the advantages and disadvantages that come with working remotely. Naturally, as humans, we’re going to feel differently about it every day.

Sometimes, it feels like remote work is a blessing, especially when you don’t have to commute or do your hair. Other days, there’s nothing that can stop you from really making you feel like a lonely garbage slug who spends all their time at home, yet still manages to look homeless.

And what about students who paid tuition and for residence with the promise of an on-campus university experience? Or new hires and interns looking to acquire on-the-ground knowledge, mentors, and a workplace connection with colleagues and management?

As we enter the later stages of the working-from-home experiment, some of the drawbacks are becoming all too obvious.

One of the biggest pitfalls? A growing depletion of workplace culture.

Businesses are experiencing a lull in output, logistical snafus, fatigue, and wasted effort trying to keep up with the changing local government and health regulations. Meanwhile, employees have the every day (arguably, every other moment) struggle of juggling too many balls that are work, mental health and family all at once and all at home.

So why is workplace culture important?

Behind the company logo and colors lies the attitudes, beliefs, and personality of the organization you put hours into every day. Consider the values, and interchanges that happen on a daily basis. The business you work for is the culmination of everyone’s efforts as a reflection of their values and the values of the organization meshed together.

Take a look at how the everyday moving parts affect the culture of your workplace; From how management handles damage control to how employees engage in workplace practices. It’s the policies, people, and leadership that dovetail together to create the glue that brings people together for a positive (or at times a not-so-positive) workplace culture.

A thriving positive culture that empowers employees is worth striving for and maintaining because:

  • It Appeals To Top Talent
    Naturally, just as much as HR is interviewing talent, so too is talent interviewing your business. They will be taking into consideration how their core beliefs match, and if the organization values the same ideals such as employee growth, collaboration, mentorship, etc.
  • It Creates A Dynamic Workplace
    A strong, clearly defined culture instills how work gets done between employees. Is the workplace climate geared towards collaboration and participation? How much feedback is encouraged? Do employees gather outside (virtually) of working hours?
  • It Drives Retention
    Employees will want to stay within an organization that mirrors their beliefs and instills a sense of continued support, encouragement and feedback.
  • It Impacts Employee Worth
    By creating an environment where employees feel like they’re creating good work, their sense of self worth will shoot up organically. An exchange of energy can be felt all around, creating a loop that generates momentum and can be felt by others and proven in their work.
  • It Improves Performance
    The desire to do well and improve happens when employees feel supported and are given the tools and frameworks to succeed.
  • It Promotes Camaraderie
    All work and no play can make anyone feel dull. When a workplace understands the nuances, subtleties, inside jokes and experiences of the company’s culture (or smaller offshoots), social and work behavior combine to create an enjoyable flow.

Culture is the fertile ground where ideas are watered to become a framework that becomes the incubator for camaraderie, trust, and good work. It’s these foundational aspects that unite people who follow the same way of life, and demonstrate similar social and work behavior.

Can Workplace Culture Be Brought Online?

Close up of coffee cup beire laptop showing gallery view of multiple tiles of people in a video conference.But as the workforce disperses, delving deeper into separation, remote work is becoming normalized which means workers are heavily relying on the support of digital tools such as project management apps and video conferencing solutions to help them maintain top-notch performance.

How can important threads of culture still exist in a work-from-anywhere lifestyle? How do we translate in-person corporate culture and bring it into a sustainable digital sphere?

A workplace culture that values the necessity of face time, working together and establishing a collaborative and thorough feedback loop of two-way communication will learn to see how vital video conferencing is to the health of the business.

Video conferencing offers all aspects of the organization the opportunity to be more strategic online in regards to how company culture is protected and maintained. Internally between employees, laterally between employees and management, and externally between the organization and developing new business.

A clear, well-defined sense of culture in a real-life working environment comprises how we’re able to discern one another’s non-verbal communication. It’s what someone isn’t saying that works to instill trust and get a sense of who someone is and how they operate. If your team is dispersed, using video conferencing opens how communication is sent and received not only using voice and tone, but with the body. You can read someone’s facial expressions, how they move their hands, where their eyes look and so much more.

Another important aspect that gets lost in a digital working environment is spontaneous interaction. How many times have you been walking through the office to bump into a colleague to randomly end up sharing ideas? A seemingly random conversation holds the power to inspire conversation or spark an idea later. These exchanges are so valuable. The good news? This can still happen online!

Furthermore, workplace culture can live and breathe virtually as long as it’s clearly defined. Especially when it comes to nurturing a culture of communication, there’s no limit to how that can be created. It can be as simple as agreeing on a form and structure to follow or establishing a list of guidelines to be used across the board:

  • Keep Key Players On The Same Page
    Example: Conduct weekly upper management meetings via video conferencing or create a specific WhatsApp group.
  • Support Ongoing Education And Skill Set Training
    Example: Use video conferencing to design easily accessible webinars and live trainings that live in the company’s virtual portal.
  • Reinforce What It Means To Be A “Team”
    Example: Create happenings online where colleagues can meet and exchange ideas like virtual lunches (more below), social online games, and more.
  • Establish That It’s Ok To Disagree
    Example: In an online chat, encourage facts over emotions and bring to light that every conversation is a safe space. It’s ok to see things differently as long as it’s constructive.
  • Get Everyone On Board With The Vision
    Example: Is everyone aware of the company’s mission and vision? It should be written out and clear for colleagues to see. What does the organization want to achieve/be known for? Once it’s made rock solid and or updated, let this be the guiding force for everything else to follow.
  • Create An Approach To Internal Communication
    Example: How are employees reaching out to each other? Are they reaching out to each other? How can they do it better? Establish what exactly is being communicated and then the best way to communicate it.
  • Filter Information By Asking, “Is This Required?”
    Example: Before a video conference gets underway with your team, establish an agenda for everyone to follow. The need for a meeting where your team can share, participate and collaborate should be followed by the question, “Is this required?” and “Who needs to be in this?”
  • Turn Off Or Turn On?
    Example: Be aware of your style of communication and the styles of others. Establish what works, what doesn’t work and adjust accordingly. Choose to go for a more sales-y approach with clients and a more listening and inviting approach with colleagues.

Man comfortably sitting on couch with feet on table in brightly lit corner office intently working on computerBreaking down culture into how we understand norms and rituals will allow for a more comprehensive approach in how it can be built and adapted to last in an online workspace. Consider the following recommendations for enabling culture in a digital-centric working landscape:

  1. Meet In-Person When Possible
    As much as you can, meet who you can safely and in person as soon as you can. If you’re a new hire and it’s available to you, meeting in a socially distanced space will help set the stage for meeting virtually via video conferencing. It’s the first in-person interaction that’s helpful down the line when you’re meeting more frequently online. Location won’t matter as much once a working relationship is locked down. Can’t meet in person? Set a bit of time to connect on a work-appropriate personal level. Get a better sense of a team member’s interests by learning some of their hobbies or asking what they did that weekend.
  2. Get Comfortable With Video Conferencing
    Most of communication is non-verbal – a whopping 55% – which means that seeing who you’re speaking to is imperative for good communication. Video conferencing gives everyone the opportunity to be present in a virtual state and see each other’s subtleties. Video is key for integration and training, so resist the urge to only have audio. Video captures these micro moves and small tells giving others in the group a more intelligent opportunity to open up the discussion or “check in” based on someone’s non-verbal cues. Plus culture is formed on subtleties like inside jokes, body language and nuances. To learn culture, one must pay attention to the small things.
  3. Instill And Reinforce Frameworks
    Working remotely and relying on video conferencing for face times requires leaders to drill down company culture by identifying what patterns, processes and systems need to be recognized and brought to life. For some companies, it might be a focus on collaboration and working with others to problem solve and generate ideas together. Or maybe it’s about putting the work in independently before presenting your ideas. Whatever it is, it’s about outlining what’s important and ensuring everyone is on the same page.

7 Creative Ways To Inject More Culture Into Your Company

Just because in-person social events might have to be put on pause, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some sort of social “hanging out” online. Keep the team psychologically close with some creative online solutions:

  1. Do Lunch – 5 to Thrive
    Using a digital randomizer, get everyone to enter their names and let the technology select 5 people to bring together for virtual lunch. This cross-department bonding brings people together who may not normally have the opportunity to chat. This can happen once a week, or consider applying the same idea to shorter more frequent opportunities in the form of brainstorming or pitching a new idea.
  2. Conduct A Company-Wide AMA
    Made famous on Reddit, an AMA (Ask Me Anything) is an opportunity to reach out and literally ask someone anything. Get a CEO or founder on board. Rally a group from a specific department or introduce a team from another office overseas.
  3. Create A Slack Channel
    By establishing another channel on Slack, (like #random) colleagues can feel like they have a safe space to share what’s happening in their life unrelated to work. It can be as simple as sharing resources like new recipes, a virtual class they took or an article about at-home-office must-haves.
  4. Birthday Shoutouts
    Use the same #random Slack channel or creating a new one, honor a team member’s birthday. Encourage virtual shout outs, videos, and messages.
  5. Awards Incentives
    If a certain colleague or team member is demonstrating how they are living out the company’s values by showing they’re applying it into their own personal life or at work, reward them! Use the online tool Bonusly to help keep track of digital points that can be spent virtually to redeem rewards.
  6. Team Check-Ins
    Ensure there’s a constant loop of feedback between employees and management. Set up a quick 2-minute survey that consists of a few multiple choice questions, and 1-2 open ended opportunities for unfiltered comments. Generating insight from team members and remote employees will help paint a picture of how people are feeling, and provide the insight to improve how things are working or aren’t working.
  7. An Internal Newsletter
    Keep the business close knit by sending out a short (or lengthy) newsletter updating the organization about big news like acquisitions, or weekly happenings or new hires. Go as in depth or surface level as you want to.

Let Callbridge reinforce the culture of your business in an online setting. Amidst the current state of affairs and normalization of remote work, video conferencing adds a more human connection to how people communicate and how work gets done effectively. Maintain company culture in an online environment by reinforcing participation, and collaboration using sophisticated technology that comes with features like Screen Sharing, Meeting Recording, Online Whiteboard, and more!

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Alexa Terpanjian

Alexa Terpanjian

Alexa likes to play with her words by putting them together to make abstract concepts concrete and digestible. A storyteller and purveyor of truth, she writes to express ideas that lead impact. Alexa started her career as a graphic designer before embarking on a love affair with advertising and branded content. Her insatiable desire to never stop both consuming and creating content led her into the tech world through iotum where she writes for the brands Callbridge, FreeConference, and TalkShoe. She’s got a trained creative eye but is a wordsmith at heart. If she’s not wildly tapping away on her laptop beside a gigantic mug of hot coffee, you can find her in a yoga studio or packing her bags for her next trip.

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