When the COVID pandemic spread globally and began to affect our daily lives, including how we worked and functioned as a society, inevitably everything changed. Initially companies struggled to adjust to the changing demands and nature of business, but as time went on and the realisation set in that this wasn't a short-term adjustment, we started looking for ways to adapt and build a long term plan for the future - albeit an uncertain future.
After the hype and excitement of working from home in your pj’s and Zoom meetings subsided, employees realised something was lacking - the office culture. The office culture is a key element to the success of work relationships and how we conduct our business. The workplace lunches with colleagues, the daily conversations and the face-to-face meetings didn't have the same panache through digital mediums.
It’s not just employees who value a company culture either, a recent Harvard Business Review feature cited ‘Company culture is rightly a primary concern for many leaders.’ Leaders also began to realise that without the day-to-day runnings of an office, a culture was a difficult thing to maintain.
At Virtual College we recently conducted a second staff survey to see how our employees were coping as we neared a 1 year lockdown anniversary. Our results highlighted that overall 94% of staff were very satisfied / satisfied with working from home – with the main positives being, flexibility to manage own time, no commute and increased productivity. However, the main challenges they faced were a lack of social interaction and face-to-face collaboration.
Despite a healthier work life balance, more free time and no daily commute, as social individuals we thrive on interaction. Culture is a valuable asset for every company and one which even in today’s remote working world is essential. A great culture can help increase loyalty in employees and promote a positive work experience.
Here are three ways you can instill a culture in your organisation whether you continue remote-working or adopt a hybrid approach.
Culture can no longer be forged in the same way as in an office centric model - that’s the key thing. Instead of trying to replicate the culture you had, your organisation and employees need to work together to create a new one which works for you.
The number one thing people miss is social interaction. We can still have this, by utilising channels like Microsoft Teams to create dedicated areas for people to chat about shared interests and non-work related topics. This allows us to use social but in a more personal and meaningful way where we do not associate it with work but a way to connect to our colleagues like we used to.
At Virtual College we set up dedicated channels to chat about everything from gardening, mindfulness and keeping active to ‘What’s for tea?’ where everyone shares what they’re having for dinner that evening.
The connectedness of social channels means that with a little encouragement staff can still talk to one another in an open and friendly environment to continue creating a culture fit for your organisation.
Even throughout the pandemic, organisations have to move forward and this means the hiring of new staff. It can be difficult enough to integrate when you’re a new starter entering the office; however, it’s a lot more challenging doing everything remotely.
We spoke to our HR Director, Fiona Robinson, for her top tips to ensure a smooth onboarding process. “The key element is to make the process as inclusive as possible. We’ve created packs which were sent out to every new starter detailing the process, in addition to this we set up introduction meetings in diaries with all the key people to help make the introduction process easier and less overwhelming. Training is at the heart of our business so we ensured plentiful time to allow employees to settle in and undertake mandatory training.”
As new starters haven't had any touch points with a company culture, making them feel welcome and included is a nice way to get them integrated. You could send a welcome gift such as flowers, or company merchandise to help them feel part of the company and ensure that their onboarding is as smooth as possible by communicating with them regularly.
Every organisation has its own version of team/culture building activities whether it’s a traditional day-long company celebration, annual parties or after-work drinks. These extra activities help build relationships and form our culture.
The key thing to remember in a remote-working environment is that many of these activities can still take place. At Virtual College our end of financial year party usually forms a couple of rounds of bowling and then drinks at a bar. Due to Covid this year we partnered with a local business and ensured all our staff were sent a package of drinks and pizza ingredients for a virtual ‘pizza making class.’ The feedback we received was great and everyone really enjoyed an afternoon of pizza making with the whole company.
Small activities like this can really boost morale, during a difficult time it should be every organisation's priority to ensure the wellbeing of staff which helps to contribute towards the overall company culture. Simple activities such as sending chocolates out at Easter, or organising mindfulness sessions, quizzes or after work Zoom drinks help keep everyone motivated and more positive.
All in all, culture plays a huge role in how our workplaces function, it is the glue that holds all our employees together and gives the community-feel of being part of something bigger. Similar to the way we've successfully adapted to remote-working and dealing with the pandemic at large, our company culture can continue to thrive. The only difference is that both leaders, managers and employees need to work together to find the balance that works. As an organisation, encourage and ask for feedback, try new things and assess whether it worked or didn’t but remember the key is to be open to a world where culture does not just exist within the office.