The organizational culture of a business can affects the happiness and productivity of employees. When you have a strong and ‘good’ organizational culture, this can lead to happy and very productive staff, and therefore a more successful business. The opposite is true for companies who get organizational culture wrong or have a particularly toxic environment.
Organizational culture is often something that happens by accident. As a company grows, a culture is formed. The owner didn’t sit down on day one of the business and think “what do I want my culture to be?”. The culture is shaped by the attitudes and decisions of higher-ranking employees but also the lower-ranked employees who grow with the business. However, just because it happens naturally doesn’t mean you have no control over it. You can shape organizational culture by nurturing the behaviors and attitudes you value as a company. You can also hire new staff that will be a good cultural fit for the company. This is what we are starting to see more and more in the business world. CEOs are becoming laser-focused on organizational culture. They want the benefits of good organizational culture, so they are working hard to cultivate one.
There isn’t an exact formula for creating a great organizational culture, but there are several factors that go into it. Many businesses have found that the sudden shift to remote working due to the current global situation is harming organizational culture. So, how do you maintain a strong organizational culture while working remotely?
What is Organizational Culture?
Every organization, whether it’s a family-run restaurant or a multinational company with thousands of employees, has an organizational culture. Put simply, organizational culture is your company’s unique identity. This culture is influenced by the beliefs and assumptions of employees within the company. While everyone agrees that organizational culture exists, people do differ in their exact definition of organizational culture.
Some people think it’s an observable pattern in behavior – the company becomes what they repeatedly do. This could be the values an organization has and the rituals they perform. Other people think it’s more of a shared narrative or belief that everyone buys into. For example, many businesses have a “dress down Friday”, where employees can wear more casual clothes rather than business attire. This is an example of a ritual. It’s something the business “do” and it’s something the employees associate with the business and it shapes their experience with the company.
Most companies have values, but they only positively affect culture or become tightly connected to it if the values are consistently demonstrated through the company’s behavior. To understand what we mean by this, let’s take a look at a recent example of a company where employees felt the organization failed to follow company values and reaffirm culture. Blizzard Entertainment, the multinational gaming company, came under the spotlight last year when they banned Hearthstone professional player Chung Ng Wai for speaking in support of Hong Kong liberation during a livestream. At the time, Blizzard felt this response was proportional because pushing political narratives is against the rules for professional gamers. However, the gaming community and many Blizzard employees disagreed. But why?
Blizzard has eight values enshrined into the ground at their Studio in California. One of these values is “Every Voice Matters”. Shortly after the incident, unnamed Blizzard employees covered up this value to mark their disapproval, suggesting that they no longer think the company is holding this value, as demonstrated by their actions. What’s the lesson to be learned here? Values are great to have, but they don’t result in a strong culture on their own. Values need to be upheld and actively demonstrated if they are to become part of the culture.
This is part of what makes forming an organizational culture so complex. Every action or inaction can shape culture or cause employees to feel disconnected from it. One wrong decision can leave employees feeling betrayed and disillusioned.
Shaping or strengthening organizational culture when most employees are working remotely is hard due to how organizational culture is formed. If we form culture through rituals, shared experiences, and demonstrated values, then how do you do that when everyone is less connected? That’s what our 6 tips are intended to address. Let’s take a look.
6 Tips You Can Easily Adopt for Keeping a Strong Organizational Culture With Remote Working
If organizational culture is formed through actions, “what the company does”, then you need employees to take positive action. How do you encourage employees to do the things you want them to do? With incentives.
The age-old debate of reward vs punishment has largely been settled by psychologists. Both rewards and punishments are effective but in different situations. Let’s take a look at one example of a study in this area, a study conducted in a New York state hospital. The medical staff was required to sanitize their hands regularly to stop the spread of infection. However, only around 10% of the staff were actually sanitizing their hands when leaving and entering a room. This was despite warnings of punishment and the knowledge that they were being recorded by hospital cameras.
Instead of punishment, the hospital changed to a reward system. Electronic boards were placed above hand sanitizing stations, and each time an employee washed their hands, the board would light up with a “Good Job!”. Within four weeks of these boards being implemented, 90% of staff were sanitizing their hands each time they entered and left a room.
It might seem strange that a “Good Job” is more motivating than not spreading disease, but it’s just how our brains work. Research suggests that rewards are much better for motivating people to take action. Punishments are better at deterring action (or promoting inaction). For example, a punishment would be more effective for something like “Don’t share patient information”.
When it comes to remote working, if there’s something you want your employees to actively engage in that will promote culture, then incentivize it with a reward rather than a punishment. Here are a few examples:
- If you want employees to stay connected and help each other with their work, then reward employees who help others. You can do this in a weekly shoutout, a nicely written email, or another reward.
- Reward employees who organize team bonding exercises like quizzes or games.
- Promote mental and physical health by incentivizing exercise. You can have a chart where employees who walk X amount per week can earn vouchers, discounts, or extra holiday leave. If your company has values relating to healthy and happy employees then this is a great way to still promote this while remote working.
- Find unique ways to encourage active engagement in values. Leading on from the exercise example above, you can find ways to do this for almost any value. For example, is one of your values related to caring for the environment? Ask employees to send in a photo from their walk and reward the best photos. Do you like to promote minimalism and clean and tidy office environments? Start a “rate my setup” challenge where employees can send in photos of their office space.
2. The Right Technology
It’s much harder to have happy and productive employees when they are limited by poor technology. In many ways, an office environment functions as an equalizer for employees. Many employees will have different incomes, different home lives, and different stressors. Office environments are great for making this more equal. It doesn’t matter if you have 5 kids at home or 0 because, in the office, both employees will have 0 kids to take care of. It doesn’t matter if you can afford a $5000 desk set up at home but the person next to you doesn’t have a computer at all at home. When you’re in the office, you are both given the same tools to work with.
This equalization is much harder with remote working. Some employees will have childcare responsibilities at home, particularly if schools are closed. Some will have to walk the dog. Some will be working from a tiny crowded flat. Some will have a beautiful spacious home perfect for a clear mind, but they live in a rural area and have weak WiFi.
You can’t eliminate these factors, but you can ensure that the technology your employees have can support them. If you expect that most of your employees are now working from one small laptop screen when previously they had several screens,
then it would be better for them to work with an omnichannel platform rather than switching between applications. Other things to consider:
- Smart Inboxes to promote streamlined working.
- Good headsets and video conferencing software.
- New or fully capable laptops.
Working from home can be hard for some employees. While some research has shown that remote working employees are happier, this isn’t true for everyone. Reward employees who are working hard, despite their challenges. Reward employees who go above and beyond for their team. Amazon gift cards and other digital rewards are a great option.
4. Support and Communication
Not everyone will adjust to remote working the same way. Sometimes this is due to the environmental stressors we discussed above, but sometimes it’s just due to personality type. We no longer have a “one size fits all” approach to management. Organizations today invest heavily in personality tests and training for managers on how to get the best work from every employee, regardless of who they are. Don’t forget about this for employees that are remote working.
For businesses that have shifted to large scale remote working and are unfamiliar with it, it can be tempting to create a blanket approach to engaging with employees. This doesn’t work in the office and it won’t work for remote workers either. Some employees are much more introverted and will not struggle to motivate themselves without the energy of the people around them. Others will struggle greatly. Make sure your employees understand the support available to them and how to access it. You can also appoint a member of staff as a “go-to” person if they seem to be coping extremely well with remote working. This staff member can offer helpful advice and support to staff who are struggling.
5. Set Clear Expectations for Work Time
This isn’t about making sure your employees aren’t being lazy and shirking their work. It’s about ensuring your employees know when to work and when to stop working. The issue with remote working is that there is no separation between work life and home life. They both occur in the same space. One study found that remote workers actually work 1.4 days a month more than office-based employees. Why? because they don’t know when to stop working. If you have a strict 9-5 schedule, then tell employees that you don’t want to see them on past 5. If your work routine is more flexible, ensure that employees aren’t working excessively long hours by looking at the data every week.
6. Refine Company Values and Communicate Culture
How many of your employees know all of your values? Is it something they learned for the interview and forgot? Now is the time to remind them, but to also be clear and concise with your message. Refine your company values and focus on the ones you can still promote while remote working. Find ways to actively promote them. Here’s what you can do:
- Refine your values to focus on 3 or 4 of them.
- Communicate this several times to employees. Do it in email, in team meetings, and through the homepage of your internal site or applications.
- Actively work on these values. For example, if you also have “Every Voice Matters”, start an informal space where employees can discuss ideas and make suggestions, and follow up on all of these.
- Each week do a recap of the ways you have promoted values this week.