Company culture is something which is often implied, instead of being inherently defined. With changes to both the business landscape and working environments throughout most industries, it is now more important than ever to maintain company culture within your organisation. Now that many employees are working remotely, the way in which culture must be maintained has changed, as employees lose out on the physical touch points, water-cooler discussions, and staff behaviours that would occur in a normal working environment.
So, what is company culture exactly?
We want to start by saying that culture is ever-present, and constantly evolving within every organisation. It is not something which is obtained; instead, it is shaped by the behaviours of every single person within an organisation. Culture is created organically by each employee’s diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and communication styles. While many organisations attempt to define culture through workplace perks such as free lunches or an office games room, they seem to be missing the point entirely. These attempts at creating a “fun” workplace atmosphere are unparalleled to the sense of shared purpose and values which drive employees to show up each and every day. In fact, a major long term study has shown that organisations who prioritise company culture can quadruple their revenue, compared to those who don’t actively work to improve it.
Given what we know, it’s important to consider the values, behaviours, and shared goals of your company – and it starts from the top down. How does the employer communicate with their staff? Do they demonstrate the values of the company themselves? Are they encouraging, or discouraging? Do they tolerate poor staff behaviour? What happens in leadership filters down to all employees, regardless of their status, and sets the tone for what’s to come.
Why is company culture so important for your organisation during COVID-19?
Regardless of the business landscape, company culture is always important. However, changes to how we work and communicate mean it’s essential for employers to consider the effect this can have on culture, and how it must be preserved. Since Covid-19, many employees have had to pivot to remote working environments. Because of this change, it can be harder to see what staff are doing on a day to day basis, and validating positive behaviours has since become more difficult.
The entire working relationship between managers and staff has now had to be built on trust. And research has shown the importance of creating a culture that is adaptive in real time. Leaders must now continue to cultivate a happy and motivated culture through Zoom meetings, email and internal messaging tools, even throughout a continuously changing environment. In fact, studies have shown adaptive and dynamic organisations have earned 15% more in annual revenue compared to their industry counterparts who were less adaptable.
If you aren’t careful, your company culture can easily take a hit during these new working conditions, so you must find a way to continue to solidify shared beliefs and behaviours, and organisation values. If culture could be summed up by “what people do when no one is looking”, then you must lead your team to do the right thing, to contribute to the organisation, and to work toward shared goals and values, regardless of whether they are working from home or from the office.
Company culture and employee engagement go hand in hand
An employee’s emotional commitment to their organisation matters; and engagement can increase productivity in the workplace by 21%. An engaged employee cares about their company, and their goal and objective is to actively contribute to the company’s success. However, only 15% of employees are engaged in their organisations. This means that 85% of the workforce across the globe have little to no emotional connection to their organisation.
In the wake of Covid-19, employees have had to rapidly adjust to new working environments, ways of carrying out their roles and responsibilities, and cope with information overload – both in a personal and professional sense. Coupled with concerns over their job security, it’s no wonder that engagement may well have plummeted. A Harvard Business Review study has found that 75% of employees feel more socially isolated, 57% are feeling greater anxiety, and 53% feel more emotionally exhausted since the beginning of the pandemic.
While some employees have embraced remote working, and enjoy not having to commute to the office, other’s are floundering. In a recent study by Forbes, 20% of remote employees said that they lacked a sense of belonging, and felt lonely. Given that company culture is the sum of all members within an organisation, it is essential to improve staff engagement even under difficult circumstances. But employee engagement isn’t about bonuses, perks of the job, or intangible reviews about employee wellbeing. It’s about ensuring all staff have the best knowledge and tools available to perform their jobs, and keeping communication open so that they understand the collective goal that is being worked towards, and why.
Frustration in the workplace is also connected to engagement. If your staff struggle to find the information they need to perform, receive little recognition of their hard work, or are unhappy with the level of internal communication, their engagement will be impacted. In Australia and New Zealand, employee engagement comes from confidence in senior leadership to make the right decisions, opportunities for learning and development, recognition of good work, and managers who effectively resolve work related issues.
How to manage your staff remotely while improving your organisation’s culture
There’s a lot you can do to improve the culture of your organisation, and the engagement of your staff. While Covid-19 has been full of uncertainties and difficulties, there are things you can implement right now to ensure your staff are working with you toward a common goal, and setting a great example for the rest of the team along the way.
- Keep lines of communication open: Considering employees are at home, rather than the office, it’s important for leadership and management to discuss culture openly. Without team members around them to actively drive company values and positive behaviours, expectations must be communicated. People don’t necessarily understand something they cannot see, so clarity around culture and company expectations is more important than ever. This means holding staff accountable, and recognising and rewarding those who maintain your culture.
- Improve your overall communication strategy: Employers must prioritise employee relations and engagement. It’s important to communicate regularly with your staff, and set up periodic meetings with both direct management and the entire organisation. This allows you to actively discuss culture and company vision and goals, whilst also carving time for managers to understand what their team needs, and when. Checking in frequently will help your employees remain connected, and give them a platform to speak up if they are struggling or need assistance (before it’s too late!). It’s important for you to decide on the best way to communicate, whether that be through a direct messaging channel such as Slack, email, Zoom, or a combination of each.
- Hire resilient and energetic people: By hiring resilient staff right off the bat, you can improve productivity, culture, and company success whether they are working in the office, or at home. Energetic staff are adaptable and will dig deep when times are tough. Next time you are looking to add to your team, try to find someone who fits this bill, as they can enact positive change within your organisation, and their curiosity, energy and fresh perspectives can help employers excel.
- Set goals for your employees: Set your team up for success by giving them goals and checkpoints to work toward. Remote working environments can be distracting – between homeschooling the kids, popping on some laundry, or cooking lunch, employees can quickly let time slip by. Setting achievable expectations allows them to stay on the task at hand, while feeling proud of their achievements throughout the day when they are able to tick a goal off their list.
- Celebrate collaboration: Collaboration can help your remote staff to feel a sense of purpose and belonging. Joint projects give them both a social outlet, and a way to use their skills and knowledge for the good of the organisation. Collaboration also encourages knowledge sharing, and nothing brings a sense of purpose to an employee more than being able to help other team members by sharing their unique perspectives and intellectual property.
- Trust your staff to work productively and autonomously: Trust is an integral part of company culture, even without a global pandemic. When employees don’t feel trusted, they will disengage from their work and they won’t feel valued. While it can be hard to hand over the reins in a remote working environment, management must understand the positive power that comes with trusting their team. If you can give your employees some space and freedom to work proactively and productively without having someone looking over their shoulder (virtually), you’ll see a greater level of work achieved, and mutual respect and understanding will be gained. If you let your staff do the right thing, they will. If they don’t feel trusted to do the right thing, they simply won’t.
- Consider a flexible working environment within your organisation: Given the changes in environment amidst Covid-19, employees value flexibility. The ability for your employees to change their hours, or make up hours, in accordance with what’s happening around them is important. If anything, Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of working flexibly, and according to studies, almost 1 in 5 employees have considered resigning in the last 6 months due to a lack of flexibility.
- Give feedback and recognition to staff: 37% of staff consider recognition an important aspect of support. Not only does recognition allow your employees to feel valued and appreciated, it leads to an increase in motivation, self confidence, and pride – all of which improve company culture and employee initiative. In fact, a recent report showed that 84% of engaged employees were recognised for going above and beyond in their work.
- Ensure that leadership is modelling positive behaviours: Company culture starts from the top-down, so it’s important to ensure both yourself, and leadership, are walking your talk. If employees don’t see management practicing what they preach, they are less likely to respect and follow the expectations set out for them.
Culture is a living and breathing part of your company. By making positive changes to your culture, and actively working to improve it as it evolves, your business will be best placed to succeed. With such significant changes to working environments over the recent months, it’s more important than ever to nourish culture, engage your employees, and help them to feel valued, supported, and excited to work toward the goals and continued success of your organisation.
- Valène Jouany & Mia Mäkipää, August 11, 2020, “8 Employee engagement statistics you need to know in 2020”, Smarp, https://blog.smarp.com/employee-engagement-8-statistics-you-need-to-know
- Jennifer Chatman and Charles O’Reilly, November 21, 2016, “Paradigm lost: Reinvigorating the study of organisational culture”, Elsevier Journal, http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/chatman/papers/Chatman_O’Reilly_Research_in_Organizational_Behavior_2016.pdf
- Jennifer Chatman, David Caldwell, Charles O’Reilly and Bernadette Doerr, April 11, 2014, “Parsing organisational culture: How the norm for adaptability influences the relationship between culture consensus and financial performance in high-technology firms”, Journal of Organisational Behaviour, http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/chatman/papers/Chatman-2014-JOB.pdf
- John Hilton, february 3, 2020, “How engaged are your employees?”, Human Resources Director, https://www.hcamag.com/au/specialisation/industrial-relations/how-engaged-are-your-employees/212335
- “Working for the future: A national survey of employees”, Diversity Council Australia, https://www.dca.org.au/research/project/working-future-national-survey-employees
- William Arruda, October 3, 2018. “3 Things that will make you successful as a remote worker”, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamarruda/2018/10/03/3-things-that-will-make-you-successful-as-a-remote-worker/#2bc96c2289b5
- April 30, 2019, “What is the true cost of poor employee communication?”, Smarp, https://blog.smarp.com/what-is-the-true-cost-of-poor-employee-communication
- Jenny Chatman and Francesca Gino, August 17, 2020, “Don’t let the pandemic sink your company culture”, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2020/08/dont-let-the-pandemic-sink-your-company-culture
- Tracey Brower, may 25, 2020, “How to sustain and strengthen company culture through the coronavirus pandemic”, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2020/05/25/how-to-sustain-and-strengthen-company-culture-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic/#383efb253ce9
- Alyssa Place, August 4, 2020, “Why Covid-19 has been a ‘pressure test’ for company culture”, Employee Benefit News, https://www.benefitnews.com/news/why-covid-19-has-been-a-pressure-test-for-company-culture