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Andy May
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Building a strong corporate culture in the new world of remote working

Many of us are working from home across the world, with a wide variety of experiences depending on sector and situation. Some are thriving away from the office, while others are toiling for longer hours every day and desperate to get back.

But many of us may not be heading back at all. Barclays chief exec Jes Stately has said that “the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past” as the firm reevaluates how much office space it needs. And Google, Facebook and Twitter have announced they will allow all staff that meet certain criteria to work from home indefinitely. It seems that we can look ahead to a time when ‘remote work’ will just become ‘work’.

For some firms, especially in the tech sector, these two terms were already interchangeable. And when there are no regular in-person meetings or centralized office, a strong company culture becomes more crucial to cohesion and engagement. An organisation’s values need to be ingrained in its procedures and processes, and lived by its people, wherever they are. Now, according to Jeanne Meister, partner at HR advisory firm Future Workplace, “culture is fast becoming the new infrastructure for work.”

We’ve compiled six guiding methods for building a strong corporate culture in the new world of remote working, taking pointers from tech firms that have it in their blood, and an inspiring initiative from the finance sector.

1) Prioritise synchronous over asynchronous communication

This one’s enshrined in development platform GitLab’s Remote Manifesto. In other words, rather than slavishly adhering to a strict schedule of long, team-wide meetings, trust your people to find out and communicate what they need to, when they need to, to get the task done. This enhances productivity and employee engagement, with team members feeling a sense of autonomy and accountability.

2) Overcommunicate

Naturally, when teams can’t see each other, and there are fewer large meetings, lack of visibility can be an issue – for tasks and team members. To counter this, remote working teams need to make sure everyone is aware of what they’re doing and what needs done. This may mean multiple collaborative tools to integrate different facets of work, from Basecamp to Trello to Slack. New recruits will need guidance on the conventional in-house channels for announcements, task management and informal banter.

3) Be more transparent

Part of growth platform HubSpot’s Culture Code is to ‘share everything with everyone’ (unless it’s not legally theirs to share). That means board meeting decks, financials and the latest thinking on strategy. There are no corner offices, and a ‘no door’ policy so everyone has open access to anyone (although that doesn’t mean everyone has the same influence). While radical transparency won’t be right for all companies, especially those with high regulatory compliance, a little more sharing can go a long way to strengthening corporate culture among remote teams.

4) Written information over spoken conversations

In the remote working environment, verbal conversations need to be captured in writing and shared with the team. The reasons for this are practical – teams need visibility to act on initiatives and decisions made on phone conversations have a tendency to drop off the agenda. Putting this into practice helps shift from hierarchical style of management in which information is guarded, to a more open systemic style that empowers more people in the organization.

5) Data trumps opinion

When it comes to solving problems in the remote working world, data is king. Remote working companies create a culture where smart use of data to support decisions is the norm, and pulling rank or shouting loudest is frowned on. Data can be harnessed to create a better employee experience. The financial firm ING launched a pioneering, data-driven initiative to optimize its HR services delivery across 40 countries and 55,000 employees, redesigning key employee touchpoints that were broken. The result is their Employee Experience Minimal Viable Product, set to launch in August, which will allow them to on-board people and support their managers in a much more personalized, intuitive, and seamless way.

6) Look after wellbeing

Working with colleagues in the same physical office brings many social benefits and visibility on issues when people are struggling. Remote-first companies need to keep wellbeing high on the agenda to make up for this and keep people engaged and happy. Analytics company Hotjar offers €1000 a year for personal growth, €200 a month wellbeing allowance, while HubSpot encourages staff to take someone smart out for a meal on expenses – with no approval needed (this will no doubt still work with Zoom and Deliveroo). Many people are working at desks and chairs not ergonomically suitable for long working sessions, raising health and safety issues. There’s a need to encourage breaks, mindfulness, and work-life balance, for example, taking ten minutes to chat with kids or flatmates, rather than the usual water cooler break. Companies with a strong corporate culture will make their people feel valued and enabled to take the right decisions for their physical and mental health.

Communicating values

For all-remote firms, culture is brand and both are driven by a company’s values. Many more firms will have to embrace this thinking in order to build a cohesive infrastructure in the new world of work. When geography matters less, purpose matters more, and needs to be communicated at all touchpoints in the employee journey. Onboarding materials and processes become ever more important when new recruits don’t have real-life sessions with a friendly mentor or manager. And internal communications will have to work even harder to convey purpose and personality to make people feel part of a team, no matter where they are. If Employee Value Proposition is a two-way deal, it could be time to renegotiate and renew the promise made as an employer.

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