- More people will continue to work remotely even after the COVID-19 disruption
- Successful cultures are consistent across virtual and in-person teams
- Leaders must promote collaboration and trust during this time
With more Americans working remotely than ever before, some organizations are scrambling to craft a "virtual culture" in an effort to maintain performance in the "new normal" -- and to prepare for the "next normal."
While organizational norms can show up differently in a virtual or hybrid work environment, a well-functioning culture is consistent across all modes of work.
It's through the employee experience that organizations can sustain that culture, regardless of where an employee may work. And by focusing on creating the virtual and hybrid employee experience, organizations will empower and inspire all employees to do their best work.
A well-functioning culture is consistent across all modes of work.
The number of remote workers in the U.S. doubled between April and May 2020 -- and by all indications, it will remain elevated for the foreseeable future. Fifty-five percent of managers of remote workers say they'll allow their employees to continue to work from home more often than they did prior to COVID-19 once the pandemic has passed.
This new normal presents organizations with an opportunity to redefine the behaviors and rituals that codify the cultural values leadership wants to be reflected across the employee experience. Doing so is wise, given that the employee experience has a direct impact on customers' experiences and a company's recruitment and retention potential. This is especially true during this period of radical transparent view into the inner workings of every workplace as proliferated by social media -- for both consumers and potential employees alike.
Simply stated, if your culture functioned well in a traditional workplace, stay consistent. You need one culture, whether employees are remote or in-office, that supports what your organization values. Employees' partnerships, experiences with their managers, and roles need to feel the same, whether they're in or out of the office. Artifacts and vehicles of a virtual culture may differ, but the deeper beliefs of the organization must be consistently upheld to maintain a shared culture that promotes collaboration and trust among all employees.
Gallup studies indicate that organizations are most effective at creating a shared culture when they:
- Align the (virtual, hybrid and in-person) employee experience with workplace culture.
- Identify moments that matter in each mode of work.
- Create the change that's necessary for a shared culture.
Artifacts and vehicles of a virtual culture may differ but the deeper beliefs of the organization must be consistently upheld to maintain a shared culture that promotes collaboration and trust among all employees.
Align the (virtual, hybrid and in-person) employee experience with workplace culture.
Reflect on how you want your organization's distinctive purpose, brand and culture to be applied differently in the new environment. Redefine the behaviors and rituals that codify cultural values and make sure these are reflected across the employee experience.
For example, a Gallup client that was accustomed to shuffling employees from city to city for in-person meetings was delighted to find that remote meetings gave them the human connection they were looking for -- and saved time while promoting wellbeing. At face value, limiting travel for employees might seem like a counterculture move, even during a pandemic. However, this client's core values guided them to adjust how they communicate.
Identify moments that matter in each mode of work.
Different moments in the employee experience are more crucial than others, depending on dynamic factors including the employee value proposition, the individual role and the job market.
Consider onboarding, for example: If new employees in a hot job market find that the tenor of the organization changes quickly after they're hired, companies may see spikes in early-employee turnover.
With that in mind, one Gallup client effectively adapted from conducting onboarding exclusively in person to 100% remote onboarding by maintaining a focus on building relationships. They operationalized this through:
- live group video calls with leaders to convey passion around organizational values and beliefs
- a mix of synchronous and asynchronous role training to build onboarding cohort camaraderie, while providing enough flexibility to absorb self-paced learning
- daily manager connects to set the right expectations for the near term and possible future.
Additionally, the organization scheduled daily social interactions with new colleagues and mentors for the new hires so they could develop key relationships -- a critical component of successful onboarding -- and doubled down on connecting new hires to the organization's purpose. At this business, the first days are full of moments that really matter -- and those moments aren't limited to only happening on-site.
Create the change that's necessary for a shared culture.
Use your organizational identity (i.e., the culmination of your purpose, brand and culture) to affirm your expectations about how work gets done across the spectrum of work -- virtual to in-person. Think through the ways you provide stability and vision around culture. Identify and encourage manager actions that positively affect employees' experiences at work.
For example, Gallup's research reveals that when managers give feedback a few times per week to remote workers, the engagement levels of those employees exceed both fully on-site and partially remote workers who receive the same frequency of feedback.
An organization's core values and identity should guide decisions about the employee experience. Portillo's, for instance, cited their core values of "family, greatness, energy and fun" when they chose to close restaurants, even when local regulations allowed them to stay open. To Portillo's leaders, supporting their values required accepting short-term losses for long-term gain.
This new normal presents organizations with an opportunity to redefine the behaviors and rituals that codify the cultural values leadership wants to be reflected across the employee experience.
COVID-19 has stress-tested business in ways no one expected. But it's also offered organizations an X-ray, allowing leaders to see hidden fractures that would have caused problems -- and opportunities to generate performance breakthroughs.
Those hairline cracks can be addressed and those opportunities realized without recreating the organizational culture depending on the physical location of each worker. Stay true to who you are and adapt your employee experience so that it aligns with your core brand, supports the truly meaningful moments, and serves as a vehicle for smart change.
That's what enables employees to continue to thrive and perform -- and meet your customers where they are, too.
Create a culture where the employee experience remains consistent.
- Learn how to create a consistent employee experience that improves individual and team performance.
- Download our free guide on how to get the most out of your culture.
- Check out this page dedicated the latest in remote work research "Working Remotely: Careers, Management and Strategy."