Ten Tips for Strengthening Your Virtual Culture
Now that we’re all working from home, we’re seeing a complete erosion of organizational culture. The problem with culture is that it is a group phenomenon. Social distancing is, by definition, separating individuals from their teams. One of the significant effects of that is the disintegration of the bonds, structures, and behaviors that hold teams and companies together.
According to the Tribal Leadership model, culture describes the beliefs, behaviors, and values of groups ranging in size from 20-150 people. When’s the last time you were in a group of 20 people? Unless you were at the Republican National Convention, it’s probably been awhile.
Social distancing is creating physical, social, and emotional distance between people. While it is effectively slowing or limiting the spread of Covid-19, it is also effectively slowing down and limiting the spread of your corporate culture. For years, we have been studying what’s working for successful organizations. Many of our clients have had flexible work from home policies and distributed teams for years. They have built their cultures to be inclusive of a partial or substantial remote workforce. They have used leadership to empower and engage geographically dispersed individuals and teams.
Here are ten tips and best practices to strengthen your virtual culture:
- Prioritize Values
Clarify and refocus on your values. One of the most distinctive anchors of organizational culture is organizational values. While how you work has changed, your values shouldn’t have. If you’re not sure about your personal or organizational values, try the Mountains & Valleys exercise to make your values explicit rather than implicit. The most culturally adaptive teams use their values to guide strategy, decision making, and conflict resolution.
- Command Their Attention
Attention is the most precious resource you can manage in yourself, your employees, and your customers. Establish a team norm of having cameras on during video meetings. If you can’t get together face to face, this is the next best thing. Having cameras on minimizes multi-tasking and encourages people to pay attention to themselves and each other.
- “Reach out and Touch Someone”
Those of you who are old enough will remember the moving AT&T commercials from the 1980s that reminded us to use the phone to connect with people in deep, meaningful ways. Zoom fatigue is real. Not all meetings need to be a video conference. If it would have been a phone call pre-Covid, let it be a phone call now. Most one on one meetings are very effectively managed by phone. While video quality is emerging, phone connections are still better and more consistent than internet connections. As coaches, we find that there is often more psychological safety and depth of attention on a phone call than there is in a video conference. Use the phone as a first choice for 1:1 connections and conversations.
- Create Opportunities for Informal Conversations
Use technology to create a water cooler experience. Culture and relationships are often built in between meetings and in informal gatherings and spaces. Now that we’re not in the office together, we aren’t running into each other in the elevator or in the kitchen or hanging out chatting pre and post meeting. Dedicate time at the beginning and end of meetings for check ins, icebreakers, and social conversations. It may feel like a “waste of time.” But, building your culture is definitely not a waste of time. According to our research, teams with great cultures outperform mediocre teams by at least 300%. Try internal message boards like Slack and Yammer to create informal and social connections on your teams. When appropriate, encourage people to use the chat feature in Zoom to … chat with each other during meetings.
- Experiment with New Technology
Experiment with new technology for virtual collaboration, team meetings, and all hands meetings. Check out virtual collaboration tools like Mural and Miro. Try using additional features in Zoom like polls and breakout rooms. Embrace organizational tools like Webex, Teams, BlueJeans, Google Docs, and Remo for enhanced team collaboration. Make new technology optional and inclusive. People are doing their best to adapt to all the new tools and changes that remote working requires. New technology should be an added benefit not a method of excluding, frustrating, or torturing your teammates.
- Host Informal Gatherings
Dedicate time to informal gatherings and conversations. Host coffee chats, themed lunches, happy hours, trivia games, book clubs, employee wellness classes, and team building virtually to encourage relationship building and team development. Your employees need the opportunity to get to know each other personally and to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships. Vary the size and time of events to be inclusive of your entire team. Introverts will be less likely to join very large group video chats. Folks with young kids at home are going to be less likely to join a social event in the evening.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
You cannot over communicate. Send regular email updates and motivational messages to your employees. It is important to remember that communication is verbal, non-verbal, written, and visual. Working from home, we are less likely to focus on non-verbal and visual communication. Most experts agree that communication is 70-90% non-verbal. Facial expressions matter. Tone matters. Intentions matter. And, we are more likely to lose focus on the softer, more intuitive side of communication when we’re using email and Zoom for most of our work communication. On video calls, use gallery view to observe yourself in meetings. Watch your facial expressions, your body language, your posture, your hand movements, and the distractions in your environment. Prepare for meetings and use screen sharing to share slides and other visuals to focus people’s attention and improve understanding with visual communication.
- Check In
Observe your team. Notice who is talking and who is not. Check in with people when you notice they’ve disappeared or that they’re showing signs of stress, burnout, irritation, or frustration. You don’t have to schedule a formal call. You can just ask if they have a few minutes to check in. Share your observation, ask how they’re doing, and make some time to simply listen.
- Give Feedback
Our clients are complaining that they’re running from call to call and meeting to meeting without a bio break. Their calendars are fuller than ever before. As a result, they’re leaving small and large frustrations and irritations unaddressed. We used to find informal opportunities to clear the air and clean up messes between meetings, in the kitchen, in the elevator, over coffee or lunch, or by dropping by someone’s desk. It is important to make time to clean up messes and give each other specific feedback–both positive and constructive.
- Have Fun!
Try themes days or themes for specific meetings–Formal Friday, Crazy Hat Day, Show and Tell, bring your lunch, or workout wear Wednesday–maybe by creating a day for it, you can get people out of their gym clothes the rest of the week? Invite your team to share pictures of their kids, their pets, their weekends, their vacations, and their food on team message boards like Slack. Try virtual team building activities like trivia games, cooking competitions, cooking classes, scavenger hunts, and book clubs.
These are a few tips to help build the culture of your virtual workforce. Let us know what you try and how it goes. Share your tips and best practices with us. And, let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.