Simple, purposeful steps to strengthen your changed work culture
We’ve always known that culture isn’t defined by foosball tables and free snacks. And yet, the last 18 months have underscored the need for an entire re-assessment of what we mean by “work culture” as many of us shifted to working remotely. How has that transition changed how we view our work culture? How can leaders take this opportunity to reinforce, and improve, our company cultures as we move to hybrid or permanently remote work environments?
I’ve always believed that a work culture comes from two intertwined concepts, purpose and connection. Here is how these break down.
- Am I able to see the impact of my work? Does my work mean something?
- Can I get the work done? Do I have the ability to succeed, and do I know what success looks like?
- Am I seen for the work that I’m doing? (For some this may mean getting recognition and credit, but for everyone, it means at least being acknowledged for the effort we’re putting in).
- Do I feel connected to my team and peers? Do I have some deep relationships at work?
- Do I find sources of energy within the work that I do?
So, how do purpose and connection translate to a virtual world? TELUS International, a digital solutions provider, found that 51% of Americans feel less connected to their company culture while working from home. In a far less scientific survey, I polled a dozen folks across different companies and industries to ask, “What, if anything, has made you feel connected to your company in this virtual environment?”
I was not surprised to find that many struggled to name tangible examples. Their initial long pauses and the number of references to few and far between in-person interactions spoke volumes. However, the examples that were given were simple and consistent: finding moments to connect about non-work topics, consistent 1:1s with managers, celebrating small wins and finding authentic real-time communication channels.
As we look toward hybrid or permanently remote work models, now is the time to tackle purpose and connection head-on, recognizing that company culture has to adapt and be intentionally shaped in this next normal. This is not an easy feat. It takes more energy to build connections in a virtual environment.
It requires recognizing that culture is evolving despite being remote and that organizations need to invest a substantial amount of time and energy into keeping their cultures on track or steering them in new directions. Organizations that fail to do the deep work required to rethink the transmission of company culture may well have unpredictable results. - Harvard Business Review, 2021
Ready to jump in? Here are some steps to help you establish a culture of purpose and connection, no matter your structural work environment.
These are all questions companies should pose to themselves.
Step 1: Who are we, and who do we want to be?
The goal of this step is to define your norms and vision for purpose and connection: how do you want employees to interact? How do you want them to feel about the company and what do you hope employees take away from their work?
Here are a few questions to prompt this assessment:
- What are we most proud of? What are we passionate about? Is there a difference between how our company purpose is written and what the true experience is?
- What values underscore who we are that we want to keep consistent? What can we improve in our value system and how it comes to life?
- What are our spoken or unspoken ways of working together? What ways of working bring out the best in us as a group? What ways of working bring out the worst in us?
- What is consistent in every interaction we have? What do we want to be consistent in every interaction we have?
Step 2: What are our tactics and interaction points to bring this to life?
Break it down like you’re charting an ideal journey. What are the touchpoints an employee needs to feel connection and purpose? Who owns those interactions? Culture comes both from the vision we set as leaders and managers to the individual interactions that happen every day between employees. How do we ensure these interactions create a positive, sustainable work environment?
The following leader, manager, and peer-to-peer touchpoints may help.
Senior-leader Touchpoints: Leaders own the vision and overarching purpose of the organization. As you define these touchpoints, remember:
— It’s important that leaders communicate consistently – and through those communications are vulnerable and honest. Transparency leads to greater authenticity, and employees want this. Rather than use a megaphone, it’s best for leaders to find opportunities to connect individually with employees 1:1 or in small groups.
— Leaders should strive to underscore the purpose, values, and ways of working identified in Step 1, whenever possible.
Manager Touchpoints: Managers are perhaps the most important cornerstone for reinforcing culture. For employees, they are the bridge to how culture is realized. A few key tactics to consider:
— Find opportunities to celebrate both personal and work-related accomplishments or milestones.
— Don’t stop spending 1:1 time with your people, even when things get busy. These are critical for connection and morale.
— Get your team together for outside work events like cooking classes, trivia competitions, or magic shows. Get creative.
— Listen, be open, watch for signs of fatigue and create a culture where it’s ok to acknowledge stress.
Peer-to-Peer Touchpoints: Culture emerges in individual interactions. While we can’t control these interactions, we can create the framework to encourage meaningful and aligned connections between employees. To encourage this:
— Build an expectation to have your video on whenever possible – seeing faces make things more real.
— Open up ways for chats to happen real-time via Slack, Zoom, etc. and work to build energy around work and non-work topics
— Build time at the start of meetings for chit chat. This can sometimes feel like unproductive time, but the returns on this connection are real!
— Develop peer support systems and ways to celebrate one another and their work through a gratitude week, digital kudos board, or peer-led employee awards.
Step 3: How do we ritualize our strategy, collect employee feedback, and make needed adjustments?
Once your touchpoints are defined, find ways to institutionalize them.
— Leverage in-house change management experts or partner with a third-party expert to help with this.
— Clearly communicate (as part of the roll-out) why you’re making changes and incentivize your people to adopt the shifts.
— Continue to proactively collect feedback that’s aligned to the purpose and connection you’re trying to achieve, and adjust as you go. Culture is a living, breathing ecosystem, so be willing to experiment and iterate.
With so much changing in our worlds, tackling more change can be overwhelming – but now is the time to embrace a redefinition of culture. Think through how any cultural and communication changes could support the work environment you’re trying to build. Be creative. Be adaptive. And remember that for leaders especially, your positive energy and genuine focus on making sure your people feel valued and inspired creates deeper trust and a cascading wave of productivity that’s tangible in so many good ways.