Remote work culture is struggling—here are 5 ways to save it
News flash: This is not the “new normal.” It’s just normal.
Offices have been mostly remote for almost a year now. And while the vaccine gives us hope for a return to semi-normalcy, some things will be changed forever. Employees will no longer be required to be in offices—in fact, Salesforce just declared the 9-to-5 workday dead, and other large companies like Twitter and Slack have already given employees the option to work from home permanently. Even for companies that do eventually return to their offices, you’ll see WFH options on the table for a long time to come. Like it or not, the workplace has changed—and the companies that thrive will be the ones that stop fighting it and lean into it.
One of the biggest question marks for companies right now is around workplace culture. Team sports leagues and outings to the local bar have been replaced with virtual game nights and virtual happy hours, and for companies that are actively hiring, there will be an increasing number of employees who have never met in person. So how can you, as a leader, set the tone for an adaptable workplace culture that maintains its authenticity and allows for team members to adjust to the evolution of work? It’s not easy, but here are some tips to make it work for you.
1. Abandon your ego.
We’ve been living in this reality for so long that it can sometimes be easy to forget that we are still in a global pandemic. And though the switch to working from home is no longer temporary, people are still getting used to it. It’s crucial to not take things personally during this time—if no one comes to a planned event, don’t have hurt feelings. The novelty of virtual happy hours may have been fun for people last spring, but maybe now it’s time to adjust.
2. Remember that culture is everyone’s job.
Companies generally have a person or a small team whose “job” it is to organize these sorts of events. It’s important to remember, though, that culture itself cannot come from one person or one team. It can’t be forced onto people—it is dictated by the collective.
3. Check in and survey frequently.
While “culture” is not one person’s job, it should be one person’s (or one team’s) job to facilitate check-ins on the individual level. Since you aren’t just passing people in the hallway or seeing them at the water cooler, you’ll have to be active and intentional about setting up one-on-one time to talk—especially when it comes to onboarding new hires. Both qualitative and quantitative data are useful here, so do individual chats for anecdotal information if possible, but surveys are also a great way to fill in the missing puzzle pieces with numbers.
4. Figure out ways to connect offline, even when you can’t meet in person.
Needless to say, our collective screen time has been through the roof since the pandemic began—and it’s having a number of negative impacts on our health, including cognitive function and sleep quality. At Likeable, we challenged ourselves to facilitate a “screen-less” culture activity, and we came up with Likeapals. Each person is assigned someone to send snail mail to with clues about their identity, and at the end of the challenge everyone will guess who their Likeapal was. No matter what it is, find something that will get your employees interacting with each other that doesn’t involve blue light.
5. Make sure whatever you do reflects your core values.
At the end of the day, everything you do should ladder back to your organization’s values. My company is called Likeable—so doing cute, silly things makes sense for us. If one of your core values is “fierce,” or your employees are more motivated by competition, lean into that and do something competitive. Culture means different things to different companies, and with time you’ll figure out what that means for you. Ultimately, values work only when leaders live and exhibit them, so make sure you’re practicing what you preach.
Things aren’t easy right now. Many people are feeling down, and most employees are struggling with work-life balance. They’re losing the adrenaline that got them through 2020 and coming to terms with… well, everything. As leaders, we have to accept and honor what our employees are going through. While we are used to having all the answers, some things really are out of our hands. For now, do whatever you can to hang on to your hard-earned culture—because once we get through the thick of these hard times, it might come back even stronger than before.