A company’s culture is defined by how people interact with coworkers, customers and suppliers, and how they get their work done. Simply put, “It’s the way we do things.”
For years, organizations have devoted time and resources to developing corporate mission, vision and values statements, all as part of establishing and sustaining corporate culture. Behavioral expectations and norms are formed to create the most productive, pleasant and respectful workplace possible.
But how do these vision, mission and values documents relate to working from home (WFH) or returning to hybrid workplaces? What will sustain these principles while we work from different locations? Will they still be relevant?
Defining Your Corporate Culture
Your corporate culture is defined every day by your employees, not by some poster on the wall. After all, it’s like the difference between image (that thing you desire to be) and identity (the thing you actually are). What your employees do and say matters.
Communications can continue to support a strong corporate culture, as it always has. However, the tools and methods need to adapt. Now more than ever, corporate culture must rest in the hands of every employee. We also need to stress respectful, inclusive interactions among work-from-office and work-from-home staff.
If corporate culture is about “the way we do things,” then here are some things to consider as you support your company’s culture in the WFH environment.
- Use multiple channels to encourage cross-organization communication. Slack, Yammer, Basecamp — there are dozens of tools available to encourage contact. Find the most appropriate tool for your company and train employees how to use it. Don’t expect they will simply pick it up. They will need support to take full advantage of the tool.
- Break down barriers to communicating up and across the organization. Encourage employees to tag their bosses, executives and senior leadership in conversations. There’s never been a better time for senior leaders to really listen and understand employee sentiment.
- Support leaders to actively engage with employees on these platforms. Listening to employee feedback is no longer a side-of-the-desk activity. Being heard and supported are important factors in employee confidence, well-being and productivity. Your company’s success relies on employees continuing to do their best work, even under trying circumstances.
- Set communication expectations for response times to emails, phone calls and other communiques, such as responding to emails within four hours and returning phone calls during the same work day. These guidelines help employees adapt their corporate culture behaviors to the WFH environment.
- Set workday parameters … or not. Is it important that your employees each “clock in and out” at specific times? Or is there flexibility to allow a late start or late end to the workday? Be clear about these expectations so employees are allowed to meet their personal needs and be available when needed.
- Set accountability expectations. Attend meetings prepared to participate. Meet deadlines. Support and engage with colleagues to keep the work progressing. Accountability is critical to not only getting the work done, but also to sustaining a sense of fairness in the company. Employees want to know that everyone is still held to the same standards. What accountabilities are important to your company?
- Support wellness. Many companies have health and safety committees, and their work continues to be a critical driver of company culture. If you already start staff meetings with a safety moment, continue these virtually and encourage tips for safety at home. Wellness committees are tapping into mental health resources, setting up peer support groups and reminding employees of their health benefits. Encourage supervisors to have one-to-one check-ins to see how their staff are coping.
- Celebrate. If employee-driven birthday celebrations and baby showers are part of your company’s caring culture, give staff the resources they need to ensure these continue. One company I know continues to hold monthly birthday acknowledgements by couriering a birthday cake to each person celebrating that month. Staff can find creative ways to show their appreciation for each other. Take time at the monthly staff meeting to honor colleagues and ensure celebration is still part of the norm.
Sue Heuman, ABC, MC
Sue Heuman, ABC, MC, is principal and co-owner of Focus Communications in Edmonton, Canada. She’s been an IABC member for 37 years and is currently chair of the Canada West Region of IABC