There's no workplace like home: company culture and remote working

Posted: April 30th, 2021

Words: Angela Fee

Company culture. It’s the intangible, but ever-so-important eco system that defines our working experience and how we spend the majority of our days. It influences a multitude of areas within a business - from employee behaviour to performance and retention.

In recent years, many companies have been investing more into developing a positive company culture in a bid to stand out and attract the best talent. However, as Covid hit and many businesses have swapped the office cubical for the kitchen table, how do companies keep it up?

After a two-year stint in Toronto, Canada, I’ve recently moved mid-Covid, back home to Scotland. Picking up where I left off, I came back to my old workplace and the familiar family-vibe culture of the Union, albeit remotely. Being the virtual newbie got me thinking about the ways we can embrace company culture from home.

Here are my five key things we can do to help keep culture alive at home.

Expand the horizon beyond email

I think it’s really important to put in place a system for communication that encourages conversations while at home. Email isn’t going to cut it - we need something that allows us to mimic shouting over our screens to one another, communicating fast, and communicating together in groups.

There are lots of programmes that work really well with remote working - Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google chat to name a few. It’s important to pick one that fits the company’s vibe, as while they help keep work communications together, they encourage less formal conversations, just like we’d have in the office. They make it easy to have a quick impromptu call, share GIFs, and have channels for work and non-work-related conversations.

My top tip for using platforms like Slack is to make sure there are plenty of casual channels that meet a range of interests – things like a book club channel or a music channel to share morale boosting playlists.


Make room for water cooler chats 

Part of a good company culture is caring about each other beyond work. It’s the chats while you make a coffee or catching up on a lunchtime walk. We need to inject those spaces into our day virtually too. We need to see each others’ faces, be given an excuse to talk about what happened on The Great British Bake Off last night, or to tell someone you’re just not feeling great this week. Union Direct have a daily all-agency meeting, which has done wonders for reminding everyone that we’re all still here together, having a good blether and feeling part of the family.

So schedule daily or weekly calls with your team, with those you manage, with your clients and agencies or even with the people you now no longer see as much. And don’t hide behind the keyboard - get in front of people and show there’s a human at the other end of this virtual maze.


Encourage balance

Whilst Slack and Zoom calls come with their benefits, they have their drawbacks too. 80% of communication comes from our body language, so we need to be aware of technology’s limitations and forgive each other if we read messages incorrectly.

It’s important to encourage balance between call times, working time and switch off time. Have you ever been on back-to-back Zoom calls? It’s emotionally exhausting and made even more intense by sitting in the same place for hours on end. Let your employees know that it’s okay to turn off for their full lunch hour, to go for a 30 min walk in the afternoon or block off their diary when they need to get their head down.

At Union Direct, we have a wellbeing committee responsible for looking after wellbeing while working at home. In staff meetings they’ll often do a quick reminder of what’s okay to do: have patience with each other, switch off, know the boundaries with your times of work communication. These little reminders help reassure everyone that balance is accepted and part of our WFH culture.


Trust your team

You can’t see what your employees are doing every hour of the day - but that’s ok. Have trust that your staff are getting their work done and finding the balance they need to stay productive. Everyone works differently and it’s important to trust that we’re all just doing our best. It’s more important than ever to not micromanage and track what’s done every hour of the day. Instead, track the quality of the work. Are the team happy? Are clients happy?


Keep it fun

It’s really difficult to keep things fun and interesting when none of us can socialise and see each other in person and let’s be honest, we’re all a bit tired of Zoom quizzes. I haven’t yet seen a remote replacement that makes up for the annual Halloween dress up or end-of-year Christmas party. But there are small things we can do to keep things alive for the time being - keep the social committee going, celebrate birthdays with personal messages, send your employees goodies in the post. One thing I’ve loved to see in The Union Group is that we all still send virtual personalised messages that will go onto a birthday card, even though we can’t be there to pass the physical piece of card round the office for signing. 

Part of our fun comes with the relationships we make at work, and it’s difficult to build real relationships as a remote newbie. Aim to keep things like a buddy system alive so that new employees can still feel welcomed and that they have someone to reach out to outside of their immediate team. Make sure there are plenty of opportunities to introduce new staff to the team or send them a welcome pack in the post.


Just keep going!

Let’s not get stuck in Covid-limbo, waiting for it to end. Think about what your company offered before the restrictions and whether there’s a way to keep that alive or take it up a notch. Encourage virtual training events, all staff meetings and sharing of work. Invite everyone to virtual awards nights – it’s probably the only time everyone will be able to attend! And maybe if we can all master the art of culture at home, we can start to embrace a more balanced office-home split when this all blows over.

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