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How to Maintain Your Office Culture When Everyone is Working Remote

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The advent of Covid-19 has turned the normality of office life on its head. Remote working is now the norm, and it probably will be for some time to come. Who would have thought, right?

So how do you create a great remote work culture when things seem to have changed overnight?

This article is going to walk you through a couple of things:

  • How remote work culture has changed
  • The different aspects of remote work culture and how you should manage it in this newly remote environment
  • A look at work-life pre-covid and post-covid
team gathered together around wooden table

How work life has changed

The past year has been challenging for employers and employees alike. All the accepted norms of commuting to and from a formal work environment, interacting with colleagues on business and social levels, attending out-of-town conferences, or participating in team-building days out, have simply stopped in many instances.

Even customer acquisition has become virtual. Instead of converting customers or clients in a physical store, businesses of all industries are turning to virtual consultations and demos.

Besides the culture shock of our life routines being upended, there remains the very real fear of being infected with the new coronavirus. Despite the advent of vaccines and an ever-increasing understanding of how it works, it has stayed with us, and having new mutations appearing regularly is not reassuring to the speedy resumption of our well-being.

Employees have had to learn to adapt to working from pretty much anywhere and employers have had to learn how to deal with remote employees and even hire remotely.

They are doing this while also often coping with challenges such as childcare and running a household at the same time. Their working areas may not be optimal for putting in a satisfactory day’s work.

Some may have to resort to working from a bedroom; not the most inspiring or physically healthy place to undertake a professional online presentation. Many families may have to share resources such as a computer, desk, and limited internet access. 

But despite this “new world order,” companies must maintain their office culture while their staff is working remotely.

Remote work culture explained

The first thing to identify is whether the company does indeed have its own culture, and what that entails:

  • What are its values and priorities?
  • Are the staff viewed as a vital component to the organization as individuals or merely as money-making robots for the executives?
  • How is their value communicated?
  • Does the company have an inspiring catchphrase that everyone can relate to?
  • Do staff wear a uniform that unites them and identifies them as belonging to a recognizable corporation?
  • Are they encouraged to interact with management or expected to keep their distance?
  • Are they proud of working for your company?

It is vital to bear these points in mind when asking your employees to work remotely, especially if you want your employees to feel connected with the company they are working with.

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Communication

The next priority should be to sustain open and honest communication between all employees, both at managerial and staff levels.

If you want to sustain your business, you must ensure that your employees feel comfortable enough to discuss topics of concern without fear of reprisal.

To bring your staff closer together during remote work, consider making communication a regular practice. For example, create a group chat on Slack, WhatsApp, or another chatting platform. In the chat, ask employees how their day is going, if they’re facing any challenges, and what you can do to improve efficiency or the work environment.

You could even consider giving them some much needed virtual recognition on platforms like Facebook or Instagram that your company is active on. 

This could be in the form of a simple ‘You are doing great’ email or even a Facebook post recognizing their efforts. You can also send emails on a more consistent basis. You can even create email templates that allow you to reach out to your employees individually to check up on them.

Productivity

How do you, as a boss, ensure that levels of productivity are maintained when you cannot even physically monitor your staff?

The secret is to provide encouragement, reassurance, and motivation while at the same time trusting each individual to have the best interests of the company at heart.

At the same time, practical issues have to be addressed, such as:

  • Online security
  • Computers/laptops that are adequate for the job
  • Peripherals such as a webcam, microphone, and headphones
  • Speed, quality, and cost of home internet access

Many remote workers may not necessarily have anti-virus software, or a VPN (Virtual Private Network) installed on their devices, especially a mobile phone. A VPN is vital to protect the integrity of a private internet connection; the link is encrypted and you are invisible to hackers, your internet service provider (ISP), and any other third parties.

What’s more, a VPN for torrenting will ensure all files your employees download are safe and secure.

Some people may have a shared computer for the home that may be needed by your employee’s kids to do their homework, her SO (significant other) to do his own work, as well as for her own needs. Consider providing your employees with a dedicated laptop, where they cannot function optimally without one.

Those who do have their own computers may not have the peripherals necessary to participate in online meetings or webinars. These may include a webcam and suitable microphone, and a decent set of headphones. The latter may be essential in a noisy environment if they are working from a coworking space for instance. Having access to reliable and necessary equipment will go a long way in maintaining or increasing productivity.

Also, consider the cost of internet access. A subsidy towards the cost of bandwidth will not only be appreciated but may be essential to ensuring the employee can participate in online company activities.

Apps that can help keep your team stay productive

Working remotely means there is a greater likelihood of overlapping or mixing up normal work hours with what used to be after-hours time. When you’re aiming to beat a deadline, it’s easy to continue working far longer than you might have if you were in a formal office. It’s also easy and convenient to set your own work hours; work late, sleep in, knowing that as long as the work is completed on time and to the boss’ satisfaction, you can do it when it suits you. 

Employers who are sticklers for protocol may find this hard to deal with. Short of tracking or checking in with employees regularly, they simply have to trust that staff are actually earning their salaries legitimately. 

Of course, it would not encourage a relaxed relationship to know that your boss was keeping tabs on you. Then there is always the danger of under-estimating how long a job will take, or a computer or other glitch will delay you, so pushing the tipping point might backfire.

Besides ensuring your employees have all the equipment needed for remote working, you can also consider using a productivity app. Not only will it keep your team on track, but it’s also super satisfying and motivating to measure completed tasks.

Finally, you must establish a workflow. Your employees might be confused on what to prioritize or feel scatter-brained when working alone without their employees surrounding them. Thus, having an established process will ensure everyone knows what to do, when. This can be as simple as using a virtual to-do list, such as TickTick.

You should also help employees understand what your business tools are, what processes your company follows, and who they should be reporting to so that they have a game plan to follow before they join your company.

Motivation

Your employees are possibly working in an environment where they do not have much social interaction and they are expected to maintain a normal working day. How do you motivate them?

The best motivation you can offer is as much inclusivity as possible without actual human contact. Many companies have started online pastimes such as quizzes, cards, book clubs, bake-offs – anything in which people can participate in their own space but easily share with the group. You, as the employer, could offer additional encouragement with a small token prize of an online store or meal voucher, or an online award.

Tools and ideas to motivate great work

Employee recognition software like Nectar even allows you to reward employees with small surprises, helping you recognize their diligence and high performance. If the employee feels validated and worthy, their motivation to keep up to work standards will increase.

You as the employer should be empathetic and mindful of the current situation that could never have been anticipated only months ago. Motivating staff who have lost loved ones will take time and patience.

Another way to boost motivation among your team is to try something new. With seemingly everything now going virtual, there’s been no better time to learn and implement digital marketing practices, such as SEO and email marketing.

Consider taking an SEO training course, then pass it on to certain employees who can help you implement the new information. There are also a handful of courses offered for free.

The good news is, internet marketing skills are suitable and effective for any company, regardless of industry — from the legal field to real estate. 

In short, motivate your employees by encouraging them through this trying time and giving them something new to do or learn. If you have a larger business with more resources at your disposal and are working completely remote, you could consider organizing a team retreat given COVID regulations. If you are located within the United States, you could easily find some cheap flights to great destinations that are not that far off. Here is a list of some of the best retreat destinations within the US of A.

man in black suit using black laptop for video call

Interaction

The loss of social interaction, or the ’water cooler syndrome’, has affected the morale of many employees. Being able to spend a few minutes with co-workers first thing in the morning or over lunch, discussing previous or forthcoming sports events, relating the latest family gossip or the political temperature is vital.

A high level of this interaction can be set up and maintained online. We are most familiar with the previously unessential concepts of online text messaging such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and WhatsApp.

Companies who previously maintained a WhatsApp group for the team, for example, may have had stringent rules in place to use this platform strictly for business purposes.

This made sense; busy people did not want to be distracted with memes and jokes, however amusing they might be. But now is the perfect time to introduce a lighter note. Create a separate channel where staff can interact on a more casual basis. This not only allows them to feel more included but will act as relief from the very real issue of loneliness.

Health and Sleep

Teleworkers tend to have worse sleep patterns than those who worked in conventional office environments. In part, this can be attributed to those who work in their sleep spaces, resulting in little differentiation between work and relaxation.

Not keeping a regular sleep schedule can result in the development of health issues. Your body will become confused between ‘night’ and ‘day’ when you work through the former and sleep for a better part of the latter. 

This will not be of any benefit to your productivity. The Sleep Foundation emphasizes that electronic devices should be turned off at least a couple of hours before sleep. The ‘blue light’ that they emit affects your ability to fall asleep, as well as the REM (rapid-eye movement) stage, both of which will have a detrimental effect on long-term health.

Insomnia may result from chronic back, shoulder, and neck pain if you do not work at a comfortable chair and desk. The worst place you can work for long stretches is curled up on your bed or couch.

Regular breaks and exercise are also vital for keeping healthy, as is a healthy diet, which does not comprise snacks and sodas.

Again, this is part of maintaining office culture. Unless you work shifts, you would be expected to consider your fellow workers and conform to the general ethos of working by day and sleeping by night.

Pre Covid-19

Long before Covid-19 reared its terrifying head, in February 2017 the International Labour Organization conducted a study with emphasis on the benefits and drawbacks of working remotely. 

The results indicated that with regard to Telework and ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) Mobile work, (T/ICTM) more men than women worked remotely, but women conducted home-based telework.

The study also found:

  • commuting time was reduced
  • more independence with working hours resulting in more flexibility
  • a work-life balance was better maintained
  • productivity was higher
  • staff turnover was reduced
  • productivity and efficiency were increased
  • office space and related costs were reduced

However, the negative points found included:

  • people worked longer hours
  • there was an overlap between work and play
  • increase in risks of health issues in people who worked longer and harder

Post Covid-19

Although we cannot yet foresee a time when work environments will return to pre-Covid normality, that time may come with the advent of vaccines.

It is best to start preparing for settings where we once again commute, congregate in offices and socialize in restaurants, bars, and clubs, and earn an actual living.

Some people will be anxious to return to ‘normal’ as if the virus had never happened. Others will be apprehensive that continued close contact may instigate yet another tragic wave. Employers will have to gauge the atmosphere for each individual and make the necessary allowances, without compromising the basic office culture.

In the short term, Covid-19 has changed our lives. We need to continue to take precautions; practice social distancing by staying a foot or two apart from fellow workers. Wear a mask—it is a barrier to both contracting and passing on the virus. If your employees work behind a counter, install a Perspex screen between them and the public.

These basic gestures of acknowledging the ruthlessness of the virus will change our approach to office culture, and we all need to develop a new mentality to how we work.

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