The global pandemic has irrevocably altered the landscape of work. As organisations worldwide grappled with unprecedented challenges, the shift to remote work emerged as a key strategy for business continuity.
The global pandemic has irrevocably altered the landscape of work. As organisations worldwide grappled with unprecedented challenges, the shift to remote work emerged as a key strategy for business continuity. However, this transition has not been without its hurdles. A recent study by Zen Internet revealed that one in five remote workers in the UK are unhappy with their workplace culture, despite companies having had several years to adapt to the new hybrid working setup. Furthermore, only 21% of respondents agreed that their companies are investing in the right tools and technologies to make hybrid working feasible . As we navigate this new normal, it's crucial for organisations to not only adapt operationally but also to maintain and enhance their corporate culture in a hybrid and work-from-home environment.
Understanding the Challenges
The transition to remote work has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it offers flexibility, eliminates commuting time, and allows employees to design their work environment. But on the other hand, it can lead to feelings of isolation, disconnect from the company culture, and blurred boundaries between work and personal life. The challenge for organisations is to create a sense of unity and shared purpose that transcends physical boundaries.
At StrataMax, our journey into the remote work landscape has been a voyage of discovery filled with trials, triumphs, and valuable lessons. We've experimented with almost a hundred different initiatives, both large and small, in the virtual environment. Some have been successful, while others have missed the mark. But each step, whether forward or backward, has been a learning opportunity, helping us to refine our approach and better understand the needs of our team. We've learned to be agile, adapt quickly to new circumstances, and remain humble, knowing there is always more to learn. While our experiences are drawn from a fully remote workforce, we believe many of the strategies we've developed are equally applicable to the virtual interactions of a hybrid workforce.
Hybrid Work: A Compromise Between Employers and Employees
As organisations navigate the post-pandemic landscape, many are adopting hybrid work models that blend in-office and remote work. This allows employees to choose where they work, offering flexibility and autonomy while addressing work-life balance concerns. However, successfully implementing a hybrid work model requires organisations to tailor their approach to both employer and employee needs. When done right, a hybrid work model can increase productivity, engagement, and overall satisfaction.
Practical Tips for Keeping Corporate Culture Alive
- Regular Communication: Regular check-ins and updates are essential to keep everyone on the same page. At StrataMax, we've found that a mix of formal and informal communication works best. This includes daily huddles, weekly team meetings to discuss work progress, and casual virtual coffee breaks to chat and unwind. We've also found that transparency in communication, especially from leadership, helps to build trust and alleviate any uncertainties that may arise in a remote work setup.
- Virtual Team Building: Virtual team-building activities can help maintain social connections and foster a sense of camaraderie. We've had success with online trivia games, virtual happy hours, and small online lunches with staff and directors. These activities not only provide a fun break from work but also help to recreate the social interactions that are often missed in a remote work environment. We use a company called Prezzee to provide staff with digital vouchers that they can redeem for everything from Uber Eats and DoorDash, through to Coles or even Dan Murphy's. Just the thing to cater for any remote event.
- Recognition and Rewards: Recognising and rewarding employees' hard work can boost morale and motivation. This could be a simple shout-out in a team meeting, a personal note of thanks, or a small gift sent to their home. We've implemented a recognition program at StrataMax that celebrates the achievements of our team members and shows our appreciation for their hard work and dedication. We have created a special shout-out channel in Teams to recognise team members on a day-to-day basis and peer nominations for our virtual quarterly awards. At our monthly online State of the Nation meeting we present a company update and recognise and reward staff for their anniversaries with Prezzee vouchers.
- Celebrating Milestones Virtually: Celebrating milestones is an essential part of maintaining a strong corporate culture. At StrataMax, we've found creative ways to celebrate milestones virtually. We mail out birthday cards along with birthday goodies to our team members, and we use our Teams channels to publicly acknowledge and celebrate various milestones, from work anniversaries to project completions. We also celebrate the small wins and everyday achievements, encouraging friendly online banter and interaction. These virtual celebrations, while different from their in-person counterparts, can be just as meaningful and impactful, serving as a reminder that we're all part of a team, working together towards shared goals, even if we're physically apart.
- Support Employee Well-being: Employee well-being should be a top priority. Initiatives such as webinars, Employee Assistance Programs, mindfulness courses, and health challenges have been implemented at StrataMax to support our team's mental and physical health. We've also encouraged proactive rest and provided opportunities for employees to discuss challenges without judgment. We believe that supporting our employees' well-being is not only the right thing to do but also contributes to their productivity and engagement.
- Building Trust: Trust is the bedrock of a successful remote work environment. It's about more than just believing that tasks will be completed; it's about fostering a culture where everyone feels valued and supported. At StrataMax, we've found that one way to build trust is by encouraging everyone to turn on their cameras during meetings. This simple act helps to create a more personal connection and fosters open and honest communication. Beyond that, we've learned to trust our remote staff to work independently and make decisions within their areas of responsibility. We encourage autonomy and provide them with the freedom to manage their own work. Micromanagement can undermine trust, so we focus on outcomes rather than constant monitoring. This doesn't mean we don't communicate, but rather we "check-in" rather than "check-up".
- Training and Onboarding: Update your training and onboarding processes to suit the remote work environment. This is one area that requires significant investment but can reap substantial rewards. At StrataMax, we've successfully onboarded a dozen staff fully remotely. While we have had to invest more time in our training and onboarding program, the result has been that remote staff, with the support of their managers and peers, have come up to speed more quickly than by more traditional onboarding, where osmosis plays more of a part.
- Investing in the Right Tools and Technologies: The shift to remote work has underscored the importance of having the right tools and technologies. These tools not only facilitate communication and collaboration but also play a crucial role in maintaining the corporate culture. At StrataMax, we've heavily embraced communication tools, in particular, Microsoft Teams. The ability to have multiple teams, channels, and discussions, along with seamless recording and distribution of information no matter the source or the format of the meeting, has led to a significant improvement in communication across the organisation.
Creating a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging
In a remote work setup, it's easy for employees to feel isolated or left out. Therefore, creating a culture of inclusion and belonging is more important than ever. At StrataMax, we've strived to create an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and heard. We've implemented initiatives to foster positive relationships and promote diversity and inclusion. We've also made efforts to ensure that our newly hired remote employees have equal opportunities for growth and development.
Looking Ahead: The Future of Work
The shift to remote work is not just a temporary change but a fundamental transformation in the way we work. As we look ahead, it's clear that hybrid and remote work models will continue to shape the future of work. By implementing these practical tips, organisations can maintain a vibrant and inclusive corporate culture, no matter where their employees are located.
At StrataMax, we've found that with the right strategies and a commitment to our team's well-being, it's possible to not just survive but thrive in this new normal. We hope that our experiences and insights can serve as a guide for other organisations navigating this new landscape of work.
References:  TechRadar. (2023). Many remote workers are unhappy with their company culture: https://www.techradar.com/news/many-remote-workers-are-unhappy-with-their-company-culture