When you work virtually, there are a few things that are a bit more challenging.
One of those is building a virtual company culture. When you work together in an office every day, you have more direct contact, including casual interactions that help to build your culture. Virtually, you need to be a little more intentional to get the same effect.
It’s not impossible. There are many companies that operate in a solely virtual environment and have very strong cultures. Almost all of them have built them by design. They’ve been very careful about crafting and reinforcing a culture that they want to have.
Why does this matter and what can you do about it? Here are a few thoughts...
Why virtual company culture matters
First, what do we mean by company culture? It’s something we often perceive intuitively - like when you walk into a business, you will often get an impression of whether they value their customers and employees, they believe in what they do, or whether people are happy to be there.
Wikipedia defines organizational culture as encompassing “values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business.” Company culture is about “how we do things around here,” which includes attitudes and beliefs.
Your virtual company culture matters because you will develop a culture, whether you’re intentional or not. Every company has a culture, it’s just that some have evolved on their own rather than been consciously developed.
If you’re not intentional about developing your company culture, you can end up with traits that you didn’t really want. Your culture is linked with employee productivity and the customer experience, so you want to craft the environment that will be the most likely to lead to success.
The flipside of company culture
What happens if you don’t set an intentional culture? Well, there are multiple well-publicized examples of company culture gone-rogue, especially in office environments. Zenefits was one, where company culture had shifted so far away from productive, sustainable growth that a new CEO came in and restructured the company. He emphasized culture in a statement:
“I’m making my first actions as CEO about culture and values because I believe these things are fundamental to a company’s success and who we are and want to be. I want to push down decision-making ability into the company. Culture and values enable us to do that by ensuring that everyone is aligned around the right goals.”
Of course, the well-publicized cases are often the “worst-case” scenarios. You might be lucky and find that people generally come together as you’d expect. That seriously is “getting lucky” though. In a virtual company, poor culture might show up with things like lack of engagement, high turnover, or struggling to meet goals. You might see effects such as poor customer service or lack of teamwork.
The bottom line: don’t leave your company culture to chance!
How to set and grow a virtual company culture
Virtual teams can find the distance challenging, especially when establishing a working relationship that enhances company culture. Being remote can seem isolating - it’s easy to feel like you’re in your own bubble on the end of a computer screen.
The best virtual company cultures find ways to draw people together, despite the physical distance. Here are some ideas for growing your virtual company culture:
Map out your mission and values
A clear mission and articulated values helps to unite people around a shared vision. People need a sense of purpose and clear direction on “how we do things around here.”
Backing up a little, that means you need to be able to answer the questions:
- What is our mission?
- What shared values do we want to grow the business around?
Live your values (and communicate often)
Strong, reliable communication channels are vital for any virtual work environment. They’re also important for helping to demonstrate and communicate your values.
This might be as simple as acknowledging staff members for their good work that demonstrates those values. “Jen went above and beyond for a customer yesterday when she …” It helps to give people examples!
It’s also very important to walk the talk as a leader within the business. Many of the culture “horror stories” involve people in leadership doing their own things. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a recipe for developing a strong company culture.
Encourage a collaborative culture
Working remotely can seem very isolating, but there are things you can do to encourage teamwork and collaboration among your employees. Empower people to contribute. Everyone has their own unique skills and ways of thinking and should feel comfortable offering their views or help.
How can you do that? It starts with your communication channels. For example, you might use Slack or a project management tool to brainstorm ideas around a challenge or issue, encouraging everyone to speak up. You could also use Zoom or other video conferencing software to involve a wide range of people.
Creating a collaborative environment helps with another aspect of culture - your employees feeling valued at work. People like to know that their contribution means something.
Recognize and reward good work
Most people love to be recognized when they’ve worked hard and done a good job with something. In a virtual environment, this is one thing that seems to easily slip, but make it a practice in your company.
Use your Slack channel to recognize people immediately for the great things they’ve done, and you can even institute a regular reward of some kind. Making it a formal practice means you get in the habit and it becomes part of your culture. For example, perhaps every Monday you have a Zoom startup meeting that includes a reward for the previous week. (That can be a great way to cure the “Mondays” too!)
Find ways to help team members connect
If you want a collaborative environment, it’s important that remote team members can find ways to connect. Instead of traditional team-building activities, find other ways to enhance their team experience. For example:
- Celebrate! Come together to celebrate birthdays, achievements, or important milestones. You might send out coffee cards and have a coffee break together.
- Buddy people up so they get to learn about what others do in the company. Rotate the buddies so everyone gets to know one another better.
- Have some kind of weekly share or trivia. You can do this via Slack or similar. For example, you might ask people to share pictures of their pets or to talk about one thing they love to do outside of work.
- Hold fun, virtual activities. Here’s a great list of ideas from SnackNation.
Company culture exists for all businesses, whether by accident or by design. For virtual teams, it can be challenging developing a strong culture, but it can be done.
The most important thing is to be intentional about the virtual company culture that you want. What does it look like and how does it make people feel? What will make them proud to work for your company?
Lastly, you need advocates on board to help you foster your team culture. A few strategic employees can be drivers of the culture you need. Your virtual executive assistant is one of those. In fact, they can even help you articulate what you want from a company culture and come up with ideas for growing it.
Schedule a free consultation with us today to see how our virtual executive assistants can help you.