Culture has always mattered. It impacts performance, engagement, retention, and employee satisfaction. However, culture has never been more critical than it is right now.
The idea of “culture” has been misused and misrepresented, so let's level set on what "culture" really means. "Culture" comes from the Latin word "colere," meaning "to cultivate." I define company culture in Building the Best as, "The shared beliefs and values that guide thinking and behavior."
A leader's job is to ensure their culture promotes effective thinking and positive behavior regardless of the circumstances.
Right now, a vast majority of companies and teams are working remotely. The list of companies who have made announcements of a fully remote workforce for the rest of the year is long and includes huge tech giants like Zillow, Apple, Google, Dropbox, and Twitter.
With culture being the shared values and beliefs that guide thinking and behavior, staying remote makes the continued alignment even more challenging. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
- Distance between team members
- Limited opportunities for effective communication
- Distracting priorities
- Conflicting attention
Like most challenges, the payoff of success is great. If you want to build and develop a thriving culture while leading a remote team, lean into these four strategies:
Before anyone can perform at their best while working remotely, they first need to feel safe and protected. Since Covid-19 puts a wrench right into physical safety that previously existed, we are going to focus on safety in two critical areas:
- Job Security
- Psychological Safety
First, while no job is 100% secure, it's tough to create a thriving culture if people are worried about their job. At best, you can define the reality of the current economic impact on the business to provide transparency and candor. Second, employees need to feel psychologically safe enough to share ideas and feelings without fear of any repercussions.
Unity Even While Physically Apart
Feeling like you're part of something bigger than yourself feeds productivity and innovation. The hardest part of remote work is the natural siloes, loneliness, and general separation it creates. While Zoom and other technologies help the cause, it's not the same as sitting shoulder to shoulder with someone and rolling up your sleeves together.
While there is no magic pill, nothing creates unity like achievement or working through a conflict. All the virtual coffee breaks or virtual happy hours in the world put together won't help a team come together like a team coming together to achieve a common goal or overcoming a struggle. (Pro Tip...Use a tool like Peoplebox to define OKR's and measure them with a remote team)
Your job as a leader is to create clear short-term team goals and make every remote team member aware of their role in helping achieve that objective.
Positive Beliefs and Reinforced Values
Beliefs drive your actions, and actions drive results. If your team's beliefs are optimistic and positive, good things will continue to happen. Positivity is inspired from the top-down, and it's contagious. One of my favorite ways to do this with a remote team is to make a video like this:
Once you have the positive beliefs reinforced on a day in and day out basis, remind yourself and the team often about your shared values (the fundamental beliefs you hold to be true). If you haven't reminded your remote team of your values, set up a culture meeting next week to reinforce them. If you don’t have your shared values defined, that meeting is a great time to do so.
Elevate the Energy
Energy keeps your team going and impacts the intensity and speed at which people perform. High energy yields high performance.
Since you have probably already been on three or more video calls today, you have seen your people's body language and facial expressions. Were they excited and ready to attack the problems they are responsible for solving or were they lethargic?
Leaders set the team's energy and are responsible for elevating energy when it drops.
Use strategies like a Maximizing mantra or a reward the team would care about to help elevate the energy.
Building and strengthening culture is part of your job as a leader. Since remote work is here and here to stay, it's time to get serious by evaluating the safety, unity, positivity, and energy that exists today.
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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn's Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the "Follow My Lead" Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today's leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.