As we are approaching the six-month mark of the COVID crisis in the Northeast, it is appropriate to take stock of what has worked and what has not in our new, physically distanced, technology-dependent work environments. At Learning Dynamics, we have been collaborating closely with our clients to equip their supervisors and managers to be effective leading remote teams. While much has gone well for them, the experience has had its challenges. One of the greatest is the need to maintain organizational culture in a transformed workplace.
Culture is what makes every organization unique. As an example, we work with many banks and credit unions in the US, and it is arguable that they all provide nearly identical services. They take deposits, make loans, provide banking apps, and all the rest. While this is true, it is also true that each of these organizations has its own vibe, a feeling that is different from all the others.
How is it possible that so many companies doing similar work can be so different? Contributors include hiring standards, organizational mission, leadership styles of key people, community engagement, and many other factors. While each alone might seem small, combined they create a distinct environment that is palpable; customers and employees feel it. So, what happens when so many are working from home? Here are some points to consider.
When we all went home with our laptops in March, we knew what we needed to do. Because we each worked in our companies together, collaborating face-to-face for months, years, and even decades, we all brought the culture home with us. But culture can fade when it is not reinforced through regular interaction. What happens with new employees?
Employee turnover might be the greatest challenge to the long-term sustainability of a work-from-home environment. Where side-by-side learning was the norm, it is now the exception. Where people occupied the same spaces and picked up on the verbal and non-verbal cues of others, sensing the dynamic of the workplace, they are now sitting at small desks in the corners of their bedrooms. Culture formation suffers. Here are some ways to address this.
Collaborative Teams: When possible, match newer and more tenured people to work on projects and routine tasks together. These deliberate assignments will not only help accelerate knowledge transfer. They will enhance culture transfer. A well-chosen, experienced employee can become a mentor, guiding the new person about how things are done in the organization.
Think Mission and Values: We see this executed at varying degrees across client companies. When the mission is top of mind and leaders use language aligned to drive this message, all employees develop their knowledge and embrace the culture of the organization more quickly. Those companies that are not as focused get different results and, of course, a different cultural atmosphere.
Hire and Coach for Culture: This complements the previous point. If we have clear mission and cultural standards, we can hire people who will fit in well. Of course, we should also be coaching for cultural competence, a skill that is just as important as technical competence for the employee’s long-term success in the organization. We never want to lose a good person because we did not make the effort to coach that person to fit and feel valued.
Use the Language: We all spend a lot of time on conference calls and videoconferences. We are Zoomed out. But knowing this is part of our new normal (for now, anyway), encourage all supervisors and managers to make the company’s language theirs, especially in these remote communication environments. This is not about indoctrination; it is about building a differentiated team that knows its mission and values. The team and its members must know why they are there for the customer.
The remote work environment presents its challenges. Learning and development efforts can be hindered, but it is possible to build culture from a distance. By being purposeful, managers can make progress and teams can excel. We have seen Learning Dynamics clients do it well, and your team can too.
Learning Dynamics has been helping many clients navigate the COVID-19 environment. We are committed to your success. Please contact us today to learn more about our learning and development options so your organization can maximize employee engagement and productivity despite distance challenges.