Building “Culture” When No One’s Around: Virtual Style

How do you build “culture” when:

  • the workspace is digital
  • the work hours are flexible and
  • the workers are virtual

Work culture reflects a team’s values, beliefs and norms. It is baked into every interaction, decision and activity of an organisation.

In a face-to-face office setting, things are simpler. An employee steps onto the office floor, and he or she bathes in company culture. And it will affect every aspect of his experience—from the “big picture” decisions to those juicy small talks.

But how does one build “culture” in a fully remote, all-virtual team, where individuals are dotted across multiple time zones?

Let’s see how it can be done in 7 important points.

#1 Clearly articulate it.

It seems simple enough, but you cannot count the number of companies and organisations that do not clearly articulate what it is they are doing, much less express their core values and beliefs.

Culture is supposed to be ubiquitous. So if you want to build one, let’s say around the value of “safety,” then take every opportunity to verbally and visually announce it.

Tell your virtual team what they are supposed to care about.

Just as an office with “safety” as a core value would have reminders, pictures, and examples of it plastered all over the walls of a site or office, a remote team professing devotion to a value, say “sustainability,” will see forms of it reflected in emails, videos, documents, and memos. They should hear about it during Zoom meetings and announcements, and recognise it in slogans, even in shared memes.

The employee experience, in short, will be one loud echo chamber broadcasting the 2 or 3 guiding values that animate the organisation.

The problem is when leadership doesn’t know what specific values the company should esteem over others.

What values are you going to build your company/brand around?

There’s a lot to choose from, and here are some examples:

  • Innovation
  • Customer-centric
  • Collaboration
  • Inclusion
  • Diversity
  • Excellence
  • Transparency
  • Continuous Improvement etc.

There’s a lot more, but take your pick and run with it!

#2 Start hammering early.

The first point speaks to culture being comprehensive. The second point is all about being early.

An employee’s introduction to the work culture must begin at the first instance—during the virtual onboarding when folks first learn the policies, processes and practices.

Don’t just make new hires feel welcome. Make them realise that they are being grafted into a specific culture—a specific system of protocols and expectations.

Immediately draw bright line distinctions between the organisation and everybody else, pointing out how the company’s values are borne out in everyday operation and decision-making.

Don’t just brief them on project management tools or platforms. Talk about leadership and expectations. Is the organization firmly hierarchical, collaborative, transparent, or autocratic, among others?

Set the tone early and let new hires visualise how things work under the hood.

#3 Meet regularly…just because.

People are the bearers of culture. They’re the ones that animate beliefs and behaviour. Without people, there’s no concrete proof that such a culture exists.

That said, people must be interacting with each other.

In an office, this is a natural consequence of individuals being in the same place at the same time. In a virtual setting, interactions can be easily ethereal, especially when folks are simply passing finished digital products like documents and designs, without so much as a “Hi!” or “Hello!”

(Tech can automate, but it can also isolate.)

So, as much as meetings have become a pain for modern organisations, they are still necessary for the scaffolding of work culture.

Meetings have a “glue” and an “identity” function if only to remind professionals scattered all over the globe that they are part of a team, that they have colleagues who believe in the same vision, and who are in the same boat, rowing in the same direction.

Zoom meetings don’t have to be three hours long, nor do they have to be thrice a day. But they do have to be regular. They should be fun, educational and insightful. Believe it or not, meetings can be something people look forward to.

Virtual meetings can be the engine that evolves the work culture. As people interact and open up, they can hone group practices and processes—making sure these are serving the team.

#4 Establish a repeatable process.

People in the same boat, more or less, have similar ideas of how things work.

For example, if John, one of your graphics guys, falls out of commission and is suddenly unable to perform magic—somebody else, say, Tom, another graphics bro, can pick up the work, mid-project, and still do a bang-up job.

This is the power, not only of hiring great professionals but of having a repeatable process.

If “culture” pertains to a set of things that people do over and over again, it pays to firmly establish processes and policies.

When an organisation lacks a go-to routine, and everything is “up in the air,” people tend to do their own thing. That makes your business very inefficient. And it can hardly survive in a highly competitive environment.

So, establish policies and standard practices. In a way, you’re telling your guys “Hey guys, this is what we’re gonna do.”

Create a handbook, or a detailed manual, and fire them off to all corners of the globe. Talk about them in Zoom meetings, ensuring everybody is on the same page. Before long, you will see the outlines of a “culture” coming to life.

(Your team will become more efficient and competitive too!)

#5 Highlight examples.

For people to learn the right actions, models must be provided for them.

If culture is a set of behaviours, then leadership must take great pains to highlight exemplary displays of such actions.

If somebody has done something commendable on a project, then managers and executives must shine a spotlight on it on Zoom calls and emails—saying something like, “By maintaining close contact with past clients, Ben was able to get new business for the company. We appreciate his going the extra mile, and that’s the kind of commitment we would like to see more of.”

When you provide examples of how those core values are fleshed out in real life and in real time, you make it easier for others to get with the program.

So build culture by highlighting practices that others can follow.

#6 Try some fun team-building activities

Work culture isn’t just built on purely professional grounds.

It is the personal underpinnings, the fact that colleagues care about each other as people and not just cogs in a machine, that make a professional team infinitely stronger.

And you cannot build personal connections in just the professional setting. Those interactions are mundane, routine, and maybe even contentious. People are too focused to let their hair down. Nobody becomes BFFs that way.

You need to lead people in fun virtual activities that have nothing to do with the job, where people can lighten up and have real connections and conversations.

Being distributed across the globe should not stop a team from having fun together. There are a lot of virtual activities in store:

  • Virtual Happy Hour
  • Online Escape Room
  • Teleparties
  • Game Nights and Movie Nights
  • Fortnite! (and other eGames)
  • Remote Talent Shows
  • Virtual Bake Nights

#7 Reward the right values

This is a step higher than just highlighting specific examples. You’re celebrating the people who have consistently embodied those cherished values.

Be very clear that this is a formal recognition program, with serious rewards and perks, and not just a simple shoutout or a virtual pat on the back.

If you are serious about building a remote culture, be also serious about rewarding the most deserving people. This is not some light-hearted, token recognition or participation award that’s a little more than a badge. (eg. “Diversity Dynamo Award” etc.)

Offer real, tangible rewards that actually mean something—like paid time off, a significant raise, international travel, or professional development opportunities. This is leadership going out of its way to show its appreciation to its best people.

Have a reward mechanism that points and nudges people toward the practices you want to foster.

And that wraps up our 7 points for building a virtual work culture. Practice them and you will witness a blossoming of core values within your remote team.

Speaking of which, we at Kinetic Innovative Staffing help companies build virtual teams for their organisations. We help find, interview and hire world-class remote professionals, from software developers, data analysts, and network engineers, to lawyers, accountants and architects.

With over 4 million professionals in our candidate database, Kinetic is able to serve up ideal candidates for any virtual position or role.

By working with remote professionals, companies save, on average, 70% on their labour costs.

If this is something you would like to explore for your business, do not hesitate to contact us, and we’ll get you all the help you need.

 

Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.     

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