The COVID Effect
COVID-19 dramatically changed the way the world works. In a matter of a few months, the pandemic forced millions of employees around the globe to leave their traditional office spaces, to remand themselves to home isolation, and to figure out to keep working their jobs in a 100% remote capacity in order to keep the world running as we knew it.
This introduced the concept of a universal virtual work environment. And during this pandemic-induced remote seclusion, in an effort to attain more connectedness to our colleagues and clients, we found ourselves quickly retiring the conference call bridge line of old in favor of video conferences enabled by the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams. While we were physically separated, we at least were able to establish a sense of more connectedness through the likes of virtual stand-ups, meetings, and collaboration sessions.
Adapting to Our Virtual Work Environment
Fast forward to 2023. As the proverbial dust continues to settle on the COVID-19 pandemic, for many organizations the pendulum has continued to remain on the side of a heavily-influenced virtual work environment vs. the traditional office setting where people are physically face-to-face. And for those organizations in this situation, this sudden shift to remote work has leaders asking themselves: how do we maintain a sense of community and connection? How do we keep people engaged and motivated? How do we maintain accountability and results when we spend most of our days physically apart?
Tips on How to Foster a Positive Culture
Fostering a positive culture in a virtual workplace will continue to be top-of-mind task for leaders who desire to build and/or maintain a strong and productive team in today’s virtual world. Here are a few tips we Blackstone and/or our clients have found for fostering a sense of community and connectedness with a highly virtualized work environment:
- Make ‘Camera-On’ a Non-Negotiable: The simple fact is that being ‘on camera’ requires a higher level of accountability for the individual vs ‘camera off’. With ‘camera off’, not only is professional dress optional, but also are things that people would normally do when going into the office such as: taking a shower, contributing in a meaningful way, and/or even paying attention. So one item found to be effective is mandating a ‘camera on’ virtual culture. It helps everyone treat virtual meetings with more professional respect, and teams invariably get more out of them vs. the same meeting ran with ‘cameras off’.
- Recognize and Appreciate Good Work: While the pandemic did not change the importance of staff being recognized and appreciated for performing good work, the pandemic did amplify the priority that leaders should place on it when it is truly deserved. When working remotely, it’s now more easy than ever to at times feel disconnected from the team and from the work people are doing. Thus leaders should continue to frequently recognize and reward hard work and achievements when deserved in order to keep employees motivated and connected to the team, their department and the company as a whole.
- Communicate Regularly and Effectively: In a virtual environment, information does not flow as freely and casually as it once did. In a traditional office setting, information flowed across cubicles, in the hallway, in the breakroom, and at lunch. Leaders must recognize that this information flow has been largely disrupted in the virtual workplace, and it’s important now more than ever to be frequently communicating – updates, issues, wins, planned changes down the road, etc. – to ensure everyone feels connected to the organization and on the same page with where it is heading.
- Allow for Flexibility: Where the proverbial ‘9-to-5’ in office hours were previously more rigidly enforced, be sure to allow for flexibility in individuals’ work schedules so that they can find their stride in the work-life balance. From staff who work out, coach, are an avid hobbyist and/or need to take care of children, leaders who are more open to accommodating their staff’s individual schedules throughout the traditional ‘work day’ will help enable their employee bring their best self to the table for the team. Don’t be a punch clock manager: look more broadly. Set goals with dates and allow your staff to get them done however they need to.
- Make In Person Sessions More Meaningful: What used to be taken for granted (seeing your fellow employees, team, managers, staff, etc.) is now quite often a rarer and more special occasion. With that, while happy hours and lunches/dinners are great, think about other ways you can connect with your team. From community volunteering to indoor skydiving to group retreats to the beach, leaders should look to be more creative in finding ways to foster meaningful human connection across the team.
Finding the Right Mix
Despite some of these challenges leaders are faced with, there are also many inherent benefits to remote workers that should not be forgotten. Remote work can help employee’s work-life balance, reduce or wholly eliminate their commuting stress, and give more time back to them then they previously had: all inherent pluses of the remote work environment. So while recognizing this, organizational leaders who can help foster the right mix of community, recognition and flexibility within this new remote work environment are setting themselves up to realize better team dynamics – in the form of productivity organizational loyalty, and job satisfaction – than they’ve ever previously had.