Learn how to keep your culture with WFH and in-office teams
By Matt Vaadi
COVID-19 accelerated a trend that was already reshaping our economy: Remote work is here to stay. This means the acceleration of hybrid teams – the combination of work-from-home (WFH) and in-office teammates.
We are all starting to settle into this new approach to team and company building. So let’s improve this process for the long haul by looking at both the basics and what innovative companies are doing to creatively solve this new challenge.
According to the 2020 State of Remote Work report, 70% of full-time workers in the U.S. are working from home during the pandemic. And 77% of respondents say the option to work from home makes them happier. And 80% of full-time workers expect to work from home at least three times per week after workspaces reopen.
The data is clear: If you want to retain and attract talent, you need to be ready to manage a partially remote workforce. But creating and maintaining a strong organizational culture is challenging in all environments. Adding in factors like a hybrid work team makes it even more difficult.
A recent Gallup survey shows that the number of employees actively engaged has hovered around 30% for the last few years. If only 30% of your employees are engaged, you have a lot of miserable people on your team. That was before the world came grinding to a halt. How much do you think that has changed? Let’s look at new things we can do to alter that.
Improve the velocity, frequency and ease of communication
Once you move to a remote work environment, your communication methods should be “remote first.” Once a percentage of your team is remote, you can’t keep old methods that won’t be available to them, like whiteboards. You need to make sure everyone’s primary form of communication is the same, remote or in-person.
The frequency and velocity of communication need to increase, too. It is easy to disconnect when you are remote if you aren’t constantly communicating. While it may seem like too much at times, I promise you cannot overcommunicate with your team.
Consistent communication of core values and purpose
While communicating, it is important to emphasize the company’s core values. Your remote team isn’t seeing all the signs on the walls and visual cues at the office that many of us have, making it easier to slide into bad habits at home (especially if work from home is new for them).
Take time to recognize people’s efforts daily and tie them to your core values. Integrate your core values into more communications and daily interactions to help keep them top of mind and encourage the expected behaviors.
Stay output focused
When companies began sending employees home at the beginning of COVID-19, the primary concerns were about productivity. These ranged from valid (it’s distracting to work with your kids at home) to a little paranoid (they are just playing video games all day) and everything in between.
We can effectively measure productivity in a remote environment without micro-managing by staying output focused. This means staying focused on what gets done, not necessarily how every minute of the day is spent. One simple way to do this is to ask yourself: “If I were to look back in a year, what three things would this person have to accomplish for the year to have been a success?” Now you can back into the quarterly, monthly and weekly things needed to achieve those desired outcomes. While this is a best practice in all environments, it is particularly helpful to guide remote teammates.
Clearly communicate expectations
A 1990 study looked at two groups of people: tappers, who chose songs we all know (like “Happy Birthday”), and listeners. Tappers tapped the song rhythm out, predicting the listeners would know the song 50% of the time. But listeners only knew the song 2.5% of the time. Worse, tappers got frustrated with the listeners for not knowing the songs!
Unfortunately, this is a reality of communication. We think we are clearly communicating. In actuality, our listener too often has no idea what we’re talking about. When communicating expectations, ask your teammates to say back to you what they think you’re trying to communicate. This allows for dialogue and getting everyone on the same page.
Create and encourage collision
Set up collisions of teammates or people who might not normally see each other. It creates relationships, energy and ideas that might not happen without those unplanned conversations. Collision on a remote team doesn’t happen naturally. We need to facilitate it. Here are a few things you can do.
A short daily meeting among teams can serve to get everyone together and also share priorities. Every morning, we ask our teammates to share their two “criticals” for the day and ask an icebreaker question. The criticals are the two things that, if completed, will make their day a success. Ask fun icebreaker questions that help workers get to know each other better. We have answered questions from, “Have you ever had a nickname, and why did people call you that?” to “If you could only go to battle with a slingshot or a frying pan, which would you choose and why?” We have a lot of laughs and have gotten to know each other much better in the process.
Keep your virtual office door open
An underused feature of Zoom or other online meeting tools is the ability to leave a meeting room open like you would your office. If you preach an open-door policy and want to bring that to the remote world, simply stay logged in all day. This allows people to accidentally bump into each other. Whether it is someone stopping by to say hello and ask a question, or two meetings overlapping and people saying hello who might not have seen each other that day, the result is more collision and collaboration.
More frequent performance convos
If you do quarterly assessments, add in monthly conversations. If conducting them monthly, add a brief weekly check-in. Now is the time to increase the frequency of communication and be there to serve your team.
With fewer people colliding in an office, you may need to facilitate the fun that occurs naturally in an office setting. In addition to fun things during team meetings, think about creating virtual team-building activities, like book clubs, painting classes, virtual board games, or team fundraisers.
Team training led by teammates
Allowing your team to take something they are passionate about and share that with the rest of the team is magical and a win-win. We facilitate this by having one teammate train the rest of them on a topic for 15 to 30 minutes each week.
Hybrid teams are here to stay. Start reviewing your processes to ensure they are inclusive and engaging for both your on-site and off-site employees. Companies that can recruit, engage and retain the best talent will win.
Matt Vaadi is the CEO of guhroo, which provides simple software combined with expert support for payroll, benefits, human resources and compliance.