Most likely your Corporate Culture has suffered during the last few years. While a lot of companies have tried to keep connected by finding fun ways to gather virtually, nothing really can replace the face-to-face water cooler conversations of years past. When the pandemic began, we thought we were biding time until we could return to in-person work. Now, it’s broadly accepted that a return to in-office work really means hybrid work where some employees will work remotely for the foreseeable future.
On the one hand, that’s great news for inclusion and flexibility for employees as well as for companies like mine that build the tools that enable our work-from-anywhere lives. On the other hand, as an executive overseeing distributed employees who are working hard on our next big thing (and the next and the next), I’m viscerally aware that nothing rallies the troops more than when we rally each other in person.
No video meeting can replace the energy in a room full of people brainstorming to come up with innovative solutions together! Even though that same synergy may feel out of reach across virtual time and space, there are plenty of ways in which business leaders can foster culture, celebrate people, and strengthen connections to make the corporate culture better today than ever. Here are my three ideas for how to level up our attention to culture in this distributed, virtual world.
- Build a sense of importance during this time of constant change.
The “Great Resignation” is real, and it’s affecting every company. As fresh talent joins a company, they bring different experiences, perspectives, and ways of doing things with them, too, creating a mélange of old ways and new ways. Being open-minded to new ideas will help both companies and people to advance. Insisting that “we’ve always done it this way” might block opportunities for new and better ways of doing things. It’s good to shake things up from time to time! In any growth-minded organization, the only thing constant should be changed.
It is best if change feels like an intentional, participatory event rather than something that staff is inevitably forced to accept. One way to make all employees feel like they are included in conversations about change is to include them in decisions that affect them. That seems like a no-brainer, but we all have been on the receiving end of a list of deliverables from a meeting that we didn’t attend. That feels siloed, disconnected and even a bit inconsiderate. Somehow, even in virtual space, we all still have too many meetings, and it’s all the more important for attention still to be paid to who is (and isn’t) around the table. Especially with new staff and new management, the only way we’re all going to get to know each other is by intentional, considered interactions. Now is the time to include, not exclude.
- Foster diversity and inclusion in both old and new ways.
Speaking of inclusion, who’s around your meeting table? Diversity and inclusion aren’t just about gender and race, which remain important, of course. But the diversity of experience, representation across hierarchies, and consideration of cross-departmental impacts all matter, too.
Where culture breaks down is when it isn’t inclusive—and broadly inclusive at that. Having the right mix of experience at the table when tackling a problem enables newer staff to learn and longer-term staff to teach, and vice versa. Count me among those who have learned a great deal from even the greenest new staff. I can do that because we’re at the same table.
There needs to be room for staff to be able to join meetings that they’re curious about, too, ones that touch on their purviews even tangentially. Imagine inviting—not requiring—staff to attend some meetings by sharing that “your voice is welcome at the table.” That’s not just inclusive; it’s flattering. There is a valuable, positive cultural impact to gain from helping all players on the team to see that they are part of shaping the future of the company. After all, it’s their future, too.|
- Empower employees to drive the outcomes they want.
With new staff joining frequently, I’m noticing more and more comments from existing staff like, “We tried that before, and it didn’t work.” I push back, asking questions like, “Why do you think it didn’t work?” and “What haven’t you tried?” My favorite is “How do you think we can do things differently so that the desired outcome is attained?”
I don’t want my staff to take no for an answer (well, not necessarily), and I don’t want them simply to seek approval. I want them to pave the way toward their (our) goals. Empowering staff to see things through, to try to figure things out differently, and to engage in innovative thinking encourages ownership and creates new synergies. Their success depends on their ability to make things happen in partnership with others in the company. Instead of an employee carrying out a function, they’re stakeholders carrying out a shared mission. That’s what’s at the heart of any great corporate culture: dedication to a shared purpose.
Even though we’re not often together around a real table anymore, by building a sense of importance, fostering inclusion, and empowering each other—plus by working together as much as possible in new and varied ways—we can become more tight-knit and more supportive of each other in virtual space. Feeling part of a team fosters the highest sense of belonging, purpose, and loyalty. This is the way forward with less attrition and more intention, which makes any company’s culture more vibrant and desirable for those already there and for those who have yet to arrive.