There’s no doubt that the pandemic has thrown millions of American workers for a loop. While only a small percentage of U.S. employees worked from home before the pandemic, it’s now become commonplace for many businesses to offer remote work options — and they’ll likely continue to do so even after COVID-19 is no longer a threat.
To be sure, remote work comes with a number of benefits. Employees love the flexibility of remote work, which allows them to attain a better work-life balance. For employers, work-from-home programs allow them to reduce overhead costs while promoting more sustainability. What’s more, studies have shown that employees who work from home are significantly more productive than traditional office workers. In other words, it’s a win for both business owners and staff members.
That said, there are downsides to working remotely. As many organizations have learned during this health crisis, corporate culture can take a hit when in-person interactions become limited. In learning how to run your agency or business, you’ll need to zero in on some ways to maintain (or even improve) your company culture while continuing to work remotely. Here are just a few ideas to try.
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Host Virtual Get-Togethers
Pizza parties and happy hours are only a very small part of what makes your company culture so great. When push comes to shove, those probably aren’t the perks that keep employees around for years. However, events like these can help you increase and measure engagement and provide an essential source of social interaction. If your organization has experienced a lot of turnover or even a hiring surge, these events can help employees feel connected to one another and encourage cross-team collaboration.
It may not be safe to schedule in-person meet-ups quite yet — and you won’t want to worry about making employees feel uncomfortable — it’s best to stick to digital get-togethers for now. Lunch and learns, virtual happy hours, online trivia nights, and digital birthday celebrations can allow your team to build relationships, blow off steam, and work collaboratively when interactions would otherwise be limited to a chat window or formal meeting.
Schedule Standups and 1:1s
Communication often suffers when a business goes virtual, so it’s important to be proactive. When working remotely, it’s important that your managers hold check-ins with employees to ensure goals are being met, information is being shared, and engagement continues to grow.
This doesn’t mean you have to schedule significantly more meetings every week; it simply means you’ll want to prioritize certain meetings over others. Weekly, bi-weekly, or even daily team standups can be a good way to connect and to make sure pivotal conversations take place within a short amount of time. One-on-one meetings, held on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, can allow managers and employees to assess progress, promote career development, and share essential feedback. These kinds of meetings can help individual employees feel more immersed in their work, connected to a larger purpose, and ensure everyone feels truly heard.
Maintain Employee Recognition
Some might scoff at the potential corniness of employee recognition, but meaningful demonstrations of gratitude and appreciation can go a long way. It’s about more than plaques or social media shout-outs (though those can also be effective, if done correctly!). Verbally expressing the difference your employees have made for your business and your clients, especially during such a challenging time, can often bridge the gap when monetary incentives aren’t plausible.
Of course, if your business has done well, you should absolutely share the wealth with your employees as a means of recognition. This might take the form of pay raises, yearly bonuses, promotions, increased vacation days, gift vouchers, or stock options. But it can also come in the form of a company-wide newsletter, company swag, or even a personal message to showcase the impact of their efforts. When a company goes virtual, it’s easy to forget about recognizing employees you don’t see in-person every day. But it’s essential that you continue and even ramp up these efforts to encourage worker loyalty during this time. If an employee doesn’t feel appreciated, they’ll probably start the process of looking for work elsewhere — pandemic or not.
Encourage Breaks and Time Off
In many ways, remote work can be even more draining that a conventional 9-to-5 office job. Because the separation between professional and personal becomes blurred, setting boundaries and taking time for one’s self are crucial tasks.
While it may be tempting for you to encourage your employees to go above and beyond, remember that their health should come first. If they aren’t taking care of themselves and maintaining a good work-life balance, they’re going to burn out. Once they do, they’ll be wholly unproductive (and you might lose them for good). Instead, make sure your employees are making good use of their PTO and that they aren’t running themselves into the ground. Since remote work can make it easier for employees to work off the clock or bend the rules in other ways, be sure you aren’t encouraging that kind of behavior, either. If they need a mental health or personal day, let them know they are free to take it. Just because they could theoretically work while under the weather doesn’t mean they should. Prioritizing breaks will make happier, healthier employees in the long run — and that’s the foundation of a strong company culture.
It’s not easy to build on your company culture when you can’t physically interact with each other on a daily basis. But it’s not impossible. By keeping these tips in mind and leading with your values, you’ll be able to improve employee morale and overall engagement without being in the same room.