Company cultureRemote work is not new, but the pandemic in 2020 has made what was often seen as a perk or a gimmick into a necessity for many. This has been complicated for industries that have thrived despite the impact of COVID-19 or even because of it. Not only have the majority of existing employees been transitioned to remote work, but onboarding new employees often must be done remotely as well.

Fortunately, some companies have gone before us and paved the way for a path to discuss the impact of remote work on culture, employee retention and morale, and the bottom line resulting from that.

Culture Starts at the Top

First of all, culture starts at the top. With smaller startups, the Founder and CEO’s hires are usually a lot like them. Those people go on to hire people who are also like them, and so on. It is only through a deliberate focus on diversity at the top of your organization that it will filter down to the rest of your employees.

While job skills can be taught, often, company culture cannot. And company culture is not a pool table, beer in the employee fridge for after-hours work, or video games in the lobby. Those things are simply expressions of a culture that is already there. Remote work makes even this kind of expression impossible, meaning organizations must learn to express culture in new ways. To do that you must know your company’s values and what your company culture is in the first place.

That starts with the hiring and onboarding process.

Remote Onboarding and Company Culture

The difference between good onboarding and bad employee onboarding can be expensive. It’s common knowledge how much more costly turnover is when compared to employee retention. This process essentially keeps employees from having “buyer’s remorse” once they are hired, and studies show that 90% of employees decide in the first six months whether they will stay or not.

Good onboarding often involves training, manager check-ins, warm social events, bonuses, swag gifts, meet and greet lunches, and more. How do we do these remotely? A recent survey conducted by Promoleaf revealed what employees want and what they think about what they are getting. Here are some takeaways:

  • Most employees think that video contact with managers at least once a week is vital to the onboarding process. When asked, “What frequency of video calls would you prefer with your manager for the first few weeks of employment?” nearly 35% of all respondents wanted to be contacted by video at least once a day. Another 26% preferred contact two to four times weekly, and another 18% wanted weekly calls.
  • Transparency is also crucial. When asked whether openness is critical for feeling a strong sense of job security during a pandemic, 48% agreed. Another 47% also wanted to hear from CEOs, leadership, and others about how they were being affected by current events. But perhaps the most telling of the responses was that 38% said their company needed to do more to keep employees informed.
  • Also, over 80% of employees said remote mentors were important. This means deliberate action on employers’ part to provide one-on-one support and follow up to ensure that both the mentor and the new employee work well together.

Beyond specific wants, the bottom line was that between 80-90% of those employees who received something listed above, or a combination of things, felt like the company onboarding them was at least moderately successful.

Changing Culture to Remote Normal

Your company culture will change with people working remotely. It’s inevitable. While there may be no more arguments about the thermostat setting, this means that desktop decorations and even your dress code will have to adapt. Rather than dressing for the job they want, many employees will be dressing for comfort.

A recent survey showed that remote workers in many cases do not have to adhere to company dress code standards, or those standards have been relaxed. Spending on “work” clothing has dropped by over half, an average of $139 per month before COVID and a paltry $58 a month during COVID. Loungewear is most popular for women, and activewear most common for men.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned about what your employees are wearing and its impact on company culture and productivity. A full 80% of those who ‘got dressed” felt productive at home, while only 70% of those who opted for more casual wear, and those who wore pajamas (a minority) 50% felt productive.

And what do you do with all this data? How do you develop and maintain company culture with remote teams? Here are some takeaways for you.

Pulling It All Together, Separately

First and foremost, it is essential to understand that remote company culture is still influential. Employees should be encouraged to embrace company values, the mission statement, and the attitude you want to be portrayed to customers, clients, and other employees.

  • Support your current staff with what they need. Whether you offer home office allowances and other perks, make sure your everyday people feel valued even when they are not present in the office.
  • Incorporate that care in your onboarding of new remote employees. Send them swag, give them benefits like you do your current employees, hold virtual events, and stay connected.
  • Communicate and be transparent. If the company is struggling, let employees know. If it is doing well, celebrate accomplishments. Keep an open-door policy with an open Zoom meeting, Slack, or other communication tools.
  • Set communication expectations on both sides. Let employees know when you expect contact from them, and let them know how often you will communicate with them.
  • Set up other expectations, like dress code, hours of operation (which can be flexible), communication about breaks, and more. Let employees know what you need, and be open to what they want and need to be productive.
  • Lead by example. Do what you want employees to do, and they will follow.

To say we are in unprecedented times has been overdone. To say we must adapt to a “new normal” has become a cliche. But the need to adapt to remote work from anywhere and the culture that creates is essential.

Transparent communication and an openness to adapt will make it possible for you and your employees to thrive in this new environment because your people are your strength. While remote culture may seem complex, it comes down to human connections. After all, that’s how any culture is built.

About the author

Jason Miller is an entrepreneur and CEO of Promoleaf who has founded several companies in the advertising specialty industry. He enjoys skiing, mountain biking, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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