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  • Jennifer Duckworth

How to sustain your workplace tribe!

Your top 10 actions to retain your company culture and inspire a sense of belonging in our remote working world.

We know that remote working, in some shape or form, is here to stay.

One of the biggest unknowns that organisations face is around the dispersion of people and the dilution of workplace culture.

How can organisations sustain a positive company culture?
How can teams remain united and collaborative?
How can we reduce feelings of disconnection and isolation?

Culture can be defined as “the glue that binds us together”. Sustaining company culture and a sense of belonging - one of our basic human needs - is critical to our mental health, our wellbeing and our productivity at work.

It’s commercially important too. A strong positive company culture is crucial to attract and retain your people. And research summarised in Harvard Business Review shows that a high sense of belonging is linked to better performance, fewer sick days and lower turnover risk.

So whilst the pandemic has brought numerous challenges to workplaces, it also presents us with a fantastic opportunity to rethink our cultures and our ways of working.

Here are your top 10 actions to help you sustain culture and build a sense of belonging regardless of where your people are working…

1. Encourage employee voice

Ask your people what they need. How do they want to connect with others? What do they want to know about the organisation? Most importantly, listen to the feedback and put your team’s wellbeing at the heart of your future plans. This will allow people to feel appreciated, valued and connected with the broader organisation.

2. Revisit your company values.

Any time of change is a great moment to review what matters the most in the workplace. You could run focus groups and ask your team – how do we ensure we still live by our values? Do any of our defined behaviours need updated? And if you don’t yet have a set of company values and behaviours, now is the perfect time to discuss and agree them.

3. Train and support your managers.

New ways of working can be difficult to implement, and the brunt of the work often falls to line managers, who are trying to do the ‘day job’ too! Recognise that change is not easy, and help them navigate new challenges with tailored training and lots of support.

Also consider developing a reward system that managers can run in their teams and reward people who display the behaviours that are important for sustaining a positive culture and inspiring a sense of belonging – i.e. collaboration, cooperation and kindness.

4. Insist on face-to-face by defining your ‘moments that matter’

Whenever restrictions allow, mandate regular time together. Flexibility is great, and home-working is very convenient for some, but a total lack of face-to-face connection is not healthy. Highlight the importance of the team as well as the individual, and the fact that people are responsible to their colleagues, not just themselves and their manager. And rather than defining days to come into the office, look at work activities and define your ‘moments that matter’ (e.g. onboarding, training, difficult conversations) which should always be run in person.

5. ‘Magnetise’ your offices

There are lessons to be learnt from the retail world. More than ever, offices must be designed to attract your people in – they should be a destination not an obligation! So first talk to your teams and unpick the barriers – generally time, cost and experience of the commute. Is there a way you can mitigate these? Some organisations are allowing journey time to become part of the working day and/or subsidising travel costs.

Secondly, understand what people want from their workplace, and incentivise the use of the office by building in events, facilities, and fun as far as possible. Once in the office, encourage staff to do non-work things together, like taking breaks or eating together. Research shows that teams who eat together have a stronger relationships and perform better together.

6. Create more social moments

Be intentional about creating opportunities to socialise. Far from just being a ‘nice to have’, socialising ultimately builds trust in a team – the foundation of high performance. Remote working can be a reason that people opt out of all social / team events, so try to ensure all employees are involved in at least some events. Noone likes forced fun, but facilitated events, such as a cooking lesson or a volunteering day, can feel less socially awkward but still bring people together.

7. Focus on the ‘weak ties’

Help your people to focus on the weak ties in their networks – their acquaintances that they’d bump into in the lunch queue or the lifts. These are the bonds that fall away when we are working remotely and sociological research studies show that they are really critical for wellbeing, knowledge-sharing, creativity and building community. So do whatever you can to encourage the micro-interactions that keep weak ties in play e.g. create new buddy systems, coffee roulette, or communities of interest at work.

8. Ensure inclusivity and equal experiences of work

Inclusivity when creating positive culture is critical. Hybrid meetings, when some people are in the office, and some are remote, have dangerous potential for creating ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups. To avoid this as far as possible, and create an equal experience, consider running meetings with everyone online, regardless of their location. If you must have hybrid meetings, then allocate each person at home an ‘in room buddy’ who can advocate where necessary, ask and answer questions etc. When asking for input, always think ‘remote first’ and get thoughts from those who are not in the room first before you bring in those who are present.

9. Dial up your communication

As with any change or new way of working, communication can make or break it. And when people are based remotely, it’s even more important to cement your culture and ensure you are building a sense of belonging.

Organisational vision, plans and expectations must be communicated consistently and transparently. To ensure you bring everyone with you and keep people in the loop regardless of where they are located, you should consider your channels carefully and increase the regularity of communication. Even if there’s not much to tell, keep the communication open. People will choose certainty over uncertainty every time, and may fill in any gaps in with rumours and hearsay more readily if they are away from the office and already feeling isolated. Also, encourage and expect everyone in the team to be open and regular in their communication, and create conversations as often as possible.

10. Measure, evaluate and update

As the management guru Peter Drucker said ‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure’. Recognise and acknowledge that whilst you will experiment with new ways of working, it will be an iterative process. Ensure you gather ongoing data and insight from within your organisation to understand how connected people feel and how the culture is viewed and keep an open mind to make changes where necessary.

At Babel Projects, we are experts in making workplaces work better. We would love to support you in building and sustaining an amazing company culture. Please get in touch if you'd like to explore working together:

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