By: Ali Broders
Organizational culture is the shared values, behaviors, and expectations that shape an organization’s environment and the actions of its team members. Organizational culture has a major impact on a company’s success or failure. Strong company culture can lead to increased employee engagement, decreased turnover, higher productivity, and improved performance. Previously, team culture grew organically through daily interactions, group projects, and shared experiences. In our new world of work, casual conversations with coworkers are often limited to the first few participants on a Zoom call while waiting for others to join. New approaches are required to cultivate an organizational culture in a remote setting.
Building a remote team culture requires dedication and purposeful effort. The past year has challenged us to reinvent our well-established routines and create new ways of interacting. Shifting to a remote-work environment has made us step back to evaluate and rethink our existing processes. At Yellow Brick, we are fortunate that our team already had the tools needed to work remotely. We are accustomed to working on the road or from home, so the shift to remote working didn’t require us to purchase any new equipment or learn new applications. What has challenged us is the loss of connection from not physically being together. We have implemented numerous team-building approaches to bridge this gap, including virtual happy hours and weekly team games. This article describes strategies for establishing remote relationships for existing teams, new teams, new team members, and client partners.
Supporting Existing Teams
Existing teams who have shifted from an in-person working relationship to a virtual setting may feel challenged to maintain connections with coworkers. Existing teams likely know how to work together effectively but may long for the camaraderie that once flourished naturally from social interactions. The most successful method that we have found to combat the loss of connection is to turn on the computer cameras. This simple switch allows team members to see each other’s expressions and reactions during meetings. There may be some initial resistance among team members when implementing this change, so we recommend setting ground rules. At Yellow Brick, we don’t require team members to be on-camera for meetings on Fridays or before 9:00 a.m., unless the meeting is with a client. Find what works for your team and set the expectation.
More than just our work setting has changed as a result of the pandemic and the majority of our work transitioning to our home offices. Coworkers may be homeschooling children, facilitating distance learning, sharing a workspace with a spouse, partner, or roommate, balancing childcare, or even caring for a loved one who is ill. Establish a work environment that is flexible and accommodating of employees’ responsibilities outside of work. If possible, allow employees to work alternative hours if required. Most importantly, establish a sense of security among coworkers to enable team members to share and lean on each other when needed. Encourage employees to share their challenges and any limitations.
At Yellow Brick, we held a virtual meeting with our team, during which each person showcased their current work-from-home setting. Seeing where your coworkers are working, and developing a deeper understanding of their personal lives, forges a strong remote culture and mutual empathy.
Building New Teams
Forming new teams in a purely virtual setting is an entirely new challenge. At Yellow Brick, our team members have worked together for many years, and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When forming a new team, it is essential to learn each other’s character traits, work style, preferred communication methods, and availability. Consider investing in a personality assessment for employees, such as the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator. When assigning group projects, utilize the data to pair effective teams.
A successful team also knows each other’s skills, knowledge, and abilities. Consider asking employees to complete a self-evaluation of their skills, knowledge, and abilities for each component of work. This information enables the team to identify experts who they can reach out to for help on a particular work component. It also highlights areas in which team members need to build their skill level so that they can be considered for learning opportunities that arise. Being familiar with one another’s strengths and weaknesses is vital in building a strong team.
Welcoming New Team Members
Another challenge can be integrating a new team member into an existing team. When possible, consider onboarding new employees in groups. This allows the company to create efficiencies in the recruitment, hiring, onboarding, and training processes. It also establishes a shared identity among new hires. Provide a collaborative training program that incorporates existing employees as mentors to welcome new hires into the company culture.
The strongest working relationships are built on trust and vulnerability. Trust and vulnerability are key principles that must be continuously nurtured, especially in a virtual environment. Encourage team members to share new ideas or challenge existing processes without fear of repercussions. Demonstrating a culture with a foundation of trust and vulnerability makes it easier for new employees to jump in and add to the team.
Forging Client Relationships
When working with a new client, it is essential to make every effort to establish a positive working relationship from the start. Connections are more easily cultivated in person when you can look someone in the eyes and shake their hand. In our new virtual world, we need to overcompensate for the lack of physical presence. When meeting with a client, utilize your computer camera so that you can be seen. This helps build a connection with the client and offers a warmer interaction than a voice over the phone.
Yellow Brick’s unofficial motto has always been to “under-promise and over-deliver.” This becomes even more important when working remotely. As consultants, relationships with our client partners are the foundation of our business. To build a strong relationship remotely, you must secure confidence and trust from the client. Ensure that you are responsive to emails, provide deliverables by the date promised (or earlier), and be camera-ready, on-time, attentive, and engaged during all meetings.
Each of the principles described above is important in building team culture, whether in person or remotely. However, in the virtual setting, shaping a team culture requires proactive and intentional effort. If not properly cultivated, previously thriving team relationships can fizzle in the virtual environment and new relationships can fail before they even start. Implementing these simple approaches to bring virtual teams closer together can make a world of difference. We must push ourselves to be agile in order to be effective in any environment.