How to create a cohesive culture in your workplace.
We are frequently asked whether it is possible to create a cohesive workplace culture when team members are working remotely. Our response? Absolutely, but leaders need to adapt their approach to the realities of remote work. Note that we didn’t talk about adapting strategies – they remain the same, it is the execution that needs to become more agile
Culture is the sum of choices made by all team members, at all levels, every day. These are not major executive level decisions – they are the micro choices each individual makes dozens of times each day about how to interact, what standards to strive for, how work looks, etc. Those choices are made in response to expectations, most of which are implied rather than specifically communicated.
Keeping culture cohesive is challenging because we want more than people simply working together. We want them to work together in a way that promotes productivity and wellbeing, that inspires individuals and teams to be their best and strive for results that wouldn’t be available if the individuals worked alone. We want cohesiveness to translate into synergy.
When people work remotely, cohesiveness becomes even more challenging because achieving consistent expectations is difficult, the barriers to communicating them are amplified, and achieving understanding and acceptance is complicated
Let’s be clear. Working remotely hasn’t created poor culture. It has acted as a highlighter that emphasises flaws in workplace cultures that already existed. One of the main flaws that remote work has exposed is the absence of clear, consistent and agreed standards and expectations. When a team works from a shared location, the absence of clear expectations and standards inhibits high performance, but teams partly mitigate the issues because there are less barriers to communication.
For a team working remotely and struggling with cohesiveness, the starting point, as with all efforts to define a great workplace culture, are the team’s values. Just because people don’t work in the same location, it doesn’t mean that values are less important. In fact, in the absence of every day, face to face contact, values become even more critical.
In relation to values, we encounter five types of teams in our work:
- Doesn’t have values and hasn’t even considered them
- Doesn’t have values but knows they should
- Has values but people don’t know what they are
- Has values that people sort of know but the values don’t guide behaviour and choices
- Has values that are meaningful and that shape workplace culture
Teams that already had meaningful values have typically found those values supported them in the transition to the new environment. They have helped maintain the cohesiveness the team was already achieving in a shared work space.
Teams that had values that people didn’t know or that didn’t shape behaviour have found that those values feel even more tokenistic than before. Efforts to embed them have been largely unsuccessful.
For the few teams without values that have tried to implement them in a remote environment, results have been poor.
Values that create cohesive culture.
So, what’s the solution? Regardless of whether you currently have values or not, and whether you work remotely, centrally or in a hybrid model, there are some fundamentals that will determine the success of implementing team values – and whether they lead to cohesiveness or not:
- Values must be established consultatively – the people who will be asked to live them must have a say in what they are
- Once established, everyone must know them and own them – even if some people don’t like all of them
- They must apply equally to all regardless of tenure, rank, and status
- They must be lived – a great test is what happens when someone doesn’t live one of the values?
Whether you have meaningless values or no values, you should start in the same place. From scratch. Ask every team member – surveys are great here – what values are important to them. Condense the results into a working set of values and communicate them to the team. Give them the knowledge and skills to live those values – and respond when people fall short of those standards.
How you achieve each of these things will vary depending on what the team’s current working arrangements are – but whether your team is working remotely or not, these principles will build cohesiveness and engagement, satisfaction and productivity will follow.
Need some help with your culture? Book a 15 minute chat to talk about your needs.
Or read our blog on Demystifying and Transforming your workplace culture.