This is part two of a four part series focused on engaging a mobile workforce, including what’s similar (and what’s different) from engaging co-located employees. Part one focused on the importance of defining your culture to ensure relevancy for workers, no matter where they’re located.
With the COVID-19 pandemic representing a watershed moment that has accelerated remote work at an unprecedented rate, organizations have turned their focus toward enhancing the experiences of those mobile employees. And understandably so—a recent Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% who sought to prior to the pandemic, so odds are good they'll remain a high percentage of the workforce.
Organizational culture has been a key consideration for many organizations looking to make these employee experience (EX) improvements. Specifically, leaders are diligently working to determine how to maintain cultural consistency among a decentralized workforce. That's because not only is it inherently more difficult to unite dispersed employees under one vision, it can also complicate an organization’s ability to reinforce the behaviors and norms foundational to the company’s culture. That’s in part because it’s more difficult for employees to observe the behaviors and norms, but it’s also because we’re living in a time like no other where emotions are volatile and behaviors simply might not be what they otherwise would without the challenges of the pandemic at play.
But maintaining, supporting and even enhancing company culture during this tumultuous time shouldn’t be viewed as an impossible feat. By adjusting your strategy to accommodate the reality of our “current normal,” you can meaningfully connect employees to a shared vision (even if that’s near-term), reinforce desired behaviors and enhance engagement.
And that’s the idea we’re tackling in part two of our series: How to use effective communication to maintain positive culture for mobile employees (and everybody else, too).
We’re moving forward with the understanding that you’ve already defined your culture, including the ways that your culture supports what matters to your people and the needs they have based on job function and whether they're dispersed or co-located. Now, it’s time to discover what you can proactively do to communicate these things to your people to align and motivate them. Here are our top two best practices to consider:
1. Provide Materials That Explain & Explore Your Culture & Goals Using Authentic, Employee-Centric Stories & Language
When employees are co-located, it’s much easier for them to learn about your culture, whether that’s through direct experiences or in a more indirect way, such as by observing others. So, to reinforce and support a positive company culture with a mobile team, you’ll likely need to adjust your strategies.
While a list of aspirational words or values you associate with your culture is a great start, it’s also very important—perhaps even more so with a remote or distributed team—to authentically represent your culture with those words. Put simply, no matter how amazing the words are you choose for your values, if those don’t align to the behaviors your people are demonstrating, you’ll never get people to believe in them, much less act in ways that align with them.
The good news is that if you did your homework upfront to better understand employee perspectives, you should already have a good idea of the behaviors you should highlight. Think of ways you can reinforce those things by tapping in to employees who are willing to speak up on how they live your culture—it’s impactful and (as an added benefit) works equally well with co-located and dispersed workers.
While video or audio clips of current employees definitely impactful, think of it as just one touchpoint in your overall strategy.
As you think through the stories you need to tell, also provide insight in to the near and long-term goals you are all working toward as an organization, how you will evaluate performance toward those goals and, especially, how different roles contribute to those goals to reinforce shared purpose.
2. Communicate Clearly, Frequently & In the Flow of Unique Employee Experiences
Experts have argued that 70% of communication is non-verbal—and that includes workplace communication. And, according to a MIT study
the key to high performance lies not in the content of a team’s discussions but in the manner in which it is communicated—with 35% of the variation in a team’s performance accounted for by the number of face-to-face exchanges among team members.
When face-to-face interaction is limited, it’s easy for messages to be missed, lost or miscommunicated and for employees to feel out of the loop. To maintain cultural alignment with all of your employees—mobile and co-located—it’s important to share clear, consistent messages. While face to face gatherings, signage in the work environment and company meetings can help accomplish this need for co-located employees, it’s important to consider how you can tailor those same strategies to resonate with team members who are not centralized.
Some of the best approaches we’ve seen are often simple—pushing a new desktop background with value-centric messaging out or having the CEO record a video message for mobile team members are increasingly popular.
And while those tactics do help create company-wide alignment on cultural norms and expectations, don’t underestimate the power of a more personalized approach. Team video calls with a fun twist (like sharing an example of how your pet/child/plant demonstrates a core value), physical mailings to homes and promotion of newly relevant employee resource groups can be great ways to bring employees together, reinforce shared connection and demonstrate empathy for the highs and lows that come with working through a time like this.
As We Look to the Future, Remain Inclusive
Humans have a natural tendency to be self-involved creatures—the saying “out of sight, out of mind” comes to, well, mind. While right now many workers remain in mobile work arrangements, with time, some will return to offices and some will not. It will be particularly important for leadership—at all levels—to remain mindful of the need to include, connect with, and seek opportunities for all types of employees in the future. The same calibration of strategies taking place right now should become a permanent consideration for employee experience moving forward.
A Cohesive Culture Depends on Communication, Not Workplace Location
Culture evolves with or without intervention from an organization. While a dispersed workforce brings with it certain complexities, they're far from insurmountable. By proactively, strategically guiding the culture with intentional communication touchpoints, you’ll be able to meaningfully align, motivate and engage your people—no matter where they’re working.
The two best practices we shared today will help ensure higher degrees of cultural alignment in your organization—but we’ve got more to cover, too.
Keep an eye out for our next post in the series in which we’ll focus on the ways to enable and sustain the behaviors core to your culture.