How to Engage Mobile Employees: Define Your Culture

By: Christina Zurek
part one of four-part series on maintaining strong culture

This is part one of a four part series focused on engaging a mobile workforce, including what’s similar (and what’s different) from engaging co-located employees.

Shifting from a mostly office-based workforce to a blended or predominantly virtual workforce has been a common disruption in recent months but it doesn’t have the alter one of the most important elements of work:  your culture. While disruption and change test your organization in many ways, there are several practical steps you can take to ensure that no matter what changes come, you—and your people—will remain engaged, aligned and committed to living the core values of your organization.

While research has shown that mobile employees can benefit from increased productivity, decreased stress and overall better health, many organizations still have reservations about potential downstream impact as a result of a more virtual workforce.

One of the most common fears is related to culture and, specifically, how to maintain an engaging and consistent culture when you no longer have a high percentage of your workforce co-located. What many companies are learning through recent experience, though, is that physical work location might not be as much of a factor in employee engagement and organizational culture as previously thought.

And that’s the idea behind a four-part series we’re kicking off with this article to showcase how the framework for engaging employees and maintaining a positive organizational culture doesn’t change based on work location. But that doesn’t mean that a one-size-fits-all approach will cut it, either – without translating supporting tactics in to ways that are impactful for different work environments, employee engagement and alignment with your culture can still struggle.

In the first part of this series, we’re digging in to the need to define your culture upfront to ensure you can effectively rally employees around it, regardless of where they're working. This is a foundational step that helps you understand what matters to your people, the needs they have—and how those things might (or might not) vary based on where they’re working.

Too often, people assume that culture is something intangible that simply develops over time within an organization. Rather, it should be viewed as the lifestyle you expect your team members to live—the norms, behaviors and attitudes that they demonstrate each day. But more than that, it’s the way that those norms, behaviors and attitudes impact others and, ultimately, engage and motivate employees across the organization.

In recent years, many organizations have put significant effort toward clarifying what it means to live their culture and if you have, don’t worry—that work is still relevant! Now is the time to anchor in to what you already believe to be true about your organizational culture while taking a few steps to verify that the recent changes in the world haven't drastically shifted anything.

And if you haven't yet put focus toward defining your culture, now is the perfect time to prioritize it.

Regardless of where you're starting, we have two best practices to lean in to for help.

1. Listen to Your Employees: I once heard a quote about how culture isn’t what you say it is—it’s what everybody else in the company says it is. It’s a simple but poignant statement that captures how difficult it can be to objectively evaluate organizational needs, behaviors and attitudes. To ensure you have an accurate idea of what about your culture engages and motivates your people, you need to ask them. Not only will you likely learn a few things you weren’t expecting—you could actually improve engagement in the process: recent research revealed that employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five-times (4.6X) more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

To ensure you capture the perspectives of people in various work environments, find ways you can gather each of their perspectives. For example, consider leveraging a multi-touch feedback strategy that pulls insights from all-employee surveys that are supplemented with in-person focus groups for those who are co-located and virtual focus groups leveraging real-time feedback tools for those who are mobile workers (Menti is a personal favorite of ours).

2. Consider Revisiting or Refining Your Values: As you collect this information, you’ll likely see trends and consistencies emerge related to the behaviors that your people believe are core to your culture. They may be very similar to the values you use as guide posts for your people today. But they may be different, too. Perhaps in the wake of this challenging time employees have a new-found appreciation for behaviors like perseverance, adaptability or scrappiness. While you’ll want to be mindful of making too hasty of a change, the silver lining of this experience is that it has brought out some of the best in people as they’ve had to embrace uncertainty, rapid change and empathy. Now could be the perfect time to highlight those stories and unite people who have come through this experience stronger.

To ensure your people internalize your values, it’s important to find ways to help them connect those behaviors to their daily roles and responsibilities. Encouraging employees to submit video testimonials sharing stories of how they’ve lived these values is a great way to encourage workers in any location demonstrate their alignment to your culture. As an added bonus, it helps employees who may be working in very different environments see the core similarities between themselves and others, creating deeper levels of connection across the entire organization.

As we continue to navigate this time of unprecedented change for organizations, maintaining employee engagement and positive workplace cultures will continue to be top of mind. But just because work is being accomplished differently by some employees doesn’t necessarily mean that your approach to engagement and culture should change.

The two best practices we shared today will help ensure a solid foundation for your strategy but we have a lot more to share. Check out part two in the series in which we focus on the importance of communicating your culture and tips for how to do so effectively—no matter where your people are located.

Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.