This is part three 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, and part two covered strategies for authentically communicating your culture to your people, no matter where they’re located.
Fun fact: There are more than 10,000 books on Amazon about virtual work. Yes, 10,000. Why’s that? Because it’s not easy.
Ensuring employees feel connected to co-workers and aligned with your culture when they’re separated is difficult.
Recently, Gartner’s Talent Angle podcast discussed how to lead virtual teams, and research they cited found that 41% of respondents surveyed don’t feel connected to colleagues when they work remotely and 26% feel flat-out isolated.
But here’s the deal: It’s hard for most people—mobile or co-located—to connect to their organization. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of employees in a recent survey reported not understanding their organization’s cultural goals and 90% openly admit that they don’t behave in ways that align with the cultural goals set by their leaders.
If you’ve established foundational cultural clarity and are consistently communicating it to your people but they aren’t actually acting in ways that align with your expectations, what can you do? In part three of our series, we’re delving in to just that: The strategies and tactics you can leverage to inspire actions aligned with your ideal culture for the long-term.
Human’s Evolving Need for Belonging
When employees say they don’t understand their organization’s culture, it’s not necessarily that it hasn’t been communicated to them. Rather, it’s highly possible they just haven’t internalized what that culture means regarding their own behaviors and, especially, how those behaviors support their own values.
The good news is, as a fundamental human need, people inherently want to connect with others, including their organization. That’s why people increasingly seek values-based relationships in an effort to reinforce their sense of social belonging while replacing the loss of former affiliations (e.g., think religious networks, extended families and social groups).
Often, this shift is discussed as a trend in consumerism where people choose which businesses to support based on the values the company projects in the market. But this trend is also influencing the employer/employee relationship as well. For example, in the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, 92% of employees surveyed felt it was important for the head of their organization to speak publicly on one or more of a variety of key social issues. All you have to do is imagine the workplace of 10─20 years ago (where those public statements were few and far between) to appreciate how much employee opinions have changed and how businesses have adjusted along with them.
The Role of Inclusivity
In response to this growing need for connection, employers are offering greater transparency on key issues at the leadership level as well as across the entire organization as efforts to increase inclusivity surge. And there’s a good business case for doing so.
Research shows when employees have a high sense of belonging at work they see a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk and a 75% reduction in sick days. They’re also 167% more likely to recommend their company to others.
Fostering an inclusive organization is one of the single most effective ways you can create more meaningful connection among your people—and alignment to your desired culture. By helping your employees see what they have in common with each other and with your brand, you reinforce those bonds.
How to Support Belonging & Inclusivity
There are a variety of tools and tactics to consider implementing that allow people to establish relationships while subtly also reinforcing key aspects of your culture. But don’t forget to tailor your approach based on work location – that will impact the success you achieve. Here are a few ideas:
- Raise awareness of (and encourage interaction about) personally meaningful moments. By offering a company newsfeed that shares (with permission) employee milestones like birthdays, anniversaries and role changes. For employees with regular technology access, this can be promoted via a shared platform. For others who may be co-located but not regularly accessing technology, consider promoting with signage in a common space like a breakroom.
- Highlight employee interests and enable others to seek out colleagues with similar passions. There are countless ways you can bring visibility to this, including creating special interest groups that encourage fun or work-related collaboration or by promoting individual employee profiles with self-generated content (similar to a social media profile) to raise awareness of commonality among employees. This idea works especially well for employees who are not co-located and may have a more difficult time meeting others without spontaneously connecting in workplace common areas.
- (Literally) bring people together. Employee events like town hall meetings and team celebrations inherently connect people (whether hosted physically or virtually) and provide a valuable opportunity to bring visibility to key company messages that reinforce your culture, vision, purpose and goals. While in-person events can be an easier way to ensure you have their attention, don’t write off the impact of virtual events. For example, gamifying meetings using a tool like Houseparty can add variety for smaller groups. Or, for a large gathering where you may want to add impact, consider mailing a supporting item or collateral to mobile-based employee locations.
Recognize Positive Behaviors
Once you’ve established mechanisms to support employee connection, it’s important to maintain momentum. The best way to do that is by recognizing the people who actively demonstrate the behaviors you’re looking to drive.
For example, if you know of an employee who is passionate about the people they’ve met through a special interest group, have them share a testimonial for others. Another idea you could try is collecting manager or peer recommendations for employees who are especially adept at living one of your values, and recognizing those individuals during a town hall meeting. With time, others in the organization who may be more reserved about participating will warm to the idea and you’ll finally see the behaviors you know are core to your cultural goals take root.
The ideas shared in this post will help you overcome the hurdle of translating your cultural vision in to action for your people. But your ultimate goal should be to ensure that those actions are consistent and long-standing. To learn more about how to reinforce your culture—ongoing, for all types of employees—check out the final article in our series.
For now, check out this story about how we helped one client align and recognize front-line employees who, while co-located, are rarely in front of computers and required a unique approach to engage them.