It started as a giant experiment, albeit one borne of necessity.
When the coronavirus began sweeping the nation in March, companies had to act quickly and pivot to an entirely remote workplace. It was a new concept for most, given that until then, just 7% of employees across the nation regularly worked from home, according to a Pew Research Center report based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
All in all, the transition has been successful, with Mercer reporting that 83% of the nearly 800 U.S. companies interviewed in a recent survey are now considering making a flexible workplace a bigger part of their plans moving forward.
But that same study also revealed some obstacles: Two-thirds of corporate leaders and managers believe managing a flexible workforce will be a challenge moving forward; more than half think maintaining the culture will be a challenge; and 42% expressed concern about applying consistent flexible work arrangements across their companies.
These concerns are valid, and they require a thoughtful approach, considering that remote work is the way of the future—at least for now.
When I founded Duffy Group in the early 1990s, I was among the first in the nation to innovate and lead an entirely remote workforce. For me, the idea was based on an understanding of what it is like to juggle roles as an executive, a wife, and the primary caregiver of the family.
I wanted to create a company with an unparalleled commitment to work/life balance. Hiring like-minded individuals who are the best in the business but need a flexible work environment has been a cornerstone of our success.
Of course, shifting to a hybrid or an entirely remote environment is no small task. Whether you are a recruiter guiding clients on doing business in our new normal or an HR leader driving a cultural change based on the effects of the global pandemic, there are some simple things you can do to maintain a high-performing culture, whether your employees are in the office or working from home.
Drive Home the Core Values
At some companies, you can get a sense of the culture from the minute you walk through the door. A virtual workplace changes this dynamic, but it’s not impossible to maintain an environment where core values lead the way.
The key is for everyone from company leaders to line employees to live those values at every touch point. If your firm is all about transparency, then illustrate that in meetings and through open conversations with team members. If diversity and inclusion are your company’s north stars, share key workforce statistics, highlight new hires, and enlist diverse voices to lead companywide meetings.
Bring Out the ‘Intrepreneur’
Instead of arming your team members to do the job at hand, inspire them to marshal their talents in ways that make them entrepreneurs—or, as we say at our company, “intrepreneurs.”
Adapt your training programs to groom employees for positions of greater success. Carve out individual pathways for leadership development, and create processes to keep staff members laser-focused on the company’s business goals. Include coach-facilitated assessments, one-on-one sessions, leadership forums, and other training that identifies natural leaders and enhances collaboration, teamwork, and communication among departments and the entire company workforce.
Build a Solid Support System
Popping into the office of a teammate can be the elixir for a tough day. But that support doesn’t have to stop because an employee is working from home. On the contrary, taking a personal approach to managing and mentoring others could be one of the best approaches to fortifying your company’s culture.
Make sure employees know the company’s leadership is there for support, and consider setting up a buddy system among staff interested in ongoing mentoring. Reward workers who go above and beyond the call of duty with weekly “shout-outs,” and consider keeping them engaged with periodic contests.
At Duffy Group, we partnered with UnitedHealthcare on a contest that not only rallied employees around wellness but also helped several employees collectively lose a life-changing 47 pounds.
The best, most engaged employees know the state of their company’s business and their role in making the magic happen. Managers play a critical role in this endeavor by communicating consistently and frequently with their teams.
As such, schedule standing one-on-one touch-base calls just as you would schedule in-office meetings. Check in with team members at other unexpected times to recognize a job well done and ensure they have the resources they need to continue to be successful. And when there is an underperforming area of the business? In these instances, consider addressing the problem by asking, “How can I help?”
While your employees may be scattered among many different locations, that doesn’t mean you can’t unite them around a common goal. Community service is a terrific way to underscore the company’s value by giving back to causes that are meaningful to employees. Organize online charity drives, and consider bringing your team together for a monthly community service day.
These best practices can help your company or clients adapt to a changing workplace with engaged employees, high productivity, and low turnover.
Kathleen Duffy is president and CEO of Duffy Group, Inc., which sources and recruits candidates in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Europe, and Asia.