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How to Create a Thriving Culture in a Remote Workforce

It’s often said that people are the greatest asset in any business. And one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today is creating a thriving culture that attracts, engages and retains the best people. But how do you do that in our new hybrid work world, where connection and connectivity have become so inter-dependent?

Whether by choice or default, flexible work has officially shifted from a perk to an expectation. The Australian Government’s WGEA study found that 92% of employees now want flexibility in where and when they work, while the global EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey reported that 54% would consider leaving their jobs if they’re not afforded that flexibility. And whether they’ve embraced it or just relented, nine out of ten businesses are now committed to offering a combination of remote and on-site work.

Whether it’s the 60+ minutes per day we save on the work commute, the comfort of our old ugg’s or the domestic chores we can slot into our day, many have found plenty to like about remote working.

But isolation, burnout, a lack of spontaneous interaction and a feeling of disconnect are very real. We have a need for human connection like never before, and without the lunch dates and breakroom chats of the office environment, cultivating a good culture and a sense of belonging in a hybrid working environment is a huge challenge.

According to Andrew May, one of the world’s leading performance strategists, “work is no longer somewhere you go, it is something you do.” He believes that “with the massive change and disruption we’ve experienced, comes growth and opportunities to change working models, beliefs and ‘what we do around here.’”

It’s time to seize the opportunity to ‘remake’ your culture and double-down on the employee experience, putting concepts like purpose and connection at the top of the business agenda.

What’s so important about culture?

As renowned management consultant and author Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can have the greatest strategy in the world, but if culture isn’t a huge part of that strategy, your business is never going to succeed.  

Gold standard workplace culture provides job satisfaction, personal growth and fulfilment. It encompasses the way decisions are made, a sense of belonging and loyalty, reward and recognition, communication, staff behaviour and trust, and – when done right – gives businesses a competitive edge.

According to McKinsey research, companies with healthy cultures deliver three times greater total returns to shareholders. A good culture also helps attract and retain the best talent (companies with healthy cultures are 16 times more likely to retain their Gen Z employees) and, just as importantly, culture is the top predictor of workplace satisfaction. And happy workers are 13% more productive than unhappy ones.

So how do you go about creating a thriving culture in a remote workforce?

1. Provide purpose and clarity

A clearly articulated purpose is a powerful thing. According to Glassdoor’s Mission & Culture Survey, 79% of adults analyse a company’s purpose and mission before applying for a job, with over half of them ranking it as more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction. Employees are also five times more likely to be excited to work for a company that spends time reflecting on the impact it makes in the world.

The message is resonating with corporates too. According to PwC research, 79% of business leaders agree that their purpose is central to success going forward.

McKinsey research found that people who find purpose at work are healthier, more resilient and more likely to stay at the company. And when that purpose is aligned with their own, they’re more engaged and loyal, reporting work and life outcomes up to five times higher than those of their peers. As Author and social commentator Dan Gregory says, “leaders must align their WHY with the WHY’s of their people”.

But there’s no point having a wonderful purpose if leaders aren’t communicating it, and aren’t clear about how their team can help them achieve it. Stephen Covey created a clever analogy in his book, The 8th Habit. Based on research conducted with over 23,000 employees, he reported that if our organisations were 11-player soccer teams, 4 players knew which goal was theirs, only 2 actually cared which goal was theirs, 2 knew what position they played and 9 were competing against their own team members rather than the opponent. Nightmare.

Clarity helps others understand what they need to do, and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

2. Lead the way

Leadership pioneer Warren G. Bennis once said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”. 

In our hybrid work world, it’s more important than ever for leaders to develop a common vision and goal that enables team members to work together – especially while apart – to help make that vision a reality. They create a thriving culture by providing clarity and direction and then empowering their team members to make it happen.

LinkedIn Learning’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report revealed that communication across remote teams and emotional intelligence ranked as two of the most important skills required for today’s business leaders. Skills essential for creating the right culture with a fragmented workforce and fostering an environment of self-confidence and connection.

Today’s leaders need to be able to cultivate an atmosphere where employees feel that their work matters, that their contribution is valued and that they’re an essential part of the bigger picture. They need to really engage with their team, get to know each individual and what motivates them, create capacity and help them grow and succeed. Dan Gregory relates, saying “leaders must evoke a vivid picture of who you help them to be through the process of executing your strategy.”

Mindfulness and meditation coach Chelsea Pottenger also reminds us that “organisations are built by people. People who need motivation, care and compassion, and whose wellbeing should be as much of a business outcome as profits are.” Thankfully, they’re not mutually exclusive. PWC research shows that every dollar spent on creating a mentally healthy workplace can generate $2.30 in benefits to an organisation. Not a bad return on investment!

Today’s leaders know how to create a happy, healthy culture that’s as good for its people as it is for its bottom line.

3. Make connections count

A sense of belonging, of being part of a team, is one of the biggest benefits of a thriving work culture. But with fewer opportunities for organic social interaction and informal conversation, hybrid arrangements make connecting with co-workers much more of a challenge. Which means you need to make every connection count.

Organisations that prioritise connection reap the rewards when it comes to unifying a hybrid workforce. From building in time for social chats during virtual meetings and scheduling regular check-ins with colleagues, to virtual events, real-time file collaboration (thanks Google) and tech tools like Trello, Slack and Zoom to stay on track, there are plenty of ways to keep teams connected while out of the office.

A McKinsey survey found companies that reported an increase in ‘microtransactions’ – small connections between colleagues, such as opportunities to discuss projects, share ideas, network, mentor and coach – also enjoyed higher productivity. Connection improves engagement levels, and engaged employees are 17% more productive.

To give team culture a real boost, psychologist and best-selling author Dr Amantha Imber recommends building HQCs ‘High-Quality Connections’ (HCQ). HQC’s are shorter-term virtual or face-to-face interactions in which both people feel ‘lit up’ and energised by the connection.

HCQ techniques include: finding uncommon commonalities (you love Kung-Fu movies too? Amazing!), performing a 5-minute favour and asking better questions to get a more meaningful response. Amantha says that while they are extremely powerful, “the beauty of HQC’s is that they don’t require significant time – they can be as simple as a five-minute conversation with someone.”

US management guru Marvin Bower once defined corporate culture as ‘the way we do things around here’ – and, if you’re looking for success in a hybrid work world, it’s never been more important to do it right. While remote work presents some serious challenges, it also provides an incredible opportunity for businesses to remodel their culture into one that people are excited and proud to be a part of. And that’s a recipe for success – as Simon Sinek says, “customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”

So how do you create a thriving culture in a remote workforce? It’s a challenge being faced by businesses around the world, and we have some of the most knowledgeable minds in the game ready to share their unique insights. If you’d like us to introduce you to our experts, including Andrew May, Dan Gregory, Chelsea Pottenger, Dr Amantha Imber, Kieran Flanagan and Chris Helder, simply get in touch with us for a chat!