Culture article originally published on Entrepreneur.com.
Culture is how things get done in an organization. That’s why it’s critically important to get right. More entrepreneurs are realizing this and making great strides in building high-performance cultures. They’re finding it’s easier to manage for the culture you want when most of your employees are in one place.
All the flexibility in today’s business structures poses some unique challenges. What about your dispersed employees working in the field, at home and in satellite offices? How can you keep them engaged?
Not surprisingly, instilling corporate culture in employees outside headquarters requires a blend of high-tech communication and personal interaction.
1. Use technology.
Technology is a convenient way to continuously emphasize culture and corporate vision. Both are crucial to get your entire team on the same page. Technology also is a means to encourage employees to collaborate across distances and organizational boundaries. Video, email, conference calls, instant messaging, collaboration software and other technologies are necessary tools in your arsenal.
Phil Nardone, president and CEO of integrated marketing and PR agency PAN Communications, recommends several technologies to keep remote workers involved in the culture.
“We are living in a virtual age where face-to-face communication can occur anywhere at any time, with tools like Zoom and Skype for Business making it easier and faster to form trusting relationships with coworkers,” Nardone says. “In a cross-office environment, use virtual staff meetings to announce prevalent company information to everyone at once and utilize communication dashboards such as Namely (the HR platform), for daily updates. At PAN, our weekly happy hours are hosted via videoconferencing tools, and employees stay connected by sharing the PAN Snapchat password to snap daily happenings in our office locations.”
Gene Austin, CEO of Bazaarvoice, also uses videoconferencing to unite global employees across his smart network of consumers, brands and retailers.
“We utilize videoconferencing technology on a daily basis, and not just for day-to-day meetings with our remote colleagues,” Austin says. “We host a global staff meeting for the entire company every other week that all of our remote offices access via video technology. We extend many of our company traditions beyond our headquarters as well. For example, during these staff meetings, we highlight major workplace successes, introduce new hires at every office location and celebrate milestone anniversaries over video.”
2. Get face to face.
While technology is indispensable, there’s no substitute for in-person interactions. Taking the time to travel to employee offices for face-to-face meetings can build credibility, camaraderie and engagement.
Shawn Jenkins, CEO of cloud-based benefits management software Benefitfocus, leads personal-culture sessions each year with his staff. “We did a summer of culture last year. We had over 40 meetings in different offices in groups of 40 to 50 people, max. We just talked about culture like a family. You could do that in one big video or a speech at a conference, but I find even if it takes you 40 meetings versus 1, that personal interaction helps me learn and listen and see what’s important.”
You also can manage by walking around. It’s a great way to get to know your employees, hear their ideas and learn about small issues before they escalate and become bigger ones. People want to like their leaders, but they can do that only if they have some personal connection. Spending time with your employees in informal settings will do much to drive this connection.
Bazaarvoice CEO Austin stresses the entire leadership team must be available and visible to the whole company. His executive team goes on an annual “road show,” traveling to each location to share business updates and answer employee questions.
3. Write often.
Sharing your thoughts in writing is another way to align the team with your vision and build trust. Benefitfocus CEO Jenkins writes regular emails and blogs for his employee audience. Social media can be an outlet, as well. A quick Twitter tweet or Facebook post can help employees feel more informed in an immediate and up-to-date fashion.
In the article, “Why CEOs Need Social Media,” global communications marketing firm Edelman recommends four types of content: posts on company culture; employee spotlights and profiles; personal aspects of your life; and industry insights and advice.
Culture is a social construct, not a process that can be engineered or a spreadsheet that can be analyzed. It takes a lot of work, but actively reinforcing culture among your remote employees builds a more connected and productive team.