COVID-19 has transformed much about the world, but it hasn’t shifted the need for your business to have a strong, resilient, and positive work culture. As businesses grapple with new pressures to embrace remote work, the challenge is how to continue to foster a sense of collaboration and camaraderie between employees, even when separated geographically.
Any effective leader can tell you that truly meaningful work doesn’t get done in isolation – it’s the product of multiple specialists sharing perspectives, expertise, and ideas. Reckoning with this fact in a new working environment means reprioritising work culture like never before, looking for innovative ways to reinforce it across your workforce.
This work is as challenging as it is essential. To help your organisation begin the process of building a thriving culture in a mixed or remote workforce, we spoke with Liferay’s General Manager of Australia and New Zealand, Calvin Lynch, to gain an understanding of what this new normal demands from us as leaders.
Where Culture Fits In
Key to building a strong workplace culture is the right set of values. Your values are the principles that drive your business, and your culture can be seen as those values in action, showing customers and partners how your team lives those values in their day-to-day work.
While a shift to remote work will demand a lot of change from any business, it shouldn’t force a transformation of your values. For Calvin, values are a company’s North Star – a universal set of beliefs that underpin everything you do.
“I feel company values, if done right, are not just a sheet that sits on the wall or above somebody's desk or something that's spoken about once a year. They're things, again, that you hire for, reinforce, and then recognise and reward within a business,” he said.
“My personal opinion and my observations have been that where you have your culture and company values set right, it doesn't really matter where employees work.”
1. Hiring for Culture
For culture to truly deliver value to your business, it needs to be a part of everything your organisation is and does. Understanding the levers you have available for driving cultural change is absolutely essential, and while many things can change your culture, few have as significant an impact as hiring.
Simply put, people make your culture. While the physical location of where those people work may change, ensuring you have the right people onside can ensure that even a fully remote workforce has a terrific culture. As such, Calvin stresses that by hiring the right people with the right values at the right time, your business can begin to engineer a positive, uplifting, and productivity-boosting culture.
“At Liferay, we hire for values. You can find skills quite easily on a market, but finding people with those skills that also hold similar values to those your organisation deems as important is a smaller pool,” he said.
Crucial in all of this is ensuring that the people responsible for building your culture understand it themselves. Of 120 hiring managers at top performing financial, legal, and consulting firms, more than four out of five said cultural fit was essential in a new hire, but only half admitted to having a clear idea of what their organisational culture is. For Calvin, this means ensuring that people involved in the hiring process have a sense of ownership of the culture, understanding their role in enabling it.
“Not only do you communicate values in the interview process, you test for them. And so my leaders, they all have roles whereby they'll test for certain traits in the interview process as the owner of a certain value,” he said.
“Once you've then hired for those traits, then during onboarding, again, there needs to be a common theme of reinforcing why those values are important.”
2. Promote Your Cultural Champions
While hiring the right people is a good start, ensuring values alignment requires constant work on the part of leadership. Values must be lived to have value and for Calvin, onboarding and performance management provide opportunities to reinforce the importance of what the company finds critical.
“Once they're in the business, I find one of the best ways to communicate values is not just weighing up a quarterly business review, but also rewarding around those values – and rewarding publicly for them,” he said.
“So when we look to promote people, especially to leadership, we ask do they hold all the values that we hold dear as a company? Do they embody them? And because of that, do they multiply those values across the organisation?”
The power of this approach is that it works anywhere. By building culture into the entire employee lifecycle, your team is continuously and passively reminded of the values that underpin the organisation, helping to ensure alignment with the company’s mission whether they’re working from the office, from home, or on-site at a client.
3. The Importance of Checking In
Leaders are the drivers and custodians of your business’ culture and as such need to take a varied and multi-faceted role in its creation and growth. While modelling desired behaviour has long been understood to be a core part of change management, a leader’s role must extend further than this.
As the architects of any kind of cultural shift, leaders need to be in touch with how staff are faring. Engagement scores and feedback provide a strong point of reference but in a workplace where it’s not always possible to drop by for a quick, deskside chat, gathering this data can be difficult. Additionally, that kind of informal communication is essential to employee happiness, meaning that by removing it from the workplace you can lose not only a vital metric but also a way to improve it.
While remote work has presented challenges around employee engagement, a considered approach can mitigate many of the complications. For Calvin, part of this is ensuring that when you are communicating with your employees, you’re offering them alternative outlets and avenues to help support organisational culture.
“If you don't have those over the coffee chats, then maybe the solution is just to allow room for more of those interpersonal chats that can often be cut out of meetings for the sake of brevity and efficiency,” he said.
“Just sitting down and asking 'how are you?' or 'what's going on in your life?', these questions become more important when we're remote, because previously we may have jumped straight into an agenda because attendees may have had a chance to chat in the kitchen, around somebody's desk, or downstairs for a coffee.”
4. Keeping Your Finger on the Pulse
Culture is built and maintained at every level of the business, in every department between every worker. As such, it’s important for leaders to reach outside their own silos and take the temperature of the broader organisation. It’s here that smart technological solutions have a role. For Calvin and Liferay, that means regular questionnaires to understand how the business is trending.
“We do a weekly survey of five different questions around values and engagement: Do you feel satisfied in your work? Are we doing well or falling behind on work-life balance? Is leadership embodying our values?” he said.
“It's a five-minute exercise, but over the course of 52 weeks in a year, you get a lot of data back. That's really important for us, just having the ability for employees to have a voice on a frequent basis that makes its way back all the way to the senior leadership team.”
Data has to be analysed to be useful, so Calvin and the team make the time to sit with the information they’ve gathered on a regular basis to inform future decision-making.
“On a quarterly and sometimes even a monthly basis, we'll check if there has been a significant delta in one area or another,” he said.
“For example, let’s take work-life balance. If we’ve identified this as a challenge, we’ll try and get some feedback directly from the team and sit down with a select few individuals cross-functionally."
“Has it just been a peak, whereby maybe we brought on several new customers and it's a short-term issue? Or is it something more systemic, whereby a change in the market conditions has meant that our employees need to work harder for the same result? In which case, do we need to build in some kind of processes to better support them?”
This kind of regular checking in ensures that the team at Liferay is consistently on top of shifts in culture as they happen, allowing them more control over the end result.
Start Building the Culture Your Remote Workforce Needs
A good culture is an essential part of any workforce, wherever they find themselves. The best time to start building the culture your team needs is always right now, so begin the process today and reap the rewards sooner. As with any organisational change, the first step is to understand your options, your circumstances, and your challenges. Find out how a modern intranet can help you build an environment of communication and collaboration.