In my company, which has always been a strong advocate for working from home, we have substantially influenced our culture and slowly made most elements compatible for work within this system.
With COVID-19 forcing many physical business locations and offices to close their doors and teams to keep their distance, most established local as well as international businesses are practicing or considering remote work as their primary alternative. Company culture influences every aspect of any organization, and that is no different in the case of remote work.
Building around a millennial culture, it is important to practice empathy from multiple perspectives while keeping track of the authoritative side of things, making sure that the backbone of your culture stays undistorted, regardless of the way of working.
As working from home becomes more popular, it's important not to lose sight of the direction the culture is growing in and of maintaining it as if it was the most precious piece of beliefs, which it is.
Maintaining a culture is like maintaining the soul of your organization – a cumulation of all its beliefs and practices and those of its people. Put together, these elements make your company immune to what a non-culture organization would call fatal. Stuff like "clashes in beliefs" are replaced by an appreciation of perspectives.
While culture is essential, maintaining it without meeting with your staff even once a month is a different level of challenge – and challenges are the most integral and enjoyable part of business overall.
We have been practicing remote work for more than 70% of our workforce since 2018 across all our investments, ventures and projects. This has taught us five main things.
1. Emphasize productivity over actual hours worked.
If you emphasize productivity rather than holding daily meetings to make sure an employee is putting in the time, you'll see much higher results than what a rigid eight-hour shift would yield. Changing this focus is important, as it helps motivate the employee to overperform. It builds a culture of trust and understanding, unlike a conventional culture of supervision, which embraces fear rather than motivation.
This also puts employees in charge of their own productivity, depending on the day. Greater freedom and flexibility in their hours allows them to manage their time based on the time and effort a task requires. Saving lesser tasks for last opens up more space in the day for the employee without decreasing productivity. In return, it increases employees' loyalty and dedication to your business when they have the freedom to balance their work and life. They'll be more likely to contribute to the overall growth of the company rather than just what is required of them, because of the mutually developed relationship of trust. This works on both sides of the work-from-home system by enabling more productivity for the business and more freedom and convenience with their work hours for the employee.
2. Find good communication software.
Although conventional WhatsApp groups are fine, you need something more robust and better connected when your whole team is working from home. In addition to a good messaging platform like Slack and video conferencing software like Zoom, I recommend using Notion or similar document management software to share documents, edit them together, and manage all the complexities without back-and-forth emails. The internet has enabled multiple ways to improve efficiency and multiply productivity. Specifically in a work-from-home setup, these tools hold massive value. For any task that takes more time in communication than analysis or implementation, it is a good idea to put in the extra investment for better tech.
You might be surprised to learn the extremely reasonable costs for communication software, especially on a subscription model. You pay as you go, with no large one-time expense, and can renew if you find it's the right fit. These programs often even have free trials. This gives you the flexibility to find the right tool for your exact needs.
Look for tools with substantial user bases and solid customer reviews, just to make sure the security of the data and the performance of the software is good enough and that the program won't suddenly disappear. If you find an efficient communication tool that gives you a fantastic ROI in terms of time saved, you will see massive growth in productivity, especially in a work-from-home model where a lack of communication may create friction.
Reducing this friction will also make your team feel more motivated, preventing the boredom of slow communication and allowing them to perform more efficiently. Your team will be pleased to see that you are making the extra financial effort to increase their convenience.
3. Don't force a certain schedule.
Some of our best employees were the ones who were never close to being the best when working during the day. As mentioned in our first point, flexibility of hours is possible when you focus on tasks accomplished and could help employees attain much higher efficiency. Everyone has different productive hours, so use that to your advantage. As business owners, we often prescribe certain work hours without knowing the individual well enough. This negatively impacts productivity, motivation and focus.
Instead, if your trade allows, let them choose their work hours. A good way to start is by giving them deadlines and letting them decide how they need to meet them, rather than giving them a schedule and deciding it for them.
4. Trust your team.
At my company, we love our team; they are amazing human beings. We always try to treat everyone who is part of our team as nothing less than family, and they reciprocate. Do not try to act like a boss, but a friend – the results are stunning.
When your whole team works from home, building a culture around trust is integral. A supervising culture fails in this setup and, for that matter, in most modern setups. Instead, try trusting your employees; you won't be dissatisfied. They are human beings, with responsibilities and needs outside of the business, and you shouldn't perceive that as a lack of loyalty toward the organization. If you just trust them to do their part for the company, you might be surprised to see how many of them go the extra mile for your business and your customers, which makes your customers trust you in turn. Do not try to overpower them through hierarchy; try to build trust and show it. The benefits will be evident in practically no time. Remember, trust is a two-way street, so maintain it.
5. Let everyone know the 'why' of the company.
A huge part of a company's culture is the mission. Everyone in the organization should know what it is and be able to leverage it even within their own lives.
A handy way to make sure everyone on the team knows and believes in the "why" of your company is to involve everyone in major decisions, keeping the framework of decisions closely aligned with the mission. [Read related article:
The "why" should define everything the company does in simple words so that, even when your employees work in different time zones, in different place and on different tasks, their knowledge of the mission influences whatever they do.
I hope these principles will help you build a great work-from-home culture and reach new heights, as they did for us. Company culture has always been a priority for us, just as much as trade, impacting all aspects of the business. A company is only as strong as it people, and its people are as strong as the culture that binds them together.
Times like these are when businesses face the real challenges, but challenges are necessary, as they often call for progress. The decision to take care of your employees and raise up your culture will pave the way forward for all your people and you as a leader.
Culture is as important as buying, selling or communicating. It should never be thought of as secondary or neglected, especially not now. Build a culture you can be proud of and maintain it everywhere within your organization, even if a physical office does not exist.
If you're looking for more advice and resources on working from home or other challenges amidst the pandemic, visit business.com's page of COVID-19 business resources.