One uniting factor of the COVID-19 pandemic is our shared experience. Most of us are now working from home. Our everyday lives have been turned upside down as we adjust to the challenges of a widespread remote workforce.
Our dining room tables are now office spaces and craft stations, we’re simultaneously trying to keep operations running while dealing with a long-term stay at home order, and there’s limited availability of items we took for granted.
There are a lot of unknowns, and the information that is known changes daily. Yes, people are stressed because of the actual pandemic, but it’s the stress resulting from drastic lifestyle changes and disrupted work routines that is challenging business leaders. Department heads and executive team members are working to determine the best approach for maintaining a strong company culture across their specific organization.
In this post, we will cover a few ways you can use technology to strengthen your company culture and establish more efficient and meaningful communication habits across your team. Your goal should be to keep people connected and creative. This means the technology tools you choose should be based on how and why you communicate the way you do, as well as offer opportunities to improve your team’s ability to collaborate productively.
The products and features mentioned in the following sections are great for many organizations, but not for all. You should always consult with your Technology Solutions Partner or Chief Information Officer (CIO) before deciding to adopt a new technology.
Connect Your People to Your Company Culture
In a time when we are physically disconnected from our family, friends, and peers, it’s more important than ever to use a digital connection to foster emotional relationships. This is true on both a personal and a professional level.
We are all working to adjust our daily habits and routines. There are a variety of new disruptions and distractions that change where, how, and when we work.
“This a unique time. We are all experiencing virtual windows into the private lives of the people we spend so much of our time with, but often know very little about. Instead of looking at these new distractions as a challenge, try embracing them as an opportunity to learn more about your staff and peers.”
The more you understand about the people you manage and work with, the more you can help them through this transition. By communicating and collaborating in ways that both set reasonable expectations and accommodate your team’s lifestyle, you can help everyone be more productive and happier long-term.
The extent to which we rely on digital means to communicate with our coworkers, customers, and supervisors has changed for the foreseeable future. So, given these new parameters for working and developing our relationships, there are likely expectations you need to revisit, not only with your team, but with yourself.
Assess and Adjust Your Own Habits and Expectations
While technology can be a relentless distractor, it can also be molded to your specific habits and tendencies in a way that makes you more productive as an individual, and with your team. As you read through the following sections, think about your own bad habits, preferences, and patterns of productivity. Then, see how you can either adjust or support expectations around how, when, why, and with whom you communicate to get things done.
You may even find some processes to be broken and replace them all together using automated workflows and streamlined, group communication channels. Here are a few things you should consider as you get started:
- Who are the top 5 people you communicate with every day?
- How often do you talk with them?
- What methods do you use to communicate?
- What technology tools do you both use to accomplish and communicate regarding shared tasks?
- What issues do you have communicating with each party?
These are just a few of the questions you should be asking yourself as you determine how to best communicate with your team and peers moving forward. If you have an Office 365 subscription, you can use Microsoft’s MyAnalytics to access real-time productivity reports and recommendations to get an objective perception of your work habits. The intuitive dashboard visually highlights patterns around how you use and collaborate within Office 365 to get work done.
Watch this short demo to learn more about Microsoft’s MyAnalytics tool.
Balance Structure and Creativity
You have likely already seen the screenshots of Zoom-hosted happy hours and the infamous Microsoft Teams potato-head-boss.
These are great examples of using technology for human connection, but they don’t address a key part of that relationship: structure. Yes, structure has been blamed for staunching creativity, but structure also establishes expectations around communication, accountability, and self-care. And, with the absence of our every-day habit routines, most of us probably need a little guidance as we prepare for the reality of a long-term stay-at-home culture.
As you and your team adjust to working remotely, the following sections address how you can maintain a connected and collaborative work culture by leveraging the right technology and features for your people.
Facilitate Frequent Communication
What’s the best way to establish structure across a remote workforce and maintain a strong, positive company culture? Communication.
Frequent and clear communication is important even when you’re in the office. But when everyone has huddled away in their homes with the distractions of family, pets, chores, social media, etc., the quality of your everyday communication is even more crucial for both the wellbeing of the company and the employees.
We have witnessed the importance of high-touch, meaningful communication several times throughout our experience with natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. What separates authentic leaders from the rest is their focus on the well-being of those that work for and with them. If you’re an employee of an organization, how the leadership team handles a high-stress situation like COVID-19 can make or break the company culture. Something as simple as a quick check in from the company President or department director can go miles in maintaining, if not building, strong relationships with your staff. By putting time and effort into not only showing, but actually caring about your employees now, you’re likely to avoid future resignations and issues with employee morale and buy-in.
You can use applications like Microsoft Teams to host online video conference meetings, jump on a quick screen share call to train a new employee, instantly chat with your department’s staff all at once, and more. Other popular chat and video conferencing apps are:
- Google Hangouts
- Employee Facebook pages and LinkedIn Groups
- Teams channels for group chats
Set Clear Expectations for Communication Intent and Cadence
As employees establish their new work habits, this is the most important time to be clear about the expectations within your team, department, and company as a whole. By being proactive, intentional, and transparent about your own experience and expectations, your staff is more likely to voluntarily adopt healthy, productive habits before they are settled in their ways. Sheryl Lyons has worked with a number of leaders to help them adjust their style of communication and collaboration to positively promote accountability and motivate their staff.
“Leaders’ behaviors often get in their own way. Top leadership must be self-aware and humble enough to identify those behaviors that cause dysfunction and be brave enough to work toward correcting those behaviors.” – Sheryl Lyons, Culture Spark
Here are some of the common communication processes you should review and adjust:
- Task progress and workflow transitions
- Document collaboration and approvals
- File management and sharing
- Meeting prep and review
- Urgent updates
- Goals and initiatives
- Team wins and losses
- Employee performance reviews and feedback
How you communicate carries an emotional message in itself; one you may not even know you’re sending. It’s important to check frustration at the door and use clear instructions around collaboration and standard processes when connecting with your team. Clarity and direction will help you overcome productivity roadblocks, whether they be technology or human-centric.
Help your team stay productive and connected as they transition to a remote work lifestyle by sharing our infographic: The Essential Guide to Working from Home.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on business continuity planning and working remotely. Even if you had a business continuity plan in place, most of us were not planning for this kind of business disruption. We understand this is a difficult time for everyone. Our IT support services can help you determine your next steps.
As we move forward and confront COVID-19 head on, Sheryl Lyons wants business leaders and their employees to remember, “In times of crises, our true character and values are revealed. Ensure that your practices reflect your values and your team will come out of this stronger than ever.”
About Sheryl Lyons, President and Founder of Culture Spark, LLC
Sheryl Lyons is a business leader, consultant, and certified master coach with a passion for building vibrant workplace cultures that positively impact company performance.
Culture Spark helps leaders build culture as competitive advantage. We help leaders improve their business performance by deliberately constructing a culture of purpose, clarification, leadership and accountability. Culture Spark’s programs bridge the gap between a company’s promise to its customers and its employees’ ability to deliver on that promise.