6 culture plays for better remote work

culture plays alfred-rowe

(Image: Alfred Rowe)

We’re all feeling it – the sudden shift to mostly remote work can cause some friction in your culture. That is, the way you did things in your organization when everyone was in the office may not work as well (or at least not work as planned) now that everyone is doing their work from home and in different locations.

For our new report, Culture Plays for Better Remote Work, we analyzed our database of over 400 action items that our clients have developed over the years in their culture work (we refer to them as “plays” in a playbook), and narrowed the list to find actions that were relatively easy to implement and could generate improvements quickly.

Here are six categories of plays that you might want to implement to help reduce the friction, and an example of each, excerpted from our full report.

1. Celebrate community. 

People are feeling the lack of human connection, so implement some new ways to celebrate successes and have fun and connect as a community. For example:

  • Expanded one-on-one meetings. In the remote work environment, a lot of our conversations are strictly transactional, so set aside time for deeper conversations where the agenda is less tightly focused. This can also be used to help gain more cross-functional awareness if you can schedule one-on-one meetings to learn what other parts of the organization are working on.

2. Increase passive transparency. 

It was easier to have a sense of what is happening, and what people are doing, when you were in the office, noticing conversations that are mostly in the background. Find ways to increase that “passive transparency” both within and across teams in the virtual environment. For example:

  • Knowing who’s talking to whom. Evaluate the use of your online calendar and see if there is a way to make it more visible to everyone what meetings people are in. If necessary, train people in how to use the calendar and hold people accountable for using it.

3. Share more from the top.

Part of the anxiety in a newly remote environment is the feeling that you don’t know what’s going on, and this makes top-down communication even more important right now. Find ways to increase the amount of information that is flowing from top to bottom. For example:

  • All-hands meetings / Town halls. Even if you’re already doing this, you may want to increase the frequency. You can rotate the kinds of information to be shared (strategic, operational, etc.), but people want information from the top. (Bonus points if you have pizza delivered to all staff people simultaneously during the all-hands, as SHRM’s CEO did).

4. Gather more from all over.

In a remote environment, spontaneous sharing of information does not happen as much, so you might want to create some formal (but easy) processes to ensure that ideas continue to flow either up the hierarchy or across the organization. For example:

  • Sharing ideas. This could include implementing a “virtual suggestion box” to allow everyone to share ideas (and even better – find a way to have people vote on them), but it could just as easily be a periodically scheduled “brainstorming” meeting where people are free to suggest anything.

5. Clarify and adapt your processes.

While everyone may originally have had a good sense of “how we do things,” that might need to be clarified now that you’re in a remote environment, and some of it might need to change. For example:

  • How you run your meetings. Not being in the office seems to be translating to even more meetings, so you may need to create some standards (agendas, notes taken, action items listed, follow up communications, etc.).

6. Handle your difficult conversations.

Giving feedback, dealing with conflict, and other difficult conversations are typically made even more challenging when you can’t meet face-to-face, so consider some training, coaching, or other education on these important topics. For example:

  • Training. Offer internal webinars or online training programs on negotiation, conflict resolution, or giving and receiving feedback for staff.

This list is just the start. Find more recommendations for each category in the full report, and get in touch with Human Workplaces for advice and help on what’s top of mind for you during these challenging times.

Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter are authors, consultants, and the founders of workplace culture consulting firm Human Workplaces.

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