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The way we work took a sudden shift earlier last year. Almost overnight, culture changed and has become more important than ever in the remote and hybrid working environment many companies and employees now find themselves in. It determines engagement, motivation, how colleagues communicate and collaborate virtually and thrive. Without a strong culture, business agility and innovation are hampered, standing in the way of effective customer service and business success. But what should a strong company culture look like and how can it be sustained remotely?

Components of a successful culture
Every organisations’ culture is unique, reflecting the shared values and beliefs, behaviours and practices that make up the organisational identity, aligned behind the corporate vision and priorities. All successful company cultures will have several traits in common: trust/integrity, communication transparency, diversity, fairness and respect, agility, and customer centricity.

Trust based leadership and employee empowerment
The employer-employee relationship is at the heart of a healthy company culture and employee satisfaction. Highly engaged employees and teams show 21% greater profitability according to research by Gallup. To build these relationships, business leaders must enable employees to do their jobs well and demonstrate that they trust them to deliver results, moving away from micro-management and instead providing them with the space and resources that will empower them to deliver and be creative. Giving employees autonomy is a key way leaders can demonstrate their values to staff and ensure agile performance, this also comes with accountability for the expected results.

Leadership transparency
Leaders must also earn their employees’ trust in return, ensuring they demonstrate their integrity, and remain regularly visible and transparent in their decision making. For example, by establishing an open dialogue forum (“Ask Me Anything”) whereby employees can ask questions about the business, including how it is performing. This generates a culture of openness and inclusion and ensures employees can actually see and understand how their work aligns to outcomes and company results.

Agility and responsiveness to business and customer needs
In the current, ever-changing business climate, arming employees with business insights is vital to enabling them to react to change. That being said, achieving true business agility goes beyond information sharing. It is rooted in building a culture that expects, encourages, and enables employees to pivot to business and customer needs. Facilitating collaboration is central to this. It enables employees to proactively work together to identify opportunities for improvement, and find innovative solutions, before they are even tasked with the job.

Creating and maintaining culture
In today’s world, a culture centered around agility and trust is paramount to business success. However, identifying these as key components is only the first step in achieving a strong company culture. Organisations must also actively strategise on how they can create and maintain a culture focused on these values. Here are three fundamental factors:

Define, communicate, and embed company values into daily operations
The first step in building the company culture you desire is clearly defining all of its aspects, i.e. its identity. For example, at Riverbed, our core values extend beyond agility and trust to include delighting our customers, making an impact, and giving back to the community. Once you are clear on your top cultural priorities, these should be communicated to candidates and employees at every opportunity, and every employee should be talking about and sharing their experience of the culture at work. The shift towards more remote working need not change this – values can still be communicated effectively during recruitment interviews, new hire welcomes, team and regional meetings and all company meetings. By reminding staff of your collective values and encouraging them to share their experiences, you can embed them into the foundation of how all work within the business, and with customers, is carried out.

Invest in the right tools to facilitate exceptional collaboration
Bringing employees together through shared values goes a long way in creating a sense of a ‘team’ and encourages collaboration. However, it is essential that organisations also invest in tools that make it easy for everyone to work together. Remote working resulted in the loss of the all-important water cooler conversation; informal work discussions where these unplanned conversations and sharing of information can lead to unexpected ideas. As the remote working or the ‘work from anywhere’ model continues, it is important that businesses encourage a ‘virtual’ version of these casual conversations; for example, through the use of Slack or WhatsApp to recreate the adhoc chatter. By prioritising collaboration and investing in the right tools to facilitate these conversations, it will be significantly easier for employees to work together and for the business to drive an inclusive culture. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of wellbeing initiatives
Promoting informal conversations between colleagues is a small but important way to boost human-interaction which supports employee mental health whilst working remotely. A top consideration given 46 percent of UK workers have reported feeling lonely during lockdown, according to Totaljobs. However, this must form part of a much wider health and wellbeing strategy, specifically designed to support remote workers. A strategy that considers the increasingly blurred lines between home and work, and the pressure employees may feel to be ever-visible online. Consequently, companies should consider advising employees to set up work and personal zones, encourage and educate on mindfulness activities to help staff learn how to unwind and switch off. This will help to create a compassionate culture in which staff know their employer invests in their wellbeing. 

Preserving a strong company culture
A strong company culture, founded on trust, agility, and collaboration, and maintained through communication and technological investment, can help you get the most out of your remote working employees. But culture is also about preserving employee health and happiness, and therefore investing in wellbeing initiatives must be a priority. Ultimately, a combination of these factors will help to drive the aptitude of individual employees as well as the long-term success of the organisation as a whole.

    Kim Coombs is Senior Director HR Talent EMEA at Riverbed Technology

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