How to keep company culture alive in the new world of work

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Can a company culture stay healthy if its workforce is rarely together? Yes, says entrepreneur Yurij Riphyak – in fact, it can thrive

What a difference a pandemic makes. In the space of just 18 months, some businesses have gone from booming to barely there, remote working has become de rigueur and the once unquestionable role of ‘the office’ in our working lives has been shaken up.

In the wake of Covid-19, many businesses are adopting a hybrid working model – largely in response to their employees’ preference for greater flexibility. Recent research from IWG, Spaces’ parent company, revealed that 83% of people would be more likely to apply for a job if it offered hybrid working, while 52% said they believed the hybrid approach made their working hours more manageable. 77% of respondents stated that, five years from now, they expected to spend no more than three days per week at the office.

In practice, hybrid working empowers employees to split their time between home, the corporate office and a third location, such as a flexible workspace. This locks in work-life balance benefits for staff, as well as offering benefits for businesses in terms of profitability (via reduced real estate costs) and environmental goals (through a reduction in daily commuting).

All in all, it’s little wonder that, according to a report from Forrester, 70% of US and EU companies are expected to adopt a hybrid approach, post-pandemic.

Culture matters

One notable challenge for business leaders, though, is how to keep company culture alive for a distributed workforce, many of whom might not see much of one another in real life.

According to Forbes, company culture isn’t the nebulous nonsense that cynics imagine. In fact, it can make a real difference to organisations in terms of their revenue growth, employee retention and net income.

Fortunately, according to entrepreneur Yurij Riphyak, hybrid working doesn’t have to be an obstacle to building and maintaining company culture. Bonding over shared values, inspiring teams to work smarter and instilling a sense of pride in your workforce are all still possible when people work remotely.

Select candidates carefully

Riphyak, co-founder and CEO of YouTeam, defines workplace culture as a set of “shared values”. He says that if companies look for candidates who already hold those values during the hiring process, keeping the culture alive will be easier in the new world of work.

Culture is not something that emerges because of the office through small talk or bumping into each other in the doorway,” he points out. “If you select people for their values, it shouldn’t matter whether they are going to work at the office or not.”

Riphyak adds: “Of course, a person has to have the necessary competence for their job. But when you are choosing between two people and you feel the person with less experience is a better fit in terms of values, I would choose the less experienced person.”

Lead by example

In any company culture – but perhaps especially those where the workforce is often remote – leaders should be authentic advocates for the firm’s values.

Riphyak says that, for those who manage teams or have responsibility for inspiring others, this begins with being honest about what they believe in – and whether they themselves are living the values they espouse.

“You need to understand that, sooner or later, if you don’t believe in what you are doing, that will show to others, no matter what kind of mission statements you formulate or what kind of posters you hang on the walls of the office,” Riphyak insists.

Stay abreast of change

Riphyak also suggests that, if a staff member no longer seems to share their company’s values anymore, leaders shouldn’t be afraid to bring this up with them.

In the event that the employee doesn’t welcome the discussion, their manager should consider making it clear to them that they might find more fulfilment in a different organisation.

He says: “If you don’t have the courage to tell them the truth, you are not living by your principles. They could be more successful elsewhere, and you are keeping them in an organisation where they have no future.”

Say no to micromanagement

Linked to honesty is trust – a feeling that’s key to building a positive organisational culture, especially where the workforce is distributed.

When leaders are used to having their teams close at hand, resisting the urge to check in on them can be difficult, but it’s important to understand that, for the worker, checking in soon begins to feel like checking up.

Riphyak says that building trust depends on promoting an environment without constant supervision or micromanagement: one where employees feel valued and relied upon, rather than scrutinised. Ultimately, this will result in better performance from individuals and more time for managers to focus on strategic tasks. It’s a win-win.

Don’t just manage – mentor

Riphyak explains that, as well as being a manager, anyone with a team to lead should focus on developing their mentoring skills.

Regular meetings, either virtually or in real life, are important to help troubleshoot and resolve problems. If possible, leaders could consider meeting team members at a local flexible workspace for an afternoon of coworking every few weeks. This way, they benefit from the reduced commute associated with remote working, but also get precious 1:1 face time.

Learning to listen well and understanding team members’ aspirations can also be key to keeping them motivated, says Riphyak. If your employees believe you want to help them achieve their career goals, they’re more likely to buy into broader workplace culture.

Make meaningful (professional) connections

The feeling of being part of a team – or of belonging to a company with a clear purpose – is as important for supporting and protecting culture as it is for staff wellbeing. So how can companies be sure to build a culture that everyone feels part of, no matter where they are based?

During periods of lockdown, many companies tried to boost team morale through virtual pub quizzes and drinks. However, Riphyak warns leaders against trying to force social events on staff as a means of forging connections.

While it’s nice if people get along, he says, you don’t have to be friends with your colleagues in order to live a shared set of values. He explains: “We want our colleagues to be professional, we want them to be honest, we want them to help us to trust them, and so on. It’s not really necessary to do anything beyond work. It is enough to be a good professional colleague.”

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