WFH Culture: HR’s Guide to Building Culture Beyond the Office


The pandemic is beginning to subside as mask mandates are withdrawn and the number of vaccinated people steadily rises. But as HR experts have long predicted, things will not simply go back to the way that they were. Remote work is here to stay as are some of the ways we do business, leaving many to wonder what comes next for culture.

The shift to a hybrid or fully remote workplace is something many companies are considering or are rolling out following the experiences they had during COVID-19. As they look to do it, they’ll want to build on the organizational trust they’ve accrued over the last year while overseeing a smooth transition to whatever comes next.

Part of that smooth transition is finding or maintaining the organization’s cultural footing, but how do you do that? In this guide, we will attempt to answer that question and develop an understanding of which elements of culture translate well into the virtual environment and which ones don’t.

An Onboarding Approach

Whether team members have been around a long time or their brand new, taking an onboarding approach to implementing new ways of working and systems is helpful in level setting expectations and syncing up behaviors that you want to see in your people with company goals.

There was a lot of talk when the pandemic began about accountability, productivity and whether or not employers could trust employees to work remotely. Well, productivity has been maintained, if not increased as employees try to find ways to stand out in the remote environment and largely speaking people have been accountable for their time and actions.

Some have questioned the sustainability of the situation, but with the right approach to working from home, the challenge of keeping people engaged remotely is minimized.

When you onboard a new employee, you start by creating opportunities for them to meet their colleagues, understand the processes of work and receive training on technology that they need to use. This should be mirrored in remote work trainings. From a technology standpoint, employees should enjoy the same level of access that they do while in the office. Their devices should be setup in the same way and support for creating a productive work environment should be provided, whether or not that comes in the form of a stipend or directly providing docking stations, second screens, standing desks or comfortable seating.

READ: How to Make the Most of a Remote Onboarding Process

Regular updates about collaboration tools and technology as well as training courses should be made available to all employees. Whether that’s showing them how to make the most of Slack or Teams or reiterating best practices on the use of workflow management systems, everyone should be on the same page and understand their role in the process and how to communicate with teammates.

People also need the opportunity to build a bit of social capital with colleagues across the organization. That means developing opportunities for network building by connecting people through a shared purpose or platform. Something as casual as virtual coffee meet ups can be effective, but so are more formal networking structures by providing the time and technology necessary for people to do this. I has been shown to help employees build meaningful relationships and see new ways of developing ideas and advice for how to get things done.

It helps to develop a section of your employee handbook dedicated entirely to remote work practices as well as advice for employees in the office when it comes to interacting with and being inclusive of employees who are working remotely.

Establish Meeting Practices

One aspect of office work that some will be glad to see return is in person meetings. While useful and important to how work gets done, in person meetings in the hybrid workplace will tow the line on alienating employees who may not be in the office at that given time.

If a meeting takes place with a mixture of onsite and remote employees, it’s best to keep the meeting virtual and regularly involve the remote attendee to ensure that the meeting is both engaging and useful for them.

Informal meetings between people in the office can be good for sparking creativity or bringing together unlikely combinations of personnel, but taking meaningful action out of them without documenting their content and providing context around the discussion for others who were not onsite or were there but were not in attendance is difficult and can be bad for morale. To keep all stakeholders engaged and involved in the buy-in process, documentation and good meeting practices are vital for the hybrid and remote workforces.

Advice from HR Leaders

“People are very interested in having a touch down space where they can come in periodically, see colleagues and have an event, but not necessarily do the bulk of their work there. So we as employers have to lead with trust. We have to make clear their options and say we trust you to make the choice that’s right for you to get your work done. We can’t expect them to trust us unless we give it to them.” –Rebecca Hathaway, Director of Employee Experience at Tango Card

“When remote (or hybrid) is done well and is reflective of a good culture, you’ll see people go out of their way to collaborate, you’ll see a decrease in absences and people will be more strategic in how they use their time. You won’t see people in meetings that aren’t useful for them. In my opinion, if you want to maintain your culture in a virtual world, it comes down to four things: clarity, communication, connections and collaboration.” Michele Meyer-Shipp, Chief People Officer at Major League Baseball

“Culture is a social problem solving process that occurs when people come together, but the problem is that it can also get in the way when we’re trying to get things done.  It can help you, but it can also be why strategy implementations don’t work and why improvement projects or transformation efforts fail. It’s important to understand what culture is so you can see it, but the challenge is that culture is everything, so it can be difficult to get your hands around it. And it’s not a one and done process, it’s always changing and so you have to constantly revisit it and listen to people in the organization, no matter what environment you’re in.” – Mario Moussa, co-author of The Culture Puzzle.

The Work-Life Balance

The pandemic has presented a unique opportunity to re-examine our organizations and the practices that make up the employee experience and the overall culture of the business. By embracing work from home and seeing just how well it can work, there is a chance to redefine ourselves for the long run.

If ever there was single event that has driven home the need for work-life balance and reminded employers that employees are human beings whose experience directly impacts how they work, the pandemic has been it. The embrace of a hybrid model is fast becoming the focus of teams focused on experience.

READ: Culture Looks Different on a Remote Team – Here’s How to Build It

Hybrid models are important for their flexibility. As work and private lives have blurred for many over the course of the pandemic, it’s become clear that what people need is that flexibility, to be able to chose when and where they work as much as possible. While many a manager will be pleased to see their teams in person, there is no need to return to the days of old in their entirety, with employees stuck at desks for 40 hours a week.

To make work a more meaningful and enjoyable part of people’s work-life balance, employers need to look at how their employee experience is impacting culture and take a holistic view of the human beings involved.

 “The deeper you go with the humanity within the organization, the more sophisticated your employee experience approach will be in terms of serving people’s needs,” says employee experience expert Ben Whitter. “The workplace was never actually a building anyway. It’s the spaces and places that enable our best performance. In that sense, COVID-19 has just accelerated this view of the workplace.

“We’re seeing this uptick of hybrid models and it is encouraging for people’s flexibility and autonomy to do their jobs in a great way, but there is some tension around it and what it will look like. The question I have for people is what enables you to connect people to your truth and the values you espouse or the mission that you’re on? It could be work from home all of the time, or it could be combination of remote work and high impact interactions in the workplace. The one that will win is the one that allows that truth to come to life in an authentic way.”

Photo Courtesy of Stock Photo Secrets

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