Quick Look: There are more remote workers now than ever before – and at the same time, the rate at which employees are quitting their jobs is reaching record highs. Here’s how small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can strengthen their virtual company culture to empower, attract, and retain employees.
As the world enters another year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been one constant: the explosion of remote work.
According to Gallup, a remarkable 45% of full-time employees work either partly or completely remote. More people are working from home than ever before, and as employees quit their jobs in droves, this flexibility tops their list of priorities – 59% of U.S. workers reported they would be more likely to choose an employer who offered remote work over one who didn’t.
The importance of a strong virtual company culture
While 77% of U.S workers agree that being able to work from home would make them happier, it’s important that employers don’t assume that a flexible location is the only thing that their workers need.
After all, your organization is human, and connection is important. Buffer’s State of Remote Work Survey found that loneliness is the second biggest struggle remote employees face. While offering the ability to work from home can help you attract talent, it’s incredibly important for the longevity of your business – and your employees’ happiness – to strengthen your virtual company culture. Here are eight tips to do that:
1. Support home office setups
Many of today’s remote workers commuted to an office every day pre-pandemic and may not have established an ideal home office. And although 80% of employees expect to continue working from home at least three days per week, Owl Labs reports that only 20-25% of companies are covering any of the cost of home office equipment or furnishings.
Your business can increase employee satisfaction – and stand out to potential talent – by offering a home office stipend. The first step is determining a feasible dollar amount limit per employee and creating a policy that outlines which types of equipment the funds can be put towards. Some common eligible items include:
- Office equipment like printers, desk, chairs, and extra monitors
- Office supplies like pens, notepads, and calendars
- Wellness-focused items like an ergonomic monitor stand, a standing desk, or an under-desk treadmill
It’s important to note that you don’t need to make a significant investment to make a difference in your workers’ lives – even allocating a small amount per employee can make a lasting impact. Instead of, or complementary to, a stipend, employers may also consider reimbursing recurring remote employee expenses like internet access and cell phone plans.
2. Focus on work-life balance
When your employees work at home, it’s important to, of course, consider their personal lives.
One way to do so is to provide flexible working hours to working parents or caregivers who may need to pick up a child from school or assist with virtual classwork. The same accommodations can also be extended to employees who need to attend doctor’s appointments, meet with home contractors, and more.
Another way to embrace a holistic view of your employees is to prioritize their mental health. During the pandemic, nearly 40% of U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder – up from just 10% in June 2019. Providing free access to meditation and mindfulness apps is a low-cost way for employers to make a difference in their workers’ lives.
Lastly, it can be all too easy to fall into the habit of skipping breaks while working remotely – despite the fact that frequent breaks boost productivity. Advise your organization’s leadership to kindly and regularly encourage employees to take breaks. This message can be especially effective when coming from leaders, as some employees may fear that taking breaks makes them appear to be slacking or less dedicated to their job.
3. Align physical and virtual operations
Creating a cohesive shared culture is especially important for businesses that have both remote and in-person employees. Gallup studies have shown that organizations are most successful at creating a shared culture when they:
- Align the employee experience (whether virtual, hybrid, or in-person) with workplace culture (i.e. hosting virtual meetings instead of in-person meetings)
- Identify meaningful moments in each mode of work (i.e. introductions between new hires and leadership)
- Make necessary changes for a shared culture (i.e. managers giving feedback to remote workers a few times per week – something that’s been shown to raise remote employee engagement levels above both in-person and hybrid)
4. Cultivate micro-cultures
Not every team functions the same way – communication and collaboration preferences vary greatly. To accommodate this, consider allowing individual teams to establish their own cultures. These micro-cultures can include independent decisions on how they will conduct their meetings, share workloads, make decisions, provide feedback, and more.
To stay aware of the health of each micro-culture, leadership can perform regularly pulse checks through a performance management platform to see which teams are functioning well and which may be experiencing challenges. When properly organized, micro-cultures enable individual teams to function at the highest possible level, while still contributing to overall organizational goals.
5. Start a virtual mentorship program
Regular contact with a mentor can help employees – especially those who work remotely – feel a sense of belonging.
During the pandemic, meetings and trainings began taking place online, and mentoring can easily follow suit. In fact, in some ways virtual mentorships even have a leg up on traditional ones – they tend be lower-cost and have fewer limitations in terms of time, space, and location.
It’s important to not let mentorships fall to the wayside in a remote workplace – in addition to boosting virtual company culture, they also aid in reskilling and upskilling efforts which contribute to the long-term success of your business.
6. Host (virtual and in-person) events
Who doesn’t love a party? Whether your business operates on a fully remote or hybrid schedule, there’s fun to be had by all.
To pack the biggest morale-boosting punch, hybrid organizations can schedule special lunches, town halls, and happy hours to occur on in-office days. These in-person gatherings are also a great time to celebrate work anniversaries and milestones.
For fully remote businesses, colleagues can relax and spend time getting to know each other during virtual events like happy hours, cooking classes, wine tastings, game nights, and coffee chats. Remote organizations can also consider planning an annual off-site retreat or coordinating meetups for groups of local employees.
No matter what type of events you plan, it can be helpful to maintain an up-to-date events calendar to keep all employees in the loop. This calendar can be hosted on your organization’s intranet, and new events can be communicated as they are created on the collaboration platform of your choice.
Communication is at the heart of your organization’s success – especially when remote work is involved – and it begins on day one.
When new hires begin, ask key members of your leadership team to set up virtual meetings with them to introduce themselves and explain their role in the business. It can also be helpful to implement a buddy system in which new hires are assigned a key contact to turn to with questions and concerns during the first few weeks.
Consistently communicating policies is important, too. If you haven’t already, update your employee handbook to touch on remote work policies like working hours, official communication channels, and whether or not employees can travel while working remotely. Once the handbook has been updated, be sure to distribute it across your internal communication channels and company intranet.
8. Consult your PEO
Need some assistance strengthening your virtual company culture? Partnering with a professional employer organization (PEO) could be the answer. In addition to assisting with things like payroll and benefits administration, PEOs can also help you develop policies, recruit new remote employees, brainstorm virtual team-building and mentorship initiatives, and more.
Make the most of the work-from-home world by consulting with the experts at ExtensisHR. Contact us today to get started.