Building a strong company culture in a virtual world

When the COVID-19 pandemic first reared its head in early 2020, even companies with an established framework for remote working found themselves scrambling to move their operations online. During this time, it was easy for certain crucial elements of the employee experience, such as developing a personal relationship with colleagues, to fall through the cracks.

This raises an interesting challenge: in a working world where most employee interactions are virtual, and some employees haven’t even met their colleagues in person, how can small-business owners create a clearly defined and unified company culture?

As more companies navigate the complexities of building a strong company culture while working remotely, common trends have emerged.

First and foremost, core values drive and define culture. Whether these be honesty, loyalty, fun, ambition or competitiveness, values ground an organisation’s culture. Company values stay the same whether they’re at the office or working from home.

Secondly, successful companies envisage the culture they want to achieve and clearly define the strategies and actions required to get there. Throughout, there must be two-way communication with staff at all levels, as it is critical to the success of any change initiative that employees feel included and have input on the planned changes right from the very beginning.

To help keep the channels of communication clear and open, it helps if business leaders put official structures in place to give employees the opportunity to ask questions and raise any concerns, such as by hosting regular “Ask Me Anything” sessions. If employees feel comfortable enough, regardless of their position, to ask questions of the leadership group, it will help to build confidence and trust in the overall change initiative.

It can be much harder to build and integrate a new culture using technology, rather than working face-to-face with employees but it is still possible to build a culture that truly reflects a company’s values.

Keeping the personal element front and centre

Confidence cannot be built overnight. One simple method to increase employee confidence is to maintain a ‘personal element’ in all virtual interactions. Try to kick off virtual internal meetings with a social conversation so that employees get to know each other on a deeper level and can build stronger relationships.

This is crucial, as maintaining a cohesive culture requires regular personal engagement – something that was much easier in a pre-COVID world where staff could chat at the office.

In hindsight, many savvy business owners have come to understand that these in-person interactions weren’t taking time away from work – they were actually enhancing work and often led to higher engagement and productivity. Personal interactions are vital to building a strong company culture, as people are more likely to collaborate better when they have a personal connection with a colleague and to go out of their way to help them conclude a task – thereby strengthening the culture.

It’s also important to recognise that strong connections and loyalty are built through expressing appreciation for the work that employees do. Simply thanking your team members goes a long way, but you can also start initiatives such as Staff Well-Being days where employees are recognised for their hard work under challenging circumstances.

In conclusion, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the challenge of building a company culture virtually, it’s that people will always be open to trying something new as long as they understand why the change is happening and are involved from the start.

Ask your staff for their opinion and act on their feedback. This will go a long way towards creating long-term, sustainable change –regardless of whether it’s happening online or in person.