From mentoring to improved communication, here’s how companies are trying to maintain a positive culture while working from home

From mentoring to improved communication, here’s how companies are trying to maintain a positive culture while working from home
Image: iStock / AleksandarNakic
This article is sponsored by Slack.

The normalisation of remote work over the last 18 months means that, in one form or another, it’s here to stay. And although remote work poses its challenges, putting in place the right technology can be a powerful tool in redefining what a workplace looks like, and how employees can feel positive about their work and their company.

Implementing a digital office versus a physical one, where everyone is connected and can collaborate productively, has far-reaching benefits- from productivity to culture and employee wellbeing.

According to Slack’s global Future Forum Pulse study, 93 per cent of workers want flexibility in when they work, while 76 per cent want flexibility in where they work. 

Giving people the flexibility to manage their work location and hours in a way that suits their unique circumstances is best enabled by a digital-first approach, with work untethered from the office.

“Embracing this digital-first shift won’t happen overnight. But this is about progress, not perfection; it’s about experimenting and evolving,” said Dawn Sharifan, Head of People at Slack.

“There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach – different employees will have different needs. Helping to get to this point, companies should focus on a few key areas; communication, mentoring, inclusivity and culture”.

Here are Dawn’s top tips on how companies can start to implement these focal points into their day-to-day.

Give employees the right tools

Strong organisational culture is dependent on having the right technology in place to make communication and collaboration easier and more effective, keeping people connected to their colleagues and engaged with their work, no matter their location or time zone.

“The speed and agility that comes with transparent communication, enabled in an open channel-based messaging platform like Slack, drives alignment, fuels collaboration and creates connection,” Dawn explains.

“People in any part of the world, at any time, can easily get up to speed and have access to the information they need to do their jobs. They don’t miss out because they’re not copied on an email or they were asleep when a meeting was on. That, in turn, contributes to a sense of belonging.

“Of course, even with the best software in the world, the onus is also on the organisation and its leadership to instil those values, install the guardrails and paint the dotted lines that maximise connections and minimise distractions.”

Ditch long meetings

When the pandemic hit, and we all moved to our separate homes, it seemed human connection was flailing, and those virtual meetings suddenly became a chore.

“Many employees are missing that human-centred touchpoint in their workday. More important than long, drawn-out video calls — colleagues need to have those short, friendly exchanges that closely mirror real-life conversations that might otherwise occur in the hallways and while waiting for the elevator,” said Dawn.

Slack recently addressed this need with the introduction of Slack Huddles – a feature that enables people to quickly jump into audio conversations to continue a discussion that’s happening in a channel or a direct message.

As we’re missing out on face-to-face contact in the office, calling someone on the phone or over Slack Huddles can keep company culture alive by ensuring we’re still hearing or seeing our coworkers to some degree, without the added pressure and formality of video calls.

Have regular check-ins

Leaders and managers should make time to chat to their employees on a more personal level, checking in on how they’re doing outside of work-related issues. This is a really important way to provide additional support and protect the wellbeing of your team.

While it’s easy for people to feel detached and isolated in the virtual space, scheduling one-on-one meetings or small group meetings helps keep everyone on the right path and aligned, while also creating a sense of team comradery.

The flow-on effect of all of this is happier, more engaged employees who are generally more motivated and productive.

Dawn said, “One of the things I’ve found most impactful about our platform is how it’s helped me get to know each member of my team on a professional and personal level, so I can better support them and help them reach their goals.”

Embrace inclusivity

A distributed workforce actually allows for inclusivity to thrive in the workplace. When we all work asynchronously – providing information to our colleagues in a recorded fashion that can be consumed and acted upon at a time and place that suits them – we expand our teammates to people all over the world.

A digital-first approach to work has been found to appeal more to those who have a history of feeling excluded, enabling the workplace to become more diverse and for everyone to feel a sense of belonging. According to Slack, the company has hired 50 per cent more remote-based under-represented minorities (URMs) than when it was office-based.

Equally, with remote work now an accepted norm, the search for talent is no longer limited to those who live in the same area, state or even country, as employers look beyond the realms of what was initially thought possible in a pre-pandemic world. The more unconventional the hiring process becomes, the more companies will scout increasingly diverse talent and encourage inclusion while eliciting social change within the workplace.

Plan social events 

Another impactful way to evolve company culture is to get creative with your team. Outside of work, plan events or tasks that enable everyone to connect on a more personal level. Whether you plan a cooking class or a virtual movie viewing party, these events can cultivate a community while employees feel better supported. 

These interactions are pivotal for employees to see a little humanity from each other outside of work. You don’t have to plan a huge social event; it could be something as simple as a hashtag or sharing cute dog photos through a Slack channel. Something small can be just as effective.

When it comes to making these changes, Dawn admits it’s not always easy as people are drawn to the status quo, finding comfort in the known.

“It’s not as simple as getting employees back in the office or helping them to work from home forever – we need to meet our employees where they are, helping them to do their best work with a lifestyle that works best for them. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our working lives better, and we should grab it with both hands.”