S Since the onset of the global pandemic in March 2020, Think Shift’s workplace has functioned primarily remotely. Prior to COVID, we operated on an optionally remote basis where employees could work from home whenever they chose. We also had a small number of staff that lived away from our office locations and worked 100% remotely. We had embraced the notion of a flexible work environment and had invested in communications systems, software applications and computer hardware to facilitate it. Thus, when most of the office world shifted to remote work, it wasn’t that big of a step for us.
As we hopefully shift from pandemic to whatever is next (endemic?), and offices are again habitable, we, like everyone else, face the question, “What is better?”. The answer, as it so often is, is “It depends”.
Many workers must be at their place of work to perform their job functions. People employed in hospitality, farming, fishing industries, healthcare workers and many more occupations are required to be present at their place of work. In this blog, we will focus on businesses like ours that can function entirely remotely. And if you’re asking how you can build or maintain a vibrant and cohesive culture while working entirely remotely, we hope that our experience will help guide you on the path to a similarly successful transition.
Create an Intentional Culture
We believe that culture drives brand, and it is vitally important to a business’s success. Organizational Culture is the collection of beliefs, habits, behaviors and values that a company encourages. They define the ethical box that we commit to living within, form the foundation for our strategy and guide us towards fulfilling our vision of the future. And when we get it right, culture drives our brand message and amplifies our strategy.
Given the importance we place on culture, why would we choose to operate remotely? Isn’t it easier to foster a strong culture in an in-person environment?
We have chosen a distributed and remote work environment because we believe the additional flexibility gained from working from anywhere allows us to cast a much wider “recruitment net”. We can then attract our unfair share of the best employees, and this is much easier to do if we eliminate restrictions on where an employee must live and work. Culture is communicated and encouraged in many ways. We define our intentional corporate culture as employee-driven, opportunity-based and client-intimate. Our core values are Stewardship, Transparency, Accountability and Teamwork. Our organizational story, cultural mores and values form the basis for our strategy, guide our policies and tactics and are therefore regularly encountered and reinforced.
Maintain Regular Touchpoints
While working remotely we have retained all our very regular cultural touchpoints and moved them to Zoom. Many of these touchpoints are listed in the above table, but include regular employee huddles and staff meetings, regular 1:1 communication between employee and manager and a kudos system acknowledging team success.
We also take all new staff through our two-day leadership development program and rally the company together for an annual in-person retreat. These activities will continue and expand in a remote environment, and we will have to become even more intentional about creating regular habits that tell the story of our culture.
Intentionally Plan for In-Person Connection
We also believe that interpersonal connection is an important consideration. We create a better, more unified team when we connect and to a large degree connection occurs in person. Many people are happier when they connect with others they work with, and we therefore need to intentionally plan these opportunities on a much more frequent and regular basis when there’s not a communal workplace.
Given the increasing geographic separation of our staff, this requires a commitment to group and team meetings involving travel. In centers where we have a critical mass of staff, there is also the opportunity for more frequent gathering. Without an office as the launch point for after-work activities, lunches and other natural touchpoints, we must very deliberately create these opportunities for our staff to connect in person.
Thinking Outside the Office
The office is an artificial construct that arose in a time when all work had to be conducted in person. In many businesses like ours, this is no longer true. There are important considerations like culture and interpersonal connection that require extra attention in the absence of a communal work environment that should be taken into account, and prioritized, if a company is thinking about switching to an entirely remote workforce.
About the Writer
Robert Thorsten – CEO
Robert has over 28 years of business experience in finance, accounting, HR, sales and marketing and general management. Throughout his career, he has always maintained a strong focus on leadership and staff development. Learn more about Robert.