company culture virtual

How to Maintain Culture in Virtual Teams

by Sonya Shelton

When the world was thrust into this global crisis, company culture was probably not top of mind. Not that it wasn’t important, it’s just that we needed to deal with more pressing and immediate issues. So, as we continue to move into the future and gain footing in this new virtual work environment, it’s important to go back and reinforce those goals and values that drive the business. Especially now, it is critical that company culture is maintained through virtual teams.

Maintaining company culture in virtual teams looks different than how it does in an office. There aren’t the same opportunities to see your peers and stop in for a quick chat or question. If not properly maintained, teams may begin to lessen communication and further isolate themselves. Even as some start to go back to the office, it still will not be “back to normal.”

As a leader, your role is to energize and motivate your team through all of it. Use the tips below to assess where your company culture currently stands and how to make improvements that will directly motivate your team.

Lead with Empathy

Empathy is crucial in this time. Communicate that you are understanding and make sure your team knows that you care. Show your humanness by recognizing that kids are going to interrupt meetings and pets are going to make noise. Take the time to recognize that we are all in this together and have empathy for situations that we don’t have much control over. Also, recognize when people are at risk for burnout, and encourage them to take vacation time to rest and recover.

Share Wins & Challenges

Look for opportunities to share success stories. This is an opportunity to look for best practices to bring into the future. One of our clients begins team meetings with a standing agenda item that celebrates their wins for the week. By starting the meeting asking about wins and accomplishments, you initiate a positive outlook and positive attitude that can keep your team optimistic and motivated. 

It’s also an opportunity to learn and improve as a team by talking about challenges. Ask questions such as, 

  • “How are things working well?”
  • “What’s not working?” 
  • “What can we learn from this to do better in the future?” 

Choose to look at every challenge as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Strengthen Connection & Community

Create opportunities for strengthening the connection and community within your team. For virtual teams, loneliness can sometimes be an issue – and a dangerous one – unless you consciously counter it. Research has found that the harmful effects of loneliness are comparable to those of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. So, as a leader, it’s important to create and maintain a sense of community, collaboration and connection.

Some of our clients have held virtual team breakfast/lunch/coffee breaks to create an opportunity to connect and socialize. We have also seen a rising popularity in virtual team happy hours at the end of the day. There is one team that said that they were doing “Breakfast Club Mondays” to get the team together for check-ins, to talk about their weekend, and to prepare for the week ahead. 

Another company’s CEO is doing a Monday video that she records each week and shares with the entire company. For her, it is an opportunity to share everything from birthdays to updates on the business to social things as well. She also offers the opportunity to submit questions for the Monday video, so as the CEO, she can answer relevant questions directly.

Some virtual team-building activities that teams are doing are scavenger hunts for items in their house, sharing funny pet photos or photos of kids, and of course coming together virtually to celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries.

Another way to strengthen connection is to make time for one-on-one catch ups. This allows you to discuss issues, offer perspectives and solve problems for the people on your team in a one-on-one environment. You can also reinforce community by encouraging the team to check in with each other personally. 

PRO TIP: Try integrating (or utilize existing) collaboration software to mimic casual conversation settings in the office. In our research, we’ve seen companies use tools like Slack or Workplace from Facebook to create a “water-cooler channel” or a social channel, which is reserved for personal back-and-forth that happens in most offices. They use this space to celebrate birthdays, share pictures of their kids doing home school projects, their pets “helping them work” and occasional jokes. 

Reinforce Values

Throughout this time of change, you want to reinforce your company values and make decisions based on those values. Look for ways to showcase examples of your company values in action and refer to them as the foundation to get through challenges.

Be cautious not to do too much of this all at once; this could create a culture that feels forced or mechanical and can backfire. Creating a strong virtual culture in a crisis like this ultimately comes from having empathy, trusting your intuition, staying true to your values and appreciating your employees – both in their role and as people too.

This article comes from our online training “5 Keys to Leading Virtual Teams in the COVID-19 Crisis” Click on the link to view the entire training for FREE as well as access other helpful leadership resources.

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