Today’s workforce has just experienced a transformational shift. Though many people were working remotely before COVID-19, there were still many jobs and situations where it was thought to not be an option. COVID-19 crushed that notion and forced us to find a way to make remote work viable. But to make it work—technically or even logistically—is much easier than finding a way to make it work within company culture.
The following article was something that I started writing before COVID-19 was a reality, yet much of it still rings true and can be applied to anyone who now finds themselves experiencing or leading in a remote environment.
The longer I’m in the workforce, the more I see the importance of building culture in our organizations. In the words of Tamien Dysart and Vaney Hariri of Think 3D, a corporate culture consulting firm, “A culture will emerge whether intended or not, but if it’s not one you invest in, it will certainly be one that you pay for.” This is so true and important to remember as your company grows and changes. Interstates has been investing in building a high-performance, high-trust culture for as long as I have been a part of the company, and this culture is what drew me to come to work for them over 20 years ago.
A few months ago, we brought in Think 3D consultants to help us focus on ensuring that all our office locations have the same culture. We have found that many of our remote locations tend to take on a variation of our corporate culture. We expect, and welcome, some of these variances among our offices, as subcultures emerge to give employees in each a collective to identify with. But the key with having office subcultures is to ensure they still align with your organizational culture core identity (i.e., your values, your vision, your “why” for existing).
As they add locations across the country, many in the system integrator community are probably facing similar situations or their workforce is now remote instead of in the office. Here are some lessons learned along our journey that might be helpful elsewhere:
- Know why you want to replicate corporate culture. Are you doing this to drive employee engagement, or are you just hoping for them to use your systems and tools correctly? I would suggest starting with engagement. In his book, “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek says, “When employees belong, they will guarantee your success. And they won’t be working hard for you and looking for innovative solutions for you, they will be doing it for themselves.” If you have built your culture around your corporate why, this will be much easier to do. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” This includes your employees as well as your clients. What is it that drives your employees to want to come to work every day? This is the part of your culture that you must replicate at your remote offices and for virtual teams.
- Find culture ambassadors that you can trust to live out and teach your culture. Find one or two people who have already built trust with your team, and then ensure that they are 100% bought in to your corporate culture. Help them understand the importance of this ambassador role, and then release them to live out your culture and encourage others to join them in the pursuit of your why.
- Talk about your why in both formal and informal settings. For instance, when corporate leadership visits the office or interacts with your teams, make sure you not only live out the culture but also purposefully talk about it. Spend time with your culture ambassadors to get their feedback on how it is going. Encourage them on their progress and continue to offer to support them any way you can.
Maintaining a corporate culture is difficult even when you are with all your people every day, but it certainly seems even harder when you are separated from them by miles. It pays great dividends to really invest in setting, maintaining, and living out the valued tenets of your culture every day.
Jeff Miller is a director of project management at Interstates, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Interstates, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.