Communication essentials: culture beyond place Q&A

We’ve Become a Nation of Quitters.

This Forbes headline caught my attention before our final webinar in our Future of Work series. It’s a scary headline with even scarier stats. In September 2021, 4.4 million Americans left their jobs, and that number only continues to grow.

Our Culture Beyond Place webinar session brought in Westfield Talent Leader Lori Gabel, akhia Account Director and Culture Committee Director Morgan Jupina and HR consultant Jennifer Osborn to talk recruiting, onboarding and company culture shifts that best position organizations and their teams to be rock solid even if outside conditions aren’t.

Q1: How can a company cultivate an environment of psychological safety with remote employees?

Lori: [Culture] is about creating an environment where the team is confident to share ideas without fear of retaliation, embarrassment or being shut down. We partnered with the Center for Creative Leadership to get specific about what practices or tools we can use to advance our culture. We’re intentional about meeting design, interaction design and how we can incorporate tools that ensure we hear from all employees.

Morgan: I think transparency is a huge piece of this puzzle. Companies should preach and fully adopt transparency. We know that when leadership is open and honest about the good and the bad, that really sets an example for employees to do the same. Both leadership and culture teams, together, should remind employees that what they say matters and is valuable.

Jennifer: Now is the time to remind employees about your company’s policies regarding open door, seeing something and saying something, harassment and not being afraid of retaliation. It’s also the time to remind employees who to go to in case something occurs that doesn’t seem right. Ask employees how they’re doing, what their thoughts are and make sure that they’re satisfied.

Q2: How do you close cultural and experiential gaps between in-office and remote employees? Are there opportunities to strengthen culture and experience to extend beyond physical “place” to engage employees across ever-evolving work models?

Lori: We’ve retooled many “rituals” to be virtual—these include all-employee meetings, orientations, training classes, all-leader meetings, etc. The feedback from our remote employees has been great because they feel it “levels the playing field” during the pandemic. We’re being intentional about not allowing place or geography to be a barrier.

Morgan: It’s important to make sure everyone feels included on a business level and a cultural level. If you do have employees in-office and working remotely, always offer a virtual component. We always set up a live feed for remote participants to engage in meetings and use the video chat to ensure their questions and thoughts are heard.

Jennifer: It’s important to socialize virtually. There are happy hours and social functions that can be done virtually and serve as a great way to get together. With that said, make sure to remain mindful of video fatigue. Video is new, cool and what’s in style, but there are many people who are tired of being on video. Schedule a meeting over the old-fashioned phone, rather than video, here and there.

Q3: How do you build collaboration opportunities for remote employees?

Lori: We design collaboration with the assumption that we’re going to have people in multiple locations. Designing collaboration is a skill to build, not something to be frustrated about if employees are remote. We also try to encourage creativity with both physical and digital “gratitude walls” where people can write what they’re grateful for.

Morgan: akhia has found it helps to take popular culture events/initiatives that were once conducted in office and shift them to a virtual setting. We’ve set up an akhia culture channel on Microsoft Teams, and we share prompts and encourage employees to engage there. We also recently began using Kahoot!, a game-based learning program that many businesses have begun using to strengthen culture.

Jennifer: Ask employees what they think about collaboration—how much do they need? How would they prefer it? Some may not need any at all to be productive; for example, I turn off Teams chat, [while] some may need it constantly.

Q4: What is the balance of in-person meetings to allow for face-to-face interaction?

Lori:We’re still in the process of working this out. There’s been no mandate to come back to the office, so we’re considering the work and then inviting people to work in the location that supports the work itself. We have created some “intentional meeting design” job aids to help people design effective meetings.

Morgan: akhia’s culture team plans one in-person agency event per month where we take a minute to slow down, relax and have some fun. Although not required to attend, we encourage employees to spend the day at the office to have team meetings and socialize. We often pair these events with an all-agency team meeting or presentation to allow us to collaborate, ask questions and work on team-building.

Jennifer: Similar to collaboration, this depends on the employees. Ask employees what they prefer and then honor their feedback to the extent that you can. This is also dependent on the type of work or clients you have.

Q5: What is one big takeaway you want to close with?

Lori: Right now, money and flexibility are winning. My prediction is culture will really win in the next wave of people looking for employment.

Morgan: Technology’s role in building and keeping culture alive is only going to increase. Be intentional about researching new apps and app enhancements.

Jennifer: The great resignation is happening. If employees are leaving, you must figure out why they are leaving, be honest with yourself and fix the problem before it gets worse.

It’s never too late and there is always a way when it comes to company culture and tackling the challenges ahead. Watch the full Culture Beyond Place webinar to hear more.