This article is written from the perspective of senior leaders in pre-existing work cultures where telework and self-isolation suddenly became a survival tactic in order to adapt to rapid change caused by a worldwide Pandemic. As organizations emerge from recent events, leaders may wonder what residual effects need to be addressed, not only in production but also in workforce culture, to become more agile and better prepared for rapid changes ahead? It has never been more important to stay on the pulse of the current climate. For some, the silver lining may be to utilize one incredible event to push the re-set button in order to re-invent an existing culture into one that is more receptive to the business challenges of the future.
So, why does culture have so much to do with the viability of a business? Culture is not defined by what your organization creates. It is defined by “how” things are done or sustained patterns of behavior over time that are supported by shared experiences, values, and beliefs of the employees as a whole. Culture is continuously reinforced over time as new employees come on board. Your organization’s culture, aligned with overall business strategy, is what drives results achieved by your organization as a whole.
While telework became a necessity for some overnight, emerging from COVID-19 will no doubt see some employers taking advantage of telework on a more permanent basis. A study by Stanford University showed that working from home yields a 13% performance increase! However, this is not a one size fits all proposition as every job is not suitable for teleworking. What we are learning now is that for many, telework has been a great experiment that has resulted in substantial savings.
While not intended to be all-inclusive, the following suggested steps are meant to create more dialogue about important considerations as many organizations begin the transformation from a more traditional work culture into a more flexible, agile, and high performing culture:
1. Develop new job descriptions around work and behavioral expectations for telework positions
It is important to look carefully at all the requirements for each position in order to ensure only those most appropriate for telework are selected and therefore will have the highest chance of success. Consider whether telework will, in fact, achieve increased productivity in order for your organization to grow and prosper. New job descriptions should be created for these positions. Some jobs may be more obvious than others such as jobs in IT services, writers/journalists, outside sales, customer service, benefits administration, some finance positions, and so forth. After the recent experience with forced telework situations, you may conclude overall that telework makes great sense for portions of your organization. In cases of multiple business locations, however, you may even conclude those positions are better suited for flexible work arrangements but could be better situated from a more centralized location (such as hoteling or space sharing). Each organization will create their own “new normal” according to their own unique needs.
Just as telework is not well suited for all types of jobs, some types of employees may not be immediately well suited for telework situations. For instance, new hires may not be as well-equipped in their first weeks or months to acclimate to a new job within a new company culture. It will be important to ensure your new hire onboarding process includes appropriate assimilation experiences and timeframes to foster that process. There are many attributes to identify as successful businesses staff up flexible work teams. Attributes such as mental attitude, work ethic, level of maturity, independent problem-solving, and career passion, for example. These should all be clearly identified within newly created telework job descriptions. Organizations that give time and attention to the overall culture for their work teams will emerge more successful over the long haul and will be better prepared for unknown interferences in the future.
Setting clearly defined expectations of work accountability, outcomes, and behavior for both telework and non-telework positions, upfront is critical to successful implementation within organizational change. Otherwise, it will forever be difficult for your management team to effectively and consistently evaluate work performance. This will also help to support optimal consistency and professionalism within the ranks of the workforce throughout your business.
While certainly not all-inclusive, the following are some critical questions that you may wish to consider in laying a clear foundation for your new telework positions:
• Should these positions be available during certain hours? When should they be logged on? How will they log their time?
• What does “being available” mean? To whom should they be available to?
• Who are the key internal and external customers for these positions?
• What are the job classifications for telework positions (exempt or non-exempt) and what time reporting parameters are required?
• What type of environment will the telework employees be expected to function within as they engage with internal and external customers?
• How will the physical location need to be configured to comply with business demands?
• What concerns need to be addressed to secure your organization’s intellectual property? Cybersecurity is a top priority as cyber threats have increased by nearly 50% since COVID-19 began.
• What device tracking mechanisms and policies need to be in place and what process should be followed to report equipment losses or damage?
• What type of technical support process will be followed? Does it make sense to invest in remote desktop sharing software?
• How will projects be assigned and deadlines determined?
• How will performance be measured and by whom?
• What critical task checklists need to be developed to support clear communications and ease of management implementation?
• What standards in customer response expectations will be communicated?
• What intervals would a teleworking employee be expected to physically report into the main office? How consistently can the standard be applied?
• What online learning solutions need to be considered to allow employees to remain engaged and active in their own growth?
• Are telework employees required to be present in the office for key meetings? What meetings are key meetings?
• How will new requests for telework be handled?
2. Identify Supplies and Technology Needed to Cover all Bases
Teleworking employees generally need the same access to technology and systems they would otherwise have worked from your place of business. It’s likely you will need to invest in file sharing and remote access software, client management systems, video conferencing and voice communication applications, and any other software applications that would otherwise be required of your employees at work. You will also need to decide how best to provide hardware technology such as computers, phones, copiers, fax machines, etc. to employees to use in their homes. Some organizations may consider a messaging platform and employee Intranet to help facilitate employee-only communications and online access to handbook guidelines, benefit updates, enrollments, and special programs. It is critically important to establish communications practice standards.
Depending on the complexity of change, you may opt to assemble a project team made up of HR and IT project managers, as well as key functional staff (both internal and telework) to develop proposals that would be presented to key stakeholders throughout this process. Their job would be to create a plan of action for more seamless implementation of telework into your business. Your best performers in functional telework roles (in the course of the recent Pandemic) could be great contributors to your project team. The point here is to bring together key players who can contribute to the scope of telework implementation that will bring a more successful conclusion.
3. Run your Telework Plan Through Some Testing
Several telecommuting test-runs will generate useful information and likely generate questions that will need to be addressed. They may also uncover potential training needs or additional development of other tools and resources. Ask for feedback on things like work supplies, access to technology and work files, lists of work numbers, organization charts, URLs, information security and firewall concerns, document storage, checklists, access to human resource communications, training for online meeting applications. The goal, of course, is optimal efficiency at final implementation. Reach to identify any gaps in the plan and determine if and when they can be eliminated, how they will be resolved, who will own the work left to be accomplished and by what date. At this stage, feedback, observations, and transparent communications between everyone on the project team as well as key stakeholders is essential.
4. Update your Employee Handbook
Use this opportunity to update your employee handbook to include a comprehensive telework policy. Your telework policy will be unique to your organization but in the beginning, it can be helpful to look at the plans of other organizations to get ideas for a starting point. Identify the core business hours (blocks of time each day) when employees and team members are expected to be available to collaborate. Be sure to include expectations on timekeeping and tools employees will use to ensure your business follows time and pay protocols. Other more specific day-to-day guidelines can be provided to teleworkers in the onboarding process. Defining rules and procedures are essential to keeping your teams on track and the more information you provide to your employees, the better the experience will be for everyone.
5. Set Your Organization up for Extraordinary Success
The key to a good working culture is a leadership team working together to make sure that communication is free-flowing and employees are encouraged to embrace the value and benefits of a collaborative and inclusive environment. As organizations grow, this becomes far less organic and more of a carefully crafted plan that takes forethought and good leadership skills. It’s vitally important to ensure telework employees are provided ample means and opportunities to be included, to participate, and to have their contributions recognized and considered just like anyone else. If your customer can distinguish the difference in your internal employees from your teleworkers in a phone conversation, you know you still have some work left to do.
The hallmark of successful integration into an existing culture is a workforce that embodies your organization’s values and works together toward its mission and vision. It is important that all employees at every level know and exhibit behavioral norms for acceptable and unacceptable behavior as well as what behavioral norms are celebrated and held above the rest. With today’s complex work environments and workforce demographics, incorporating behavioral norms into everyday business interactions is a good way to strengthen your culture and ensure every individual is held to a common set of behavioral standards and respect. These behavioral standards should be modeled from the very top and communicated regularly to all employees Leaders need to be held accountable for this as one of their ongoing performance measures to ensure it continues to live and thrive within your business each and every day.
Below are some suggested activities to help accomplish this:
• Hold an off-site session with the entire leadership team where organizational Core Values and Behavioral Norms are identified and set forth in formal documentation that can be communicated in multiple ways throughout the organization at every level.
• At the off-site, leaders collectively determine the global communication guidelines that will enhance their ability to effectively manage consistent communications at every level, with both onsite employees as well as telecommuting employees.
• Plan bi-annual or quarterly team building or group activities where all employees are required to be physically present.
• Identify 5 to 8 “Keys to Success” for your organization.
• Have the Mission, Vision, Values, Behavioral Norms, and Keys to Success posted throughout the organization, upfront within your Employee Handbook as well as on your Employee Intranet.
• You may also choose to post some or all of these on your organization’s public website, particularly for job applicants, to better understand your company’s culture and values. Applicants desiring a values-based work-life will probably contact you before you even post an open position.
• Ensure all teleworkers have regularly scheduled check-in calls and/or in-person meetings as well as performance work metrics that are to be tracked. This should be a performance measure for all leaders who manage telework employees.
• Incorporate a formal reward and recognition program (cash and non-cash) that includes a demonstration for the organization’s Values and/or exemplary behavior that supports the organization’s Behavioral Norms.
• Develop a peer recognition program where peers can recognize one another. Think out of the box – why not establish a Peer Shout Out Page on a website or employee intranet?
• Incorporate Values and Behavioral Norms into your recruitment and selection program. Utilize behavioral interviewing tools and skillset standards for more consistent hiring.
• Incorporate attribute testing into your selection process (i.e., PTX or DiSC).
• Incorporate an attractive Employee Referral Program into your culture. (Your best hires will come from referrals you receive from your best employees.)
• Consider using Value statements in addition to your organization’s logo on marketing materials.
• As your employee productivity begins to soar, remember to celebrate individual and team successes publicly along the way.
• Incorporate Behavioral Norms into your performance review program.
• Review all the above each year at an annual offsite leadership meeting.
• Track metrics on all the above to ensure your return on investment continues to grow.
Take every opportunity to speak about and demonstrate your organization’s purpose and values with all employees. Make these activities a part of all meetings and written communications to help demonstrate your organization’s “Values” which fuels purpose for the organization’s leadership, teams, and employees. As your leaders and employees embody the organization’s Values, this then expands assumptions and helps to drive the creation of Goals that will support your company’s Vision. This brings all employees together and helps to unify beliefs.
Values will define the organization’s culture, and the “Culture” will bring life to your organization’s “Brand.” Your organization’s “Brand” will be perceived as the “Story” told through the lens of your employees to the rest of the world.
6. Integrate Teambuilding, Involvement, and Growth
An organization’s culture is the glue that holds teams together and individuals to a cause. Great teams are based on feelings of cohesion and unity, and that all starts with shared values. Each quarter, plan to integrate teambuilding activities where possible. This does not have to be expensive. Just get creative and be open to other leader and employee suggestions. Commit this time to integrate and strengthen your culture, your teams, and the spirited growth of your organization. The return on your investment can be exponential.
Some additional things to consider:
1. DiSC Assessments and group coaching with a professional.
2. Pairing ALL new employees with a “buddy” and a guide for onboarding for the first 3 months of employment to help more rapid new hire integration into your culture.
3. Provide funds for remote workers to sponsor relevant, professional meetings where they live.
4. Hold an annual family picnic and incorporate fun team-building activities into the day so everyone can participate i.e. sack races, frisbee toss, volleyball, etc.
5. Sponsor a “Bring a Friend to Lunch Day” every 6 months or once per year. Employees can bring a friend and introduce them at a luncheon where the guest will be able to network with other employees as well as the leadership team. This activity will:
a. heighten awareness for your organization’s brand which is what gets communicated to potential hires externally;
b. allow employees a chance to demonstrate pride in their organization;
c. allow leadership the opportunity to meet potential job candidates;
d. over time, increase chances for potential great hires from this pool;
e. strengthen your culture from within.
(Remember – the average company in the United States spends between $4,000 and $5,000 to hire a new employee, taking up to 52 days to fill a position. Compare that to the cost of a luncheon.)
As American businesses emerge from recent events and seek a place within our “new normal,” some organization cultures may find varying degrees of resistance to new work dynamics. Properly setting up telework and other flexible work programs in general for our post-pandemic workforce could present significant challenges because the make-up of each organization’s culture is so unique. Regardless, implementation of new telework programs should be thoughtfully considered, carefully planned, supported, and well documented. Telework programs also typically require additional investment in resources. For many, however, the long-term payoff may prove well worth the investment.
Karen Larsen, CEO and Founder