A key predictor of success in any endeavor comes from mindset.
It can be tempting to approach the challenges of establishing, rebuilding, or preserving a company culture as an uphill battle when more and more work is done remotely. Managing the corporate culture of a mixed or mobile workplace is a relatively new phenomenon, but it is only gaining ground as technology and generational values shift to incorporate more flexibility and digital integration.
This doesn’t have to be a significant hurdle in the legacy you build with your organization. After all, you don’t create culture the way you can draw up a work schedule or create an office dress code. You foster the conditions in which culture will form naturally, as a result of the way, officially or unofficially, people work, communicate, and get things done. Adopt this mindset, and managing company culture in a mobile age is not a distinct problem, but an extension of your core operations.
Breaking Down the Digital Divide
One of the tensions involved in managing a multi-generational workforce is that many (though not all) Millennials are Digital Natives: people who grew up in the post-internet world, where mobile phones were already ubiquitous, and where analog technologies seemed quaint, if they are even visible any longer.
Rotary dial phones? 8-tracks? Landlines? Bunny ears? The original Game Boy? As contemporary as they may seem, these are relics to the Digital Natives. Everyone else, who remembers a time before the digital age, amounts to Digital Immigrants. They can learn, adapt, and integrate, but it is a new way of doing, being, and thinking, rather than the only way they’ve known.
This all boils down to a gap in digital readiness, or a combination of comfort and ability to adapt to changing technology, and the cultural norms that accompany their use, and it often falls along generational lines. Accentuating the divide is the interest in, demand for, and utilization of flexible workplace policies that enable remote work.
Rather than bemoaning the loss of old fashioned offices or traditional social norms, though, you might take heart from the fact that the solutions you need to culturally integrate a mobile or remote workforce should already exist as part of your larger management strategy. Fact is, many of the features of the remote workforce and the cultural considerations it brings are challenges your organization will face whether or not you go the remote workplace route, in part or in whole.
One way to facilitate this is to break down the barriers separating positions and roles, and foster communication across all departments.
Siloes are archaic and expensive. They prevent potential solutions from being discovered by the right people, and impede change from being distributed efficiently. Most of all, they effectively constipate company culture by putting departments, teams, and individuals into isolation from one another. Where their communication, priorities, challenges, and ideas are segmented, they end up in microcosms of culture, and their sense of purpose and inclusion dissolves.
Roping in traditionally siloed departments, teams, and individuals by means of digital communication and social platforms not only flips the model of exclusion, it enables new teams, relationships, and understanding to form whether or not the teams and members are actually remote from the office. All it takes is giving people the means to communicate, then making it routine to use them. That may involve stimulating conversation by asking questions, bringing individuals from different teams into new discussions, or otherwise ingraining the habit of taking lateral approaches to problem-solving.
Even without the novel challenge of bringing digital natives into the fold of company culture when they expect remote work accommodations, this kind of approach to company structure provides an opportunity to reintegrate siloes and disrupt the cultural entropy that settles in without constant contact.
Constant contact helps preserve culture across time and space, making the question of remote employees less novel, and more an extension of how you foster interdepartmental collaboration.
PR is Everyone’s Business
One of the major areas where the cost of siloed thinking is most visible is public relations (PR).
Transparency carries a premium for modern consumers. They expect it, and reward companies and brands that embrace it. The challenge is that rather than having a discrete PR department or team, social media means everyone at your company is effectively representing it 24/7, whether you want them to or not. How they behave on social platforms influences how the public view your company. Blanket bans on social media are not an option–whatever your industry, your employees, consumers, and competition rely on social, and your branding should too.
This is a cultural consideration that intersects with your company’s operations and your workforce’s sense of purpose, community, and influence.
Social media belongs at the forefront of your PR strategy; neglect it, and any employee can create your next (and possibly your last) PR nightmare. Properly integrated, it is a customer relations tool, a marketing platform, and perhaps most importantly, a lever to pull for public relations initiatives–and damage control.
Having a social media policy in place coordinates all staff, establishes a way of doing things that protects your company values and reputation, while leaving space of individuality and each employee’s social accounts. If you don’t approach this proactively, every employee is a liability; if you embrace it, every employee is a little PR manager helping you advertise, connect, and reach further.
Social Connectivity is a Productivity Asset
Research consistently shows that a person’s network, more than education or qualifications, is key to finding not just employment, but overall job satisfaction. In fact, alumni networks are becoming a major selling point for college degrees–as important as the education itself. More and more of what constitutes “networking” in both the social and the professional sense is occurring online.
Arizona State University (ASU) is one of America’s largest public, non-profit universities by enrollment, with more than 40,000 undergraduates and thousands more graduate students. Reflexively, that means the ASU alumni network is also one of the nation’s largest.
ASU, like many traditional universities, is leveraging social media and communication technology to engage students, deliver instruction, and connect its massive alumni network to create a powerful 21st century value-add to the degree. Whether on campus or online, students use the same toolkits to organize classwork, connect to clubs, follow teams, arrange study groups, and network professionally after graduation. It is the connections–and the network–that matters. The modern company similarly can stay connected, share challenges and solutions, manage workflows, and generally collaborate using the same tools whether they are in the office or distributed around the world.
None of the perks of this digital networking and social connectivity has anything to do with location. Physical location is often a distraction to the real power and benefits of social media and digital communication platforms. When you are managing a remote workforce, the challenge is not the space between members of your team, but ensuring they are all connected to one another by their tools, their sense of purpose, and a shared goal to solve one another’s problems. If your remote teams are communicating, they are already on the right path.
Remote Security is Not Optional
Cultural integration among remote workers is hard, but possibly not even the hardest part of the digital age. Shared vulnerabilities can foster unity and strengthen team identity. And an unfortunate reality of the digital age is that we are all vulnerable through our devices, profiles, and use of online resources and spaces. A network, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link.
The upshot of that is that we are all collectively responsible for our shared security. Before workers even think about working from home, they are often bringing devices to work, managing their own social media accounts, checking their personal email, and generally blurring the lines between their professional and personal toolkits. This isn’t a productivity challenge so much as it is emblematic of how individual behaviors have major security implications.
Every employee is a link in the security chain. Limiting their ability to utilize modern technology is a productivity compromise that hurts your competitiveness, but constant reminders to everyone that their behavior–and vigilance–has major consequences can lend a sense of importance to the everyday.
A culture of security awareness and individual self-policing can be a part of a greater cultural framework that values the individual, and treats everyone as an asset worthy of trust, as well as responsibility. Best of all, this approach stays the same whether or not your team is telecommuting or coming in to work every day.
Adjust Today, Thrive Tomorrow
Remote work opportunities may be a modern necessity for Digital Natives as well as Digital Immigrants who value flexibility, work-life balance, and company culture. Going forward, offering telecommuting options appear necessary to attract and retain the top talent in any industry. That doesn’t have to be a pain point for your company, or company culture.
Company culture is ultimately a product of interaction, idea exchange, communication, and participation. These things are critical to aligning everyone’s approach to security, PR, productivity, and sense of interdependence across departments and individual roles.
Making everyone feel needed and valued should be easy, because the reality is that they already are. The power of the digital age is that everyone connected to your workplace–remotely, or otherwise–can be an asset, or a liability. A strong company culture is intrinsic to tilting the scales in your favor.
Edgar Wilson is an Oregon native writing on trends in health, education, and global affairs. He has worked in industries ranging from international marketing to broadcast journalism. He is currently working as an independent analytical consultant. He can be reached via email here or on Twitter @EdgarTwilson, and more of his work viewed through Contently.
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