You are living a long-proven principle: you learn much about your team or organizational culture in times of crisis. The move to remote work may have exposed some cracks in your culture and may have highlighted some strengths, too. This new time of crisis and the remote work that goes with it is a tremendous opportunity to do more than learn about our culture, but to change it. Let’s talk about how you can create culture change during remote work.
How Can Remote Work Help Our Culture Long-term?
You may be questioning my premise, and if you are, that is ok. Let me ask you some questions.
- Have your past patterns and routines of work been interrupted?
- Are people trying to figure out how to get work done?
- Are some people bonding in new and different ways now?
- And as a more specific example, are people even more aware of how meetings work, and wondering how to make them better?
My bet is that you answered “yes” to all four questions. Notice that each is rooted on the thought that “the way we do things” has been upset. Since culture is simply “the way we do things,” now you have a chance to as a leader, with the help of the group, to reset those norms both for now and the future.
Does This Mean a Culture Change Initiative?
Typically, when leadership wants to change the culture, there is an initiative, a project and a stated announcement of a long-term effort to make this change. While I am not against this approach (and have helped several organizations with it), that is not what I am suggesting now. Rather if we want to promote culture change during remote work, I am suggesting we use this time of upheaval to help the organization see its best self and learn from these experiences. Use of the word culture is completely optional.
While you might have some specific behavior you would like to see changed, I recommend putting those thoughts in the back of your mind at least to start. Rather than guiding the questions with your wishes start by asking the group some open ended questions like:
- What are we learning about working together now (while we aren’t together)?
- What is working?
- Where are we getting stuck?
- When or how is “how we’ve always done it” getting in the way?
- What can we do differently now?
As the leader you can participate in the conversation and share your ideas, but don’t lead with yours and make sure you don’t dominate. Your goal is to get the group to identify and see the opportunities, not listen to you and your brilliant thoughts!
Note that you might not get through all these questions in one meeting, and that is ok. Take notes on the answers as they are discussed.
Transfer Lessons into Action
There are two steps to this process. One is immediate, and the other is long term. Keep your focus on the immediate for now. In a follow-up meeting or conversation, help the group shift their thinking in two ways:
- What should we keep doing?
- What do we need to change?
Help the group agree to the answers they identify and turn them into agreements for working remotely. In doing that you have effectively created culture change for remote work in the short term. Without using the world culture, you have created culture change for the current working situation.
When you move your team back to together, you can ask questions about the lessons from the time working apart – looking at how many of these new agreements still apply (and are valuable) when working together again. This second step allows you to maintain the positive culture changes you are gaining now and keeping them as a positive outcome of the shutdown.
For all the change the shutdown has caused, this is one positive that can come from it – but only if you see it as an opportunity and use it. These steps will help create positive change from a change that was forced upon you.