Building a Strong Culture in a Virtual World

Building a Strong Culture in a Virtual World


Content Writer: Gary Irvine Gary Irvine Chief People Officer

A variety of studies state that a strong company culture adds 20 to 30 percent to the organization's value. As Chief People Officer at RevLocal, I wholeheartedly object to this blatant undervaluing!

If we set aside my obvious bias, it does bring to the front a significant problem that companies all over the world are currently trying to solve – how do we build and maintain a healthy company culture in a virtual workplace?

The virtual workplace was thrust upon us all with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenge of how to maintain and nurture culture came to the front of the line for problem-solving.

The not so sneaky fact here was that virtual was only part of the real problem.

Employees were dealing with crushing fear and isolation on top of a new workplace – quite the perfect storm to upend the most balanced and connected employees.

We believe we have a unique and vibrant culture at RevLocal, so the call to action to protect and nurture our culture was real.

As we listened to our employees and partnered with them to discover what they needed, we learned a great number of lessons and discovered a couple of well-worn truths remained as important as ever.

The key to maintaining and nurturing our culture was to communicate, communicate, communicate.

Now, before you roll your eyes and wonder which leadership guru I am plagiarizing from, allow me to share our learning as a company and what worked for us.

Stories Matter

We all know that a good story captures our emotions and imagination, and it can reshape how we think about ourselves and our situation.

Yet, in the corporate world, our stories tend to be highlighted with adventures in spreadsheets and data insights.

RevLocal has invested heavily in employees sharing their stories over the years as a bedrock of our culture.

Interestingly, as we abruptly shifted to a virtual workplace, those stories held more weight and meaning than ever before. Even the retelling of past stories connected employees who came after their initial telling.

The stories provided the narrative we all needed - we care about you, there is a path forward (not in generic terms but in the words of our co-workers). 

Transparency

We were conducting a leadership class for our high potential leaders not long after we shifted to the virtual workplace, and we asked the group to share the one leadership trait they admired the most through all the turbulent changes.

Unanimously, one trait was stated above all others – transparency.

Our current lives are bombarded with communications that are deeply soaked in "agenda" – we have grown weary of this burden and are additionally frustrated by it in times of uncertainty.

The ability to be vulnerable and honest in sharing what you know and don’t know without the varnish is so fresh that it cuts through the fog of a virtual workplace and heightens connection.

Having your leader share their honest hopes and fears will nurture your culture significantly more than a script with all the right words.

Fun – Everyone Gets a Shot With the Microphone

One of the greatest communication innovations we came up with in moving to a virtual workplace was the reimagining of our monthly employee meeting.

This meeting had always been an energetic and entertaining meeting for our home office employees.

However, with a shift to virtual, the meeting transformed into a full spoofed reproduction of Saturday Night Live - skits, musical guests and set all included.

The meeting exploded with creativity and talent as the "stars" went from senior leaders communicating to all employees having a shot at being involved in a skit, song or presentation.

Some employees even traveled in from out of state to be able to be involved.

This may sound like a whimsical over-investment in fun, but I would argue that done correctly and with open involvement, your employees will feel less virtual and more part of something special that they want to be part of.

Final Thoughts

The answers to building a strong culture shifted in 2020. We certainly made mistakes just like everyone else.

But by listening and telling stories, being transparent and having fun, we were able to keep our culture strong although we were apart.

Our founder talks about how we do it all wrong every year, but the fun is that next year we get to do it “less wrong.” I’m looking forward to doing it “less wrong” next year!


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