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There’s a lot out there about what leaders need to do to reach out to employees who are remote: coffee chats, cameras on, ice breaking exercises.
Likewise, there are many tips for how to engage teams with properly run meetings, check-ins, team building exercises and other types of connecting activities.
But in the middle of all these tips about employers connecting to their employees on a cultural level, shouldn’t we also ask what we can do as employees to take a proactive approach to staying connected with our organizational culture?
Why Employees Should Own Culture As Well
After all, connectivity is a critical part of having satisfying work and feeling as though you are doing something meaningful that’s bigger than yourself. Being on a team and a part of a group trying to accomplish common goals connects you to others and helps form a common understanding. In addition to being drawn together for a common purpose, being part of a group helps solidify ties through support, a common alliance and a sense of accountability. This connectedness is a big part the reason teams are successful. And everyone wants to be a part of a successful team.
So, what are the things we can do to reach out and connect to our workplace culture and the people within it?
Here are four ideas to try and meet your organization halfway in the fight to maintain a positive culture:
1. Build a Cultural Bridge With a (New) Team Member
This applies to everyone, whether you are in a leadership role, a part of HR, or a team member. Make time to check in with people – especially if they are new and have been onboarded remotely. Remember that it’s hard for them when they haven’t had a chance to interact with their new team in person. There is no institutional knowledge that others have who have been at the company prior to WFH.
For an example, compare the memories of a relative you spent time with versus a relative you have just heard stories about. If you do, they are probably dissimilar. It’s the difference between having a connection vs. getting other people’s impressions of what someone was like. If you didn’t experience it, it’s not as vivid. This kind of connection – the one that you experience – is very important to remember when talking with new or existing colleagues.
For new colleagues, it’s establishing that connection. For familiar colleagues, it’s reminding them of a connection.
Things that set the tone of a company like what the office looked like, what people had around their workspace, or maybe what everyone’s favorite conference room was because it had the best AV set up are all part of a common experience.
- Seek to recreate those by asking about their environment: Where are they? What are their challenges? What is funny about where they are? What is annoying (for a laugh)?
- Think also about re-creating the personalities on your team. Re-tell a quick anecdote for your team to help remind those who were there and include those who weren’t. Bring up a past incident where you worked together to accomplish something in order to reset team culture. Ask someone to tell the team about a memory the last time you were together. Give people an opportunity to build bonding experiences together despite working separately.
2. Connect with Your Immediate Supervisor
Just because someone is in charge doesn’t mean they don’t need regular cultural reminders. Stay connected to them by checking in and making sure you are aware of their priorities for you and your colleagues. Find out if there might be opportunities to get the team physically together to share a meal or brainstorm a goal or an important initiative.
Depending on schedules, set up regular times to meet with your supervisor. Regular ‘touch-bases’ are helpful for both of you. In those meetings, ask if there are any additional things you can do to help the team work better together. Your supervisor might have some ideas or you might come with a few of your own.
3. Connect With Other Departments
This is more challenging if you are a new employee, but if you aren’t, take the time to call and catch up with your ‘hallway’ friends. Maybe it’s at the end of a long week or the beginning of a new one. Give someone a ring to say ‘hi’ and ask how they’re doing. Find out what’s new with them either personally or professionally. Make a phone date to speak in the future. Or, if possible, make a date to meet for lunch to catch up.
Find out what’s happening in their department. Ask questions and listen. Much of the time, people just want to share their experiences. You’ll learn how others are managing to reinforce or not reinforce culture and understand what you should do or not do within your team.
4. Ask For What You Need
Asking for what you need is one of the most important things to do and people rarely do it. They’re either afraid of what people might think or they are not sure what might help keep them connected so they don’t know what to ask for. In either case, raise the issue either with your supervisor or with your colleagues so you can ensure you stay connected to your team and the goals you want to accomplish. Don’t be afraid to speak up as your productivity and teamability are most important to the organization.
The Intangibles Are Some of the Most Important Things
Organizational culture is an intangible. But just because it’s hard to define and shape doesn’t mean it isn’t real and losing it isn’t undesirable. We can’t take for granted that a positive company culture is an important thread that sustains employees when things are challenging. Most people want to be connected, understood, contributing and valuable. Working with your team, your boss, and other colleagues in other departments is an important part of reinforcing cultural intangibles for you and for them.
And while our organizations have a responsibility to be a leader in reinforcing their culture, you can meet them halfway and ensure that your work experience is a positive and rewarding one.