Building Positive Workplace Culture: Tips for Remote & Traditional Offices
An open, comfortable environment is the best way to give the workforce space to be innovative and productive on its own terms. When the company and its employees work together to effect changes, the overall mood of the office changes for the better. That mood, the way people interact with each other and perceive their workspace, is called workplace or organizational culture.
If your company is looking to increase retention rates and reduce turnover, putting effort into a better workplace culture is one of the best things you can do. When people feel at home in their environment, they work better and reach out to coworkers more.
Making changes on such a large scale might seem intimidating, but if everyone chips in it’s a simple process. Plus, the benefits far outweigh any growing pains the company might go through. Use some of the tips in this guide to make your company a better place to work.
What Is Workplace Culture?
Think of a typical office job and a few things likely spring to mind: break rooms, meetings, and the dreaded cubicle. Although they have come to symbolize the modern office, plenty of office spaces do without them either entirely or in the conventional sense.
The process of work is the culture of the company. Projects must be done so that the original purpose of the business is accomplished. It isn’t just attitudes and cubicles that make up organizational culture – the methods used to accomplish business goals, the hierarchy of the company, and the structure for communication also impact how people feel about working at a given place.
As the concept of a workplace has developed, history has provided a wide variety of different organizational cultures. At the far end of the spectrum, smoky factories with dangerous machines and little to no safety regulations form the worst-case scenario. While you might not contend with such brutal conditions in typical or remote office space these days, that feeling of top-down restriction is still widely despised.
Who Creates the Workplace Culture?
The most important thing to understand about the culture of a workplace is that everybody impacts it. A good manager is great for team morale, but the individual team members have to mesh well together, too. Everybody in the building from the janitor to the CEO should be involved in the culture in some way.
So, what does it mean to be involved in the culture? Taking part in team-building exercises, sharing special rewards like catered lunches or birthday parties? To some degree, people do need to be involved in the cultural events of a company to be involved. But helping create that culture is even more important.
Building Organizational Structure Together
The number one way companies mess up building organizational culture is by leaving the entire task up to a small number of people and blocking out everyone else. Party-planning committees and one-off events don’t have nearly the same impact as organic events put together by the same employees who will participate in them.
If that sounds like more work for employees who already have enough to do, you’re not using your imagination enough. Rather than imposing the creation of leisure or team-building events as a new work task, use it as an opportunity to break away from the more mundane issues during a meeting or a conference call.
Plan for events by blocking out space on the schedule and then build a democratic process for people to decide what needs to be addressed and how it can be done in the best way. Try to break the mold when you’re thinking of possible events.
Traditional events like lunches, sports, or parties aren’t the only way to cooperatively build better workplace culture, though. The day-to-day business practices have an even greater impact and most companies pay little attention to them at all.
Business Processes and Workplace Culture
The procedures used to accomplish tasks evolve naturally from the issue a business is created to address. If there’s a shortage of cafes in a college town, someone will hopefully come along and fill that gap with a new one. Planning for that cafe to succeed involves study and strategy to make sure it can turn a profit and provide a needed product at the same time.
Altering the business processes to build a more positive organizational culture might seem dangerous, a little like changing the recipe for a dish that’s already delicious. But it’s necessary to do so if you’re repeatedly seeing people jump ship because the work environment is less than ideal. If you want to increase retention rates, your business processes might need an update.
Sales teams handle leads to make sure their best salespeople are reaching out to the most important clients. But unevenness in the doling out of sales leads could cause salespeople to transfer to a different company where they can make higher commission rates.
That’s a great example of a business practice that can be altered for the better of the working environment. While management should still make sure that the best leads are given to people who can make the sale, transparency and fairness in lead distribution is crucial. Competition can bring out the best in people, but a cutthroat environment will cut an otherwise great career short.
Identifying pain points and addressing them with changes to business processes should be undertaken by as large and diverse a team as possible to make sure no one is dissatisfied or blindsided by the resulting changes.
6 Tips for a Better Workplace Culture
Teamwork and imagination are the two key elements of strong workplace culture. Use some of the following tips to make your workplace culture better, increase retention rates, and create a more comfortable office overall.
1- Start at the Beginning
Just like your business processes evolved from the company’s inception, the culture should start building from day one. Here’s the thing: it’s going to do so whether you’re proactive or not, so it’s much more advantageous to act.
Take that down to the individual level, too. When you’re onboarding new hires, introduce them to the company culture as soon as possible. If you can get that done during the interview process, so much the better.
Since everyone plays a role in building and maintaining the company culture, they need to have access to it as soon as possible. But what does that access look like?
2- Bring People Where the Culture Is
To some degree, the company culture is wherever people are. But if we’re going to be proactive about it, we have to give those people space to impact the culture, change it when needed, and access it explicitly.
From teenagers at part-time jobs to C-suite executives with decades of experience, employees are going to stay at places where they’re happy to work. In many cases, this concern outweighs the salary and you can increase retention rates by making sure your employees are happy.
Like any successful program, people have to buy into the workplace culture for it to work. Rather than imposing it upon them, empower them to discuss and change the culture when it doesn’t suit the employees. You don’t need to give anyone king powers, but you can let people vote and discuss changes and implement them together.
If people don’t have a clear image of what the workplace culture is or aren’t able to describe it, that’s a good indication that it’s not too strong. You can’t force anyone to participate in events and expect a good result, but you can make the culture more apparent by building a more noticeable culture. Take note that it should be noticed for positive reasons, not for being a hindrance or annoyance.
3- Make It Enticing
Designers are some of the most sought-after creatives. The design thinking they use to build better products and marketing campaigns centers on enticing the user toward a call-to-action such as a purchase or subscription button.
Just like those designers, intentional efforts at building a company culture should focus on making the culture more enticing for employees. They should enjoy the extra-curriculars and jump to participate. There are a few ways you can make this happen.
Take time off into consideration. Although a planned event or activity might be fun or relaxing, scheduling it on a Saturday when people are supposed to be off work completely is probably a bad move. Smaller companies might be able to get away with this because the team is smaller and might view their coworkers as personal friends as well as professional colleagues.
It can’t be stressed enough how much involving the employees in the planning of cultural events will make them more appealing. If you can make room for people to express themselves and their personal histories, you’ll not only build a better workplace culture but also show your company values diversity.
4- Collaboration is Key
Strong company culture will boost teamwork, but you can use it as a collaboration prerogative to foster that community even more. Bring people from different teams and a variety of backgrounds together to discuss the company culture and brainstorm ways to improve it. Different personalities will come up with different ideas and make the planned change or event more impactful across the board.
In many companies, there are teams of people that rarely make contact outside the break room. If you have teams in this situation, let them work together and give them space to socialize in the meantime. This will make a more cohesive workforce and let people learn about parts of the business process that they wouldn’t have been familiar with otherwise.
Collaboration at this scale also prevents power imbalances. Events and discussions centered around building a more positive company culture should reduce inequality and boost employees who are typically overshadowed by louder or more assertive types.
More people will participate when they feel an event or initiative is their brainchild. Even if it’s only partial credit, no one is more enthusiastic than someone who is speaking about something they helped create. This goes double or triple for creatives.
5- Showcase Personalities
People typically feel a divide between themselves and their work in part because their personalities aren’t allowed to shine at the workplace. Maybe you can’t have call center employees trying out jokes from their comedy routine to customers, but you can create space for employees to use humor constructively.
Personality traits don’t have to be on wide display if it makes people uncomfortable. But companies can do things like relaxing the dress code or change the tone of reports and meetings to allow little splashes of individuality to shine through. In addition to letting people be more self-expressive, it will also make the meetings and memos more entertaining and appealing, so people will engage with them more.
Not everyone has a personality that’s appealing to everyone else. Teach your employees how to work with people they disagree with and you’ll address this problem before it can get out of hand.
6- Be Realistic
When it comes to workplace culture, you have to work with what you’ve got. Maybe the culture at a small Silicon Valley start-up looks like great fun, but if you have a small workforce of primarily long-term employees who have been in the workforce for decades, trying to switch to a workplace culture that mimics the kind directed at millennials and zoomers probably won’t work out.
This is partially a case of don’t-fix-what-ain’t-broken, but it’s also about taking a realistic look at who works at the company and what kind of workplace culture will be possible. Experience levels may factor in, as could individual personalities.
Sometimes teams just happen to be built out of primarily quiet introverts. Don’t schedule loud parties and club nights for that kind of team if they aren’t into it. Sometimes, even if a few people would have more fun on a party cruise, the majority of the team would have more fun in an escape room or a simple lunch event.
Building Positive Remote Workplace Culture
All the tips above still apply to remote workplace culture. The biggest factor for remote workplace culture given the tremendous hop to remote work in recent years is that in-person team building events are more and more frequently becoming an impossibility.
Not only are teams not working in traditional brick and mortar offices, but some are spread across time zones, making digital meetings and social events more challenging to arrange if not impossible outright. As more people face these issues, they’re also inventing more innovative solutions.
Videoconferencing allows teams to do all manner of team-building exercises, from games to digital happy hours. Some of the most successful implementations of such exercises are blended into the work employees are hired to do.
For example, some design teams schedule weekly video conferences to discuss what everyone is working on. This sometimes leads to advice, critique, and troubleshooting. It can just as likely be a chance to vent and get closer to colleagues.
If you structure the business processes for remote teams correctly, WFH and other remote positions can be used to create a much better remote workplace culture. Even if all the employees are rarely or never in the same room together, chat software and email threads can still be a source of expression.
“Water cooler” chat threads for people to indulge in a little non-work chatter from time to time are a great way to give employees space to have some fun. People who aren’t interested in such a thing have no requirement to participate, while others who enjoy jokes and memes are free to share them. As long as you have set rules and a dedicated moderator for monitoring the content in such a channel, it can be a great way for remote teams to get closer in spirit even if they aren’t any closer physically.
A better workplace culture makes people happier to work at a company. If you want to increase retention rates and create a more imaginative and productive workforce, strong company culture is key.
Companies can do many things to impact workplace culture for the better. The best advice is to empower employees to shape the culture of their own workplace. This empowerment will make the team more enthusiastic about participating and make team-building efforts more effective. The earlier you start, the more effective your team-building efforts will go. Start introducing the workplace culture to candidates early in the hiring process for better integration.
The tips in this guide apply equally to traditional offices as well as remote workplace culture. No matter how much business might change, positive workplace culture will always remain a crucial tool for happy employees and better work.