Dear Members:

The pandemic changed many things in the past year, and one of the most significant was the transition of many employees from working in-person at the office to working remotely. As a result, one of the hot topics every organization is talking about these days is whether to keep working from home versus returning to the office. Recently, both myself and our executive leadership team read the book Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture with Virtual Teams by Larry English, and it has helped guide our decisions as we consider the best path forward.

Whether your organization is still working remotely, planning to return to the office at some point, or implementing a hybrid version of both options, there are a few key factors to consider right now to ensure your “virtual culture” is (and remains) healthy. Four key points resonated with me as special areas of importance.

Trusting your staff and teams to work together effectively. The book kicked off the very first chapter by emphasizing the importance of trust. Leaders who trust their remote employees and give them autonomy and flexibility allow them to feel independent and empowered while still being connected to the organization’s overall mission. Trusted and empowered employees are happy and loyal employees, and happiness and loyalty produce an amazing company culture.

Keeping your organization’s culture alive in a remote work environment. Speaking of culture, a company’s work culture is one of the keys to employee satisfaction and retention. But it can be challenging to help new employees learn that culture if they’re not all physically present in the office for meetings, trainings, and special events. The chapter called “Scaling Your Culture with a Cultural Training Program” offered some great insight into developing your organization’s “culture curriculum” and training new employees on this curriculum mostly through digital tools. This was insightful because though it may seem like having everyone in the office in-person five days a week is the most effective way to share your organization’s mission, values, and culture, the book emphasizes that cultivating a good culture is about more than just being in the same building.

Communicating regularly. Although this point might seem obvious, it’s important to remember that building strong relationships is more than just a one-way street. For example, soliciting employee feedback only once a year through a traditional performance review or survey isn't adequate. Ongoing check-ins are needed with staff and managers both at an enterprise-wide level and at an individual level so you can stay updated on your business culture and overall employee satisfaction.

Establishing clear objectives and key results to measure output. One big question a manager may be asking is, “How do I measure my employee’s output if I can’t directly observe them in the office?” It's still possible to measure performance if you intentionally create well-defined objectives and outcomes. Though it may take some extra consideration or effort, there are many ways to make sure performance is staying on track. Emails, phone calls, and digital collaboration tools are all highly effective channels for building and maintaining virtual relationships and gathering/submitting feedback.

I really appreciated all of the book’s insights because they demonstrated that there’s more than one “right way” of doing things in the workplace. And, as many of us consider our virtual and in-person work environment options and what transitions can and/or should be made, it’s a topic worth seeking insight into.


Melissa Ashley