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Maintaining Company Culture in a Remote Work Environment 10.23.2020 | Chris Brunone, MBA

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Remember the courtroom scene in A Few Good Men when Lieutenant Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise, asks Corporal Barnes, a witness he’s examining, to point out where in the Marines training manual it explains how to get to the Mess Hall? Barnes chuckles and says it’s not in the manual. Kaffee asks him how he knew where to go to eat on his first day and Barnes replies that he just followed the other guys at chow time.

While it drew a laugh from the courtroom, it also served to illustrate the crux of Kaffee’s argument that it was not written rules, but rather the culture under Colonel Jessup’s command that led his men to act as they did in administering the “Code Red” at the heart of the trial.

Like any group connected by a common purpose, a company’s culture is evident in the shared beliefs, values, practices and actions of its people. It’s not something you can touch or see, but it is nonetheless both powerful and can be extremely valuable… if you’ve got a good one, that is.

Just like Colonel Jessup’s soldiers, a company’s culture is often built through both strategic leadership and shared experience working shoulder to shoulder, or at least cubicle to cubicle in an office, face to face in the lunchroom or around the conference table or at company events outside work. But what happens when a corner of your living room or your kitchen table becomes your workplace for months on end? How do companies sustain or even build their culture under remote work conditions?

Turns out, that question is on the minds of more than a few business leaders who recognize the power and value of their culture. According to KPMG’s CEO, Paul Knopp, (Promoted on Twitter 10/7/2020-#CEOOutlook) “78% of US CEOs indicate that remote work has led to changes to policy that serve to nurture their culture.” Knopp also relays that in our current remote work environment, “CEOs are accelerating their digital business transformation but also see a tremendous amount of talent risk among others.” He indicates that “As much as they are focusing on technology, companies are reassessing their values and purpose and placing a greater emphasis on the employee engagement and corporate culture.”

Like our own leadership, many of our clients immediately took steps to protect, preserve and promote their culture early on in the work-from-home continuum. One client in the pharmaceutical industry has found themselves in robust growth mode due to a pandemic-related spike in business. They recently shared with us how they dealt with ensuring that their incoming classes of newly hired employees got the same cultural immersion as those who were hired into the company before them. Their pre-COVID onboarding protocol consisted of a three-day immersion with a “class” of new hires all starting together and going through the same training together. This approach served to build camaraderie quickly while absorbing the company culture.

When remote work began a hiring freeze was not an option. Not wanting to lose their momentum or risk the loss of culture, our contact tells us their Talent Development team, working with their IT group retooled the program immediately to ensure that new employees had all of the equipment and access they needed to jump right in on their first day. They rearranged onboarding content so that each “class” starts on a Monday and essential knowledge is now all on day 1 in an 8-hour group session by video. While intense, the full immersion is designed to accelerate the assimilation of the employee and has proven effective.

While not in the same hiring mode as our client, Weichert also carefully tends our culture, a key factor that enables us to attract and retain the best talent in the industry and drives that talent to deliver our award-winning Legendary Service to our clients and their employees year after year. We maintain an office of Talent Development and Colleague Engagement that administers a variety of strategic training and engagement programs. We also reinforce what makes our culture great by formally articulating our shared beliefs and posting them in video format on Weichert Community, our company intranet.

And as much as we’ve used it to seamlessly continue service delivery to clients, we’ve also leveraged technology to stay connected with each other which really seems to be working. Although not fully back in the office yet, many colleagues have organized and participated in socially distanced events like parking lot tailgate lunches and virtual happy hours. Furthermore, nearly all respondents to our recent colleague survey consistently indicated that, above all, we really miss each other.

We recognize these as signs that our culture is alive and well but, like our savviest clients, we will continue our efforts to ensure its health and evolution, now and into the future.

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Written by Chris Brunone, MBA

Chris Brunone

Chris is Executive Vice President, Talent Development & Colleague Engagement at Weichert, managing companywide training initiatives and overseeing our talent onboarding and engagement efforts. He has 35 years of experience in talent development and leadership training to his role, having honed his craft working at The Ken Blanchard Companies and BlessingWhite. He is the architect of our Legendary Service initiative, which has grown from a customer service training program to part of our corporate DNA, and as our industry grows more complex, he continues to equip our leaders to more competently and confidently lead others to higher levels of performance.

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