Culture in the age of coronavirus: Successful remote working

As more of us are forced to work from home, how we communicate will become even more important.

by Chris Dyer
Last Updated: 16 Mar 2020

“Out of office” messages are about to become more literal. 

As social distancing becomes the best practice for thwarting the spread of coronavirus, businesses are turning to telework to keep their people healthy. Many are doing so with trepidation, wondering how their company culture will change. How will a dispersed staff perform, collaborate and stay focused? Will they get any work done at all?

These are questions that leaders of businesses that have already moved to fully remote platforms have asked, wrestled with and answered. The good news is that many have remained viable and competitive. 

Innovation is on the agenda

Back in the late 2000s, my business was in the same position that many face today: working from home was our only solution to staying afloat during the economic downturn. We had to get it right. Two elements of vibrant company culture can help you get it right today: a positive mindset, and a healthy respect for mistakes.

Positivity is the best treatment for uncertainty and unforeseen challenges, like the progression of the coronavirus and its consequences. Compelled to work from home? Consider it a grand opportunity. You’re about to learn everything you always wanted to know about it. Read up on the subject, work up a short-term plan, and track its effectiveness as you go.

Will you make mistakes? Probably. We played endless phone tag trying to collaborate, at first — then we revamped our communications software and remote meeting protocols. Now, we reach the right person on the first try, use a hierarchy of meeting types, and are more efficient and productive than ever before. Treat each mistake as a stepping stone to a better process, and you’ll get there.

Better Communication Is on the horizon

Our phone-tag blunder brought up two more aspects of good culture that we incorporated to elevate our ability to connect and collaborate long-distance: transparency and effective listening. 

In an office, it was easier to find the right source to answer questions or provide details, even asking folks one cubicle at a time. From several locations, we needed a list of who did what and why. This saved time and ensured that relevant players were invited to meetings, which became more goal-oriented. The same went for sharing files and information online. Transparency made us more accurate and efficient.

How we communicated grew more important, as well. Without face-to-face discussion, we needed to boost our listening skills, particularly when teleconferencing. This meant no multitasking and repeating back a speaker’s words or asking for clarification to make sure everyone was understood.

It also meant being patient and methodical in choosing to remain silent and take notes or reply only when a response was warranted. No one wants to waste time speaking and not be heard. Thoughtful and respectful listening is a hallmark of great company culture.

I can testify that taking the risk to go remote encouraged us to accept mistakes, so we could find new ways to succeed. Going about it in a positive manner sure beats throwing up our hands and deciding we couldn’t do it. Making all of our company information internally accessible and refining our communication skills gave us the tools to get the job done. Our company culture has improved exponentially.

We can’t know what the fallout from this pandemic will be, but likely many organisations will voluntarily go remote, and some may be forced to do so. Right now, universities are moving to online classes and the US government is preparing its vast workforce to equip for distance work. There is no doubt that for many, the coronavirus pandemic will change the very way we work. Let’s make sure it’s for the better.

Leadership speaker Chris Dyer is the author of The Power of Company Culture (Kogan Page, 2018), as well as Founder and CEO of PeopleG2

Image courtesy of Chris Dyer/Kogan Page



Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Why Rishi Sunak is right on returning to the office - but shouldn’t ...

Opinion: It’s about time leaders end the cycle of out of sight, out of mind....

How to manage up without looking manipulative

MT Asks: Tips for managing your manager without looking like a master manipulator.

How to make imagination a competitive advantage

Blue sky creativity isn't just the realm of lone geniuses and small children. It can...

Is Amazon becoming a 21st century conglomerate?

Why history suggests being too diversified can spell doom for the biggest business.

5 reasons CEO successions fail

Picking the next leader is arguably a board's most important job.

Leadership clinic: Is this the right time for M&A?

Octopus Group co-founder and chief executive Simon Rogerson answers questions on starting up, scaling up...