Sustaining Workplace Culture When The Company Has Gone Virtual

Sustaining Workplace Culture When The Company Has Gone Virtual

Executive leaders who question the sustainability of the virtual workplace have a ready excuse for expediting an end to it as soon as possible: A healthy workplace culture relies on social interaction and impromptu meetings that happen only in person. Let’s examine this premise, because a complete reversal of the work-from-home trend seems unlikely soon, if ever.

I consider a workplace culture healthy when engaged, happy, and productive employees help their company succeed. This alignment between the leaders and the workforce happens when senior leaders display confidence and humility in communicating their goals, whether in person or using the videoconferences and other virtual tools we embraced because of the pandemic. This type of leader extends trust to employees and builds a support team as a result. Saying “I need you to come back to the office every day so I can keep an eye on you” is the opposite of a message of confidence, humility, and trust.

Workplace culture undoubtedly benefits from impromptu encounters and meetings that allow senior leaders to get to really know their people personally, display empathy, and generate excitement by listening and acting quickly on feedback. Just because we are not chatting around water coolers or in elevators doesn’t mean we can’t build time into our days for small talk and unregimented conversations with team members. We can post electronic signups for virtual “open door” office hours or add networking time to scheduled company town halls or department meetings. If we don’t provide forums for employees to talk with us, they surely will find their own channels to talk about us, stoking the rumors and whining of a toxic workplace culture.

Techniques and platforms that work for one company or team may be counterproductive for others. Some tasks at my company, such as processing payrolls for clients, require meticulous attention to detail on deadline. We wouldn’t want to interrupt the team members’ concentration with some well-meaning but mandatory social interaction. Messaging platforms and communications habits that worked fine before the pandemic may need updating. We must respect our people’s need for time off the clock and time to mentally process the information we can virtually flood them with at all hours. Sending a video instead of an email can be a great way to personalize virtual communications or it may be a time suck. While we can scan an email quickly for relevance, it’s unproductive to have a hundred recipients watch a video for ten minutes before they realize it was like being pulled into a meeting they didn’t need to attend.

Communicating with simplicity and authenticity is a key to sustaining a healthy workplace culture. The ways we communicate and how we check in with our people and show our gratitude and appreciation of their work will vary from one workplace to another. There is a simple way to find out what approaches would work best for your people. Ask them.

First featured on