Meet Alex—a marketing professional who managed a team of six at her organization. When her team was in the office full-time (pre-pandemic), deliberate effort to improve company culture wasn’t even on her radar—mainly because it wasn’t necessary.
Building strong relationships within her team came effortlessly. They collaborated often and enjoyed an efficient, predictable rhythm for meetings. They regularly went to lunch together and team members would even get together outside of work for spontaneous happy hours or dinner.
When it came to the greater, company-wide team, Alex would often strike up a conversation with someone she never worked with at the office. This sparked great work friendships that required minimal intentional effort. The overall organizational culture was positive; she felt comfortable connecting with colleagues she didn’t work with much normally to collaborate on new projects together.
Remote work: the immediate impact
When the pandemic hit, the organization transitioned to remote work, and those meaningful interactions halted. The casual office chatter about the latest favorites on Hulu or that funny thing a coworker’s kid did at a birthday party last weekend was a thing of the past. Overnight, the company culture went from dynamic, collaborative, and vibrant to static, siloed, and dull. 😓
It didn’t sink in until Alex was experiencing challenges with her own manager that it hit her. In this new, remote-first work environment, managers have the most influence over their team’s morale and culture.
Shortly after the transition to being fully remote, her organization and team faced significant turnover. Those that stuck with the company battled burnout, low morale, disengagement, and decreased motivation. Without the office bringing people together to provide opportunities for employees to intermingle, it was easy for new and tenured staff to feel isolated.
Despite experiencing burnout herself, pressure from her manager to hit quarterly goals, and having a packed calendar, Alex took time to think through the challenges her team was facing. She realized those chance encounters that happened effortlessly in-office contributed greatly to the team morale and company culture. The informal conversations, inside jokes, smiles, and connections were really the glue that held teams together.
Company culture: the missing piece
When teams weren’t meeting goals or other challenges arose, it was easy for them to lean on those professional relationships for support. When you stop and think about it, it’s easy to see one of the main reasons why so many employees quit their jobs during the Great Resignation.
Due to the removal of an easily overlooked though very important foundational building block, company culture went south quickly at many companies. With the shift to remote work, opportunities to build camaraderie with colleagues vanished and employees started the search for new jobs with the promise of a better culture. Salary increases, advancement opportunities, and more flexibility made the decision to leave easier.
In fact, a study featured in MIT’s Sloan Management Review analyzed over 34 million online employee profiles and 1.4 million Glassdoor reviews from a sample of large, for-profit companies that collectively employ nearly a quarter of the private sector workforce in the US. Their goal was to understand employee motivations for leaving their jobs during the Great Resignation. The researchers found that:
- A toxic company or team culture is the number one motivating factor by far at 10.4 times more likely than compensation to contribute to employee turnover.
- Job insecurity and reorganization are 3.5 times more likely than compensation to influence employee turnover.
- Failure to recognize employee performance is 3 times more likely than compensation to contribute to attrition.
But wait! There is good news to this story!
- If you are a manager struggling with culture and morale on your team, you’re not alone!
- In case you missed it, the workplace as we knew it was turned upside down. Countless other managers are still experiencing similar challenges as a result.
- The answer isn’t going back to our old ways (being in the office full time).
- What’s that quote? Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” I.e.: remote work is here to stay. It’s up to managers to respond.
- You can think of yourself as a pioneer on a new frontier!
- Change is difficult, yet it is also inevitable. Now that we’ve accepted remote and hybrid teams are here to stay, there are countless new ways for you as a leader to provide your team with meaningful opportunities to connect.
So where should we go from here?
If you’re a manager looking for in-depth ways to engage and retain your team, check out this Ultimate Retention Checklist for Managers.
Three ways managers can improve company culture on their teams
1. Intentional effort
Spoiler alert! The responsibility to create great culture isn’t entirely up to your HR department. The simplest thing you can do as a manager for your team is to prioritize casual (non-work-related) connection time.
At Bonusly, many of our teams have an entire meeting dedicated to catching up on life, not our work to-dos. For example, the marketing team has a 30-minute Monday morning stand-up where a designated facilitator provides the group with a prompt or an activity. A few of the recent prompts have included:
- Each team member thinks of and discusses a fact that is completely mind-blowing.
- All staff share their rose (something they’re happy about) and thorn (a challenge they’ve experienced) from the past week, and bud (something they’re looking forward to).
- One of our facilitators even created a bingo card!
- Squares included “Has been to China,” “Still listens to the Backstreet Boys,” “Has baked bread from scratch,” and “Volunteers”. It was up to each individual to name someone else on the team who they thought met the criteria in a square. The first person to be able to correctly match someone from the team to a square with five squares in a row got BINGO!
You may not have time for an entire meeting (though we would argue that it’s worth making time!), but consider starting with 15 minutes during your weekly team meetings to chat about life or set aside five minutes during every meeting to check in with one another.
To get buy-in, you might discuss ideas your team has for building better culture on your remote or hybrid team and have each person carry out their idea during a meeting. You could even send out a survey to get thoughts and feedback from your team on what they would like to do.
2. Career conversations
“Lateral career opportunities” were the top short-term area for improvement in the MIT study and were 2.5 times more likely than compensation to influence retention. Job security and career development were also named as some of the leading items employers could improve on, according to our recent study.
1:1 meetings with direct reports offer great opportunities to discuss short- and long-term career goals and intentionally design work projects around reaching them.
We put together this 1:1 meeting template with our partners at Hypercontext for quarterly career growth meetings. Take a look and see if it’s something your team members will benefit from!
3. Recognition program
Bonusly’s Founder and CEO Raphael Crawford-Marks said it best:
“The Great Resignation showed us that employees want more than just a paycheck. As many companies have transitioned to remote work, there is an increased need to create positive interactions to build stronger connections, even if those are virtual. Retention and high-performance are directly impacted by how employees feel valued and recognized at work.”
Recognition programs work. Most importantly, they make employees feel appreciated for the work they do. They make all teams whether in-person, remote, or hybrid, feel more connected. They improve morale and engagement and make work more visible (which helps immensely when the time for employee reviews roles around).
As a manager, you can play a critical role in leading by example when it comes to adopting and using a recognition program not only for your direct reports but for the rest of your company as well.
But don’t just take it from us. See for yourself with a free trial for your team today!
Positive culture—what once took minimal effort to maintain—now requires intentional, thoughtful effort from managers. Now that you’re aware, you can start taking steps to make a difference.
With a bit of planning to prioritize meaningful connection time, career conversations, and a true recognition program, you’ll be on your way to becoming a better leader, retaining your direct reports, building stronger teams, and boosting motivation and morale.