Amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the nationwide lockdown companies have been forced to embrace remote working operations.
Luckily with modern technology, remote working has become an accessible operation. As agencies are dedicated to ensuring that remote working doesn’t hamper efficiency or quality of work, there is one potential danger that many might overlook, and that’s the impact that remote working has on a healthy agency culture.
At Wavemaker, a healthy familial culture is at the heart of our agency. It is the reason we have a high retention rate (which is unheard of in advertising), and it is the reason our staff all describe each other as family, or “a home away from home”.
Our CEO, Lwandile Qokweni, describes it best, “We laugh together, we cry together, we take care of each other”. So, when we started to institute remote working, we had to relook how we maintain this culture when our employees don’t spend time in each other’s company anymore, and above all, are anxious about the current uncertain circumstances.
We soon realised:
If you don’t have company values, you can’t build a healthy culture, especially not when operating remotely
Company values are crucial in driving culture. However, these values need to be something that the entire organisation lives. At Wavemaker, all our values are grounded in a core concept: Grow Fearless. This is something that our entire staff compliment embraces.
We recently asked our staff to describe “What makes a Wavemaker?” and their answers are indicative of a team that lives this concept. Wild, strong, fearless, proud, unstoppable, badass, willing to fail and go again, team player, honest, witty, intelligent, intuitive, streetwise, passionate, taking care of each other.” The fact that we have an organisation where everyone really lives the culture, it made it easier for us to continue living this culture remotely.
Stick to routine
In a period of uncertainty, sticking to your original routine will provide a sense of stability. Continue those staff meetings (online obviously), have virtual lunches and coffee together. Having occasional water cooler chats don’t only help to normalise the remote working environment, but it is actually an integral part in building employee camaraderie and trust.
Have more one-on-one catch-ups
Outside of the normal meetings you will having, ensure that you check-in with individuals on a regular basis. Now more than ever, employees might have some concerns not only around job stability, but also some anxieties around their physical and emotional health. Regular check-ins will help you to address these issues that might be bother employees.
Transparency is more important than ever
Due to the amount of uncertainties around our current social circumstances, a lack of transparency and honesty, can be detrimental to trust amongst employees. The truth of the matter is that this pandemic does have an impact on the economy, and businesses will feel it. Keeping your staff in the dark on the company performance and decisions will break down trust, which you as a company will struggle to regain.
Relax the company WhatsApp rules
A company WhatsApp group can be a pain, so many businesses have a strict business only, protocol when it comes to communicating on the WhatsApp group. During this lockdown period, it might be wise to relax those rules. Allowing staff to share memes, jokes and a bit of banter, might be exactly what is needed to lighten the mood.
Nothing like some virtual team building
Virtual team building can really do wonders to keep team morale high. An online version of 10 questions, is an easy way to get teams engaged. Motivate each other to share pictures of their home offices, or lunch or views can create a sense of connectedness, or at the very least facilitate some laughter.
Work on something that contributes to society
A CSR project is a great way to give staff members a purpose and do something great for the community. Identify a project where staff members can get virtually involved with that can contribute some goodness to South Africa. The Loeries have recently launched their Wake The Nation effort, where agencies can work on one of six briefs, that are geared towards solving real problems in Africa and the Middle East. Visit the site here to learn more.
As much as technology allows us to work remotely with ease, we will need to remain tuned into the organisational conversations and the needs of employees to ensure that we maintain a healthy culture. This will mean more to employees than you might know.
As a seasoned strategist and researcher, Shaun Frazao has developed and contributed to many successful campaigns in the corporate, public and political landscape. He currently works as head of digital at Wavemaker, a WPP and GroupM agency in Johannesburg (ZA).
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