It’s perhaps the ultimate paradox of running a small business today. Awareness of the value of culture and social connection to company life and business success has never been higher. Yet, in the new era of flexible working, nurturing a common culture can prove tricky. Building a shared understanding of what your organisation stands for and ‘how things are done around here’ is tougher than ever, because ‘around here’ can now be anywhere.
So how can you create that all-important unique feel that sets your company apart and that provides its glue? That helps you attract and retain diverse talent, aligns your teams and keeps everyone invested in driving your business forward?
Building a strong culture is a complex and organic process, but technology can help. As Microsoft announces the launch of Teams Essentials for UK small businesses, we explore six ways you can use the platform to help build strong cultural foundations in the flexible workplace.
1. Make communication natural
Put a kettle in any office and it becomes an instant draw for connection and collaboration. That’s because it stimulates natural conversation, which is when we’re at our most relaxed and creative. Things get done over coffee.
So help your teams emulate that productive communications experience wherever they are. For the price of a single coffee (£3) you can get a month’s subscription to Teams Essentials for each of your team giving them unlimited chat, Teams meetings and video calls.
While email tennis can be impersonal, chat and short Teams meetings offer warmer, more natural communications experiences and enable collaborative decision-making that everyone feels involved in – vital in any strong culture.
2. Design seamless experiences
Martine Haas, director of the Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies was recently quoted in Harvard Business Review as saying: “Hybrid working risks creating a ‘dominant class’ of those who feel like they’re central to the organisation and strongly committed to it and an ‘underclass’ of those who feel peripheral and disconnected.” (Harvard Business Review, Feb 15 2022).
Two-tier working experiences are divisive. So creating seamless experiences in which everyone feels equally included has to be a priority in establishing a strong company culture.
When setting up meetings, ensure everyone’s experience is equally engaging whether they’re in the office, at their kitchen table or in a café. Using Teams, everyone can participate via video or instant chat and give virtual reactions to increase involvement without interrupting flow. Breakout rooms can facilitate smaller group discussions and create an even greater sense of social connection and inclusion.
3. Prioritise inclusivity
When creating seamless experiences across different locations, try to also ensure you’re creating accessible experiences that make your culture an inclusive one. Teams Essentials makes this easier than you might think. For instance when running a live event you can select the Captions option to translate content into up to six languages and you can provide transcripts and recordings of meetings for those who want to digest information at their own pace.
Before sharing a Word doc, PowerPoint or email, you can also click on the Accessibility Checker button (that drops down from the Review tab), to take recommended actions and make your content more accessible to all. Discover more accessibility tips on the Microsoft website.
Ben Whitter, founder and CEO of HEX, a global thought-leader in human and employee experience, believes that technology is imperative to create a truly inclusive workspace:
“Creating spaces and places, whether digital or in-person, that enable our best work is a primary concern of all businesses now.
From our research at HEX, we’ve found that it is indeed possible to create a company where people feel like they belong, and increasingly, technology is working seamlessly in the background and the foreground to bring that connection to life alongside leaders who role model what a brand and business represents in the world.”
4. Communicate what great culture means to you
Think about the world’s strongest brands and most have passionate leaders who talk freely about their company’s values. When leaders take the time to articulate the culture they are looking to build and emulate the behaviours they want to see, they create valuable clarity – a common goal to strive for and a common understanding of how to get there.
Running regular Teams training and team building sessions can help establish a strong culture. By using Cameo in PowerPoint you can insert your video feed directly into your presentation to communicate your vision with more expression as you present. And with shared files always available through Teams Essentials, you and your team can continue to exchange ideas on how to build your culture together.
5. Build a positive culture by encouraging healthy habits
Hybrid working, when executed poorly, could risk being associated with an ‘always-on’ approach that over time creates resentment and erodes company culture. But it needn’t be that way.
Prioritise wellbeing by using technology to positively reinforce work-life balance and create the type of caring culture that is highly prized today.
Encourage healthy working habits by scheduling in ‘no meeting’ slots in Outlook so people can enjoy valued focus time. You can also use Outlook to set shorter default meeting times to encourage breaks.
And use the flexibility that technology enables to help people prioritise what matters to them. Working together synchronously might be important when you’re nearing a deadline, but at other times – with your files always live and available on Teams – you can work asynchronously and still be productive. By enabling the runner in your team to get out in the morning before the heat of the day, or a parent to do their work late so they can make the most of play time, you show people you care about their whole selves – not just their work selves. And that counts for everything in creating a culture people feel aligned to.
Ben Whitter thinks the road to improvement should be taken step by step:
“A strong company culture is delivered one experience at a time. From the big moments to the smaller ones, culture forms over the long-term and serves as a powerful unifying force for the entire business. It propels companies forward and accelerates their progress.
It’s why we often see small businesses having major impact – it’s no accident, they have managed to co-create a company that people are proud of through consistent and human-centred actions.”
6. Prioritise connection
Remote working can feel…remote. So finally, prioritise connection in your organisation. Although we’re all about Teams, don’t just use Teams for meetings! Look for other potential touchpoints – work anniversaries, project milestones, feel-good Fridays – when you can come together and celebrate what you’ve collectively achieved so that everyone feels seen, heard, valued and connected to your mission – and to each other.
David Cummings, author of Think Outside the Inbox, calls corporate culture: “the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.” So why not grab that control today and start reaping the rewards, for your people and for your bottom line?
If you’d like to know more about how technology can help you enhance your communications, culture and security visit aka.MS/HybridSMB for more help and advice.