Maintaining a Corporate Culture When Employees Aren’t Physically in the Office
Keeping employees inter-connected can lead to more productivity, engagement and creativity.
By Reid Travis
One challenge that many businesses face is developing a thriving and energetic company culture. This challenge is often amplified when part of the staff travels often or some employees work remotely, a very common reality in franchising. In the case of Pancheros, both of these scenarios exist. The operations staff — roughly half of our corporate staff — is frequently out of the office visiting restaurants, and two of the corporate employees work full-time from home.
We began noticing a couple of consistent pain points with staff being geographically spread out frequently. One of the primary points was maintaining a strong company culture that our team could identify with and participate in. Passing a co-worker in the hallway and casually saying “Hey, how was your weekend?” or “How are the kids?” seems like a mundane interaction sometimes. That is, until you no longer have these interactions.
The beginnings of friendships and great work relationships are built on small talk and finding commonalities with a person. These mundane conversations were not as commonplace in our office, and therefore people began to feel disconnected from the social aspects of work. Having these kinds of connections with people you work with is incredibly important, it not only creates a more pleasant work environment but also establishes bonds and friendships which are keys to producing quality work together.
Thus, we implemented Google Hangouts. Our first “hangout” was dubbed “The Watercooler.” Here, employees could share photos of restaurants, screen shots of funny things people say about Pancheros on social media, photos of events that our operations staff are currently attending, or even random stories and photos from a staffers’ personal life.
There were no rules for this hangout, it was just commonly agreed that anything can be talked about whenever and wherever, but all the same rules apply regarding appropriate content that you would normally find in an office or work environment.
After we began using Google Hangouts with “The Watercooler,” we noticed something interesting: a lot of conversation took place after 5:00 p.m. and on the weekends when most people would typically disengage. Employees now have a fairly non-intrusive way to update and share with co-workers what they are doing at any time and are actively using it. As a result, employees feel more connected to the rest of the staff, more included in what’s going on in different departments, and generally more aware of the personal sides of the people they work with. This has allowed for our team to engage more with each other even while away for long periods of time, which in turn results in better teamwork and increased morale.
Another major problem becomes achieving timely project deliverables. When someone physically leaves the work environment for a long period of time, a project can easily slip to the back burner. At the time, email was the only solution, but even that can feel fragmented and unfocused when you begin receiving too much.
Because of the importance for our operations staff supporting and helping restaurants on-site, it was not a good solution to ask them to be at the office more often to work with the rest of the staff when needed; their time truly is better spent in the field helping franchisees at their locations. Therefore, we adopted the idea of using hangouts to keep everyone interconnected regardless of their physical whereabouts.
Now, our office staff has Google Hangouts running on their computers; the operations teams can have it at their fingertips with their phones and the remote staff members have the luxury of choosing whichever device they want to connect them to the office whenever they want. To help foster a sense of culture, we began providing these devices, whether laptops, iPads or smartphones, to employees so they could have access to the tools they need to engage. It is just as important for the company to supply the resources as it is for the employees to partake, when it comes to building and sustaining a positive corporate culture.
Another benefit of utilizing technology to build a virtual company culture is increased productivity. Aside from the Watercooler hangout, each department has specific hangout sessions that are more work-related, such as operations and marketing, accounting and so on. By focusing communication in this platform and allowing everyone to see all updates, the entire group is instantaneously updated on progress. When it comes to remote employees, having department or project-specific modes of communication maintains focus and clarity, thus increasing efficiency. Having these department-specific sessions reduces digital clutter and frees employees from irrelevant emails, thus giving them a more streamlined workday with less distractions.
Lastly, having channels that allow for system-wide connectivity adds an extra level of accountability for all employees. For example, when a few people are inquiring on deadlines and one person is obviously holding up a project, it is clear to see where the struggle lies. Before we implemented this solution, these projects may have been halted until someone was in the office to talk to or was able to get to their email and send a response. There were also times when a discussion occurred between two people about a project, progress was made, but an email was never sent to other members to alert them of the development causing a disconnect in the status of the project.
Overall, projects now move faster and stay on track while using Google Hangouts. Implementing these digital gatherings has increased accountability in each department as remote employees are current on projects and can easily communicate with their respective departments on key deadlines, project deliverables and other related items.
Since our company began utilizing the tools available to us to revitalize our company culture and keep employees interconnected, we have noticed a significant uptick in productivity, engagement and creativity. Employees do not necessarily have to be physically present to be informed, but it is the company’s responsibility to make sure the avenues for them to engage are established and well communicated.
Reid Travis is director of marketing for Pancheros Mexican Grill. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.