Traditional work culture expectations are undergoing a paradigm shift, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager – MEA, Zoho Corp.

According to a recent Boston Consulting Group (BSG) study, more than half of South Africans (53%) prefer the option of working from home at least once a week. Forty-four percent of those polled expressed a desire to work entirely from home. Now more than ever, businesses need to foster a digital culture that encourages employees to engage and succeed regardless of where they work from.

Here are some helpful tips for building a strong and resourceful remote workforce.

  1. Build a transparent communication system

Trust and transparency are the two major pillars of a healthy team culture, and both thrive on communication. Ensure that every person in the team is aware of what’s going on in the company and encourage managers to keep their teams informed of any significant company updates and announcements.

Businesses should also train their middle management to be empathetic communicators. Managers should be perceptive of their team members’ demeanour, voluntarily reaching out to employees for regular check-ins in order to assess and determine if they are having problems and how the company can assist them.

Because these are trying and uncertain times, the leadership could even consider bringing in psychologists to assist employees in navigating emotions in a turbulent and stressful environment.

  1. Help employees feel connected   

While statistics show that many South Africans prefer to work remotely, whether permanently or on a hybrid basis, maintaining a sense of belonging is still important.  Inability to collaborate or bounce ideas off a colleague can result in isolation and employees might begin to feel demotivated.

Team meetings should occur at least twice a week and at times that are convenient for all parties involved. During meetings, allow for a free flow of ideas and include time for conversations so that colleagues can catch up.

Consider implementing an internal chat system so that employees can collaborate with their teammates instantaneously and get their work done more efficiently, rather than making calls or sending emails back and forth for every little thing. Also consider using an intranet forum to provide employees a common space to conduct discussions around topics of interest, share thoughts and business-related suggestions.

  1. Provide employees with the right tools

Businesses should contemplate putting together a remote office budget, which accounts for potential roadblocks like connectivity (since many South Africans still lack access to high-speed internet) and ergonomic equipment such as appropriate office chairs and other essentials. Once the fundamentals are in place, employees also require the right digital tools to be productive remotely. This can include collaboration suites, e-learning software, project management tools, VPN connections, and other resources.

Keep “privacy” in mind – With the commencement date of Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) fast approaching, it’s equally vital to select tools that ensure the security, integrity, and confidentiality of personal information that is in the cloud.

  1. Organise virtual team-building activities

Team building is more important than ever in the virtual office. Arrange online team-building activities to help employees overcome isolation and enjoy some relaxed time with their co-workers, including weekly catch-up meetings, book/movie discussions, virtual team lunches etc.

  1. Recognise and appreciate

Don’t forget to recognise your employees’ efforts just because you are not seeing them face-to-face. Employees respond positively to recognition because it makes them feel valued as a team player. Make a conscious effort to thank employees whenever their work makes a difference to your team and the organisation at large. Public appreciation on internal group chats and similar avenues can also go a long way in employee engagement and satisfaction.

Fostering a healthy work culture among remote teams can be challenging but, with the right adjustments, flexibility, communication and measures, you can build a great culture that your employees will love.

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