How To Build Culture in a Digital World

With more employees working offsite, it's becoming increasingly important to extend your company's culture to your remote workers.
Business and Workplace Author, Speaker, and Consultant,
January 23, 2013 Quick quiz: true or false?

1. You don’t know anyone who works at your company.
2. You try not to involve yourself with your company’s digital networks.
3. When it comes to certain office protocols, you have no idea what is and isn't acceptable.

If you answered 'True' to these statements, you're part of the 20 percent of global employees who work on virtual teams, and your organization’s culture is a total mystery to you.

This is a problem, because even as we strive to enhance our cultures so our employees will stick around, our strategies mostly shut out employees who don’t come into our offices. If we want to encourage collaboration and track productivity, we have dozens of effective digital tools from which to choose. But when it comes to tools meant to inform and reinforce culture, there’s not much.

In a recent article for Fast Company, Austin Carr reported on a few new technologies that are a step in the right direction. Yammer, which is an enterprise social network that Microsoft acquired for $1.2 billion, acts like a Facebook for internal business use. It enables employees to exchange messages, media and status updates—integrating the option to "Like" a coworker's post or give him or her "Praise" badges.

Taking it a step further is emotional intelligence company Kanjoya, which has a product called Crane that taps into an organization’s Yammer network and analyzes data to measure how employees are feeling at any given moment or on any given topic. Crane can tell, for instance if your employees are irritated by a new policy or don’t like the way management is handling a current issue. Although it’s not always clear what leaders should do with Crane’s data from a big picture perspective, the program at least allows them to address small details that might otherwise go unnoticed and fester.

Yammer and Crane are terrific, but they don’t necessarily address the remote worker's concerns. If you want your digital tools to bolster your organizational culture, instead of detract from it, follow these four rules:

1. Orient new team members. When you introduce tools to new hires, don’t just give them a username and password and call it a day. Provide lengthy instructions detailing what the tools are, why you’ve adopted them and what they're intended to accomplish. Include cultural cues about usage such as “We don’t use the system to contact managers’ personal cell phones on weekends.” 

2. Use tools consistently. Unless you use your tools with your whole team, on all your related projects, they will fragment rather than strengthen your culture. Adoption should be mandatory—set up your systems so employees can’t get their work done without using the tools every day.

3. Encourage evolution and innovation. The quickest way to a stale culture is to roll out a new piece of software or online system and let it languish there for eternity. Make sure your employees know that your digital tools are flexibly designed for continuous improvement and prompt them to share suggestions.

4. Leave some things offline. Digital tools can make some parts of interpersonal workplace communication easier, such as introducing colleagues to one another and showcasing rules and regulations in a visually-appealing way. However, they can’t totally replace the camaraderie that develops through in-person interactions. Periodically, you should all unplug and sit in a room together. Even a few hours can make all the difference.

Read more articles on creating and sustaining a great company culture

Alexandra Levit is a former nationally syndicated business and workplace columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to SuccessMoney Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.

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