If you’re an organizational leader, you’ve likely heard the quote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” But what happens when culture doesn’t exist in the traditional sense—between people gathering together—but rather across bits of data transmitted from laptops and cell phones? How can organizations invest in maintaining culture in a virtual environment?

Whether it’s asynchronous work, hybrid schedules, Zoom fatigue, or debates over Slack vs Asana vs Trello, the challenges in creating and maintaining a health workplace culture only seem to be growing. Today, we thought we’d take a look at some of the underlying issues that affect both the challenges of virtual workplace cultures and solutions.

 

Understanding Your Organizational Culture

According to research from MIT Sloan, “approximately 1 in 10 workers experience their workplace culture as toxic.” So the first step in maintaining organizational culture in a virtual environment—or any environment—is identifying what to keep from your organizational culture, and what to let go of.

For example, maybe your team is amazing at collaborating across departments and coming together to meet tight deadlines. But perhaps with better advance planning, those deadlines don’t need to be so tight. Or maybe you find different “micro cultures” across departments, and you want to take the best practices from each and make them organization-wide approaches.

Read more: Three Signs of Toxic Leadership and Three Habits of Great Leaders

 

Maintaining Culture in a Virtual Environment

Now that you understand your organizational culture, it’s time to think about how to nurture and sustain it. We’re not focusing on quick tips here. Instead, we’re looking at the mindset shifts that can help strengthen culture, whether you have a virtual, in-person, or hybrid workplace.

 

Invest in your management culture

Especially in nonprofit work, too many of us end up as managers with little or no management training. It’s only natural, then, that our management culture might end up being inconsistent or even ineffective. Luckily, management culture can be improved with training, consistency, and commitment from leadership. Even basics, like trainings on how to run effective and inclusive meetings, can quickly improve both managers’ skills and staff members’ experiences.

Read more: Supporting Managers in Your Organization

 

Expand your definition of team building

Team building doesn’t just happen at staff retreats or happy hours. And it isn’t only about trading quirky personal facts or knowing each other’s favorite colors.

True team building is about how members of a team work together with respect and focus, day in and day out. It’s about learning to rely on and respect each other and appreciate the unique insights and contributions every individual brings.

So treat your everyday work as an opportunity for team building. It’s where you learn to trust and rely on each other. And that’s how you really build authentic working relationships.

 

Provide clear leadership and direction with strategic planning

It’s often said that organizational culture comes from the top. And when you’re in a virtual environment, leaders need to be clearer than ever in both words and actions.

What exactly can a leader do to set culture? As Forbes explains:

Culture change comes from concrete and noticeable changes in leadership behavior: what they do; who they hire; who they ask to move on; who they listen to and emulate; where they spend their time; what they talk about in meetings; what they measure; how they invest the firm’s money.

If you want to change or strengthen your organizational culture, but aren’t sure where to start, a strategic plan can be a valuable tool.

A strategic planning process pushes leaders to step back and assess their organization’s current strengths and weaknesses—which may include organizational culture. By building a vision for the future from this frank assessment, you’ll be able to map the concrete behaviors that are the building blocks of organizational culture. For example, you can use your strategic plan to prioritize your time, demonstrating to your team what you value most. You can invest organizational resources the same way. You can even devote more time in meetings to areas like strategy, collaboration and innovation, setting new standards for how you measure success.

 

Embracing a Virtual Environment

In a lot of ways, maintaining workplace culture in a virtual environment only seems challenging because the usual trappings of team building are stripped away. No chatting over lunches at our desks. No holiday parties in conference rooms. No happy hours at the pub down the street.

But those are only a fraction of the ways organizations develop and maintain culture. Try thinking of a virtual environment as an opportunity to shift into deeper levels of team and culture building. Lean into strategy and clarity. Build trust and put your values into action. You just might find that a virtual environment only makes your organizational culture stronger.

Interested in more leadership tips? Check out our Nonprofit Leadership Development Webinar Series: Leading with Intent.

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