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The past few months have tested our collective ingenuity and resolve in countless ways. How quickly can we roll out new things? Will our business be sustainable using a new delivery model? If employees aren’t at the office, can we trust them to get work done?
Remote work has been put to the test in an impromptu global work experiment. From what we’re observing, it is working — especially for companies where mutual trust runs deep.
Businesses with a “we” culture — an ethos that values collaboration, innovation, compassion and a “we’re all in this together” mindset — have kept growing, despite the challenges of COVID-19.
Here’s how to build a “we” culture at your company.
1. Allow people to show up as their whole selves, all the time
Everyone thinks about a lot of different things each day, and the reality is that many people can’t fully compartmentalize all those things into work and not-work. Trusting people to show up as their whole selves means believing they will do what is right for them to be the best employees and people. That could mean taking a break for a run, tending to a sick child, logging early morning hours to crank a report out by deadline or using comp time after a long day.
Trusting your employees to show up as their whole selves means you’ll see the messier parts of their lives. Kids will pop up on Zoom calls. Dogs will bark. Someone may call in for a morning session with wet hair while eating breakfast. We aren’t robots. We can still focus on the task at hand even as we’re dealing with other parts of life. We’re designed to think about all of those things and still do good work. We can have lives away from our desks and still focus on our work.
If you trust you’ve hired the best person for a particular job, let them decide how best to get that job done with what their life looks like right now. This show of radical acceptance and faith in your people — simultaneously acknowledging the difficult and the good and being willing to embrace it — starts to build a culture where people feel valued for who they are rather than existing as chair-filling, expendable resources.
2. Trust each other to make decisions together
In a “we” culture, the decision-making table is intentionally open. Leaders welcome diverse inputs and mindsets to help catch blind spots and offer new ways of thinking. The amount of collaboration and input employees provide is dependent on the business. Still, there should be mutual trust that the best decision will be made after listening and weighing options.
Creating a culture of trust is counterculture in many ways. Trust is a journey that takes effort and patience from both parties. Trust might be two steps forward and one step back — or two forward, one to the right and three diagonally. It’s not always easy, but a “we” culture anchors on this core tenet: We believe people want to do their best work and we trust each other to do it.
When leadership and employees think through potential outcomes together and are grounded in the belief that everyone is working together to do their best work, it helps to alleviate the “but you didn’t think about me” tension that otherwise rises after a decision is announced. And even when a mistake is made, the “we” culture creates a space to work together to course correct and avoid blaming while moving forward together.
3. Make space for creativity and rest.
No one can be on all the time — especially when we’re all in the constant state of adaptation we’ve been experiencing for months. When we’re all learning new ways of working, getting as much done as we can in the short windows of time we have, it’s essential to carve out time for rest.
Existing in a constant state of innovation isn’t sustainable. Encouraging rest acknowledges your team’s needs and empowers them to choose the best ways they can recharge for their work and overall well-being.
In the typical office environment, it was easy to take a quick break between meetings or get a gut check from a colleague as you fill up your coffee. Big ideas don’t always happen in formal scheduled time. In a remote work setting, we have to create moments for small resets intentionally.
Help employees carve out time to be creative, move their bodies and step away from their screens. Our bodies and minds benefit from the inspiration we find through rest.
4. Be better than before.
A “we” culture purposefully creates space for learning and growth. In survival mode, learning and growth can go out the window. And yet, learning and growth are critical for adaptation and innovation.
Give people the space to consider their definitions of success and growth, both for themselves and their roles. Have discussions about success beyond monetary figures. Learn what motivates people to better themselves.
Encourage progress over perfection. Acknowledge that everyone is continually learning. Help your employees create time to learn. It doesn’t even have to be on a topic that is directly about the business. Some organizations give people a day off to learn about social justice, explore a passion project or pursue a professional development topic of their choosing.
Ultimately, engaged and eager learners benefit the company, not just the individuals themselves.
When we encourage people to show up authentically, trust and value their opinions and give them the space to rest, learn and grow, we start to build a “we” culture. A “we” culture cares about people (and not just employees) and empowers your business to grow regardless of circumstance.
This article was co-written by Aileron People Engagement Manager Kristen Rhoads.