Company culture is, in essence, a set of shared values and beliefs about appropriate and inappropriate behavior for an organization and its employees. When your team is distributed at home offices or social distancing at the job site, company culture is more important than ever to keep employees invested, engaged and projecting a positive company image.

Building a remote company culture for construction or a field services business and ensuring it stays strong may seem challenging, because we tend to equate culture with fun perks and activities enjoyed together. But culture can be conveyed to and nurtured in your team—even from afar.

Why does company culture matter?

Company culture keeps your employees motivated and engaged. One in five employees have left a job due to workplace culture or lack thereof. Also, multiple studies have shown that employees with higher job satisfaction perform better.

A Forbes article on Comparably’s 2020 company culture awards noted that employees across industries feel more happiness and pride when they recognize certain elements in their employer’s culture: “Employees want a meaningful mission, a core set of values, goals, and priorities that guide the team.”

Unfortunately, employees don’t usually feel that company values are conveyed clearly. A 2018 Gallup study found that just 41% of employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for and what sets it apart from its competitors.

A thriving company culture makes employees feel that they are part of something great. When construction companies pride themselves on strong culture and integrate it into all their practices, it shines through when they do business.

Company culture also supports a strong positive image of your business, which in turn attracts prospective customers and employees.

How has the pandemic changed company culture?

The biggest impact to company culture in recent times has been the Coronavirus pandemic. In a September 2020 Gallup poll, 33% of Americans reported that they were still working from home, as compared to 8% prior to the pandemic.

Even after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the remote workforce may be here to stay. The Pew Research Center surveyed 6,000 U.S. adults in October of last year and found that 54% of Americans who could do their jobs from home would like to do so in the future. And a survey by the Atlanta Federal Reserve and the University of Chicago showed that the average percent of days working from home is expected to increase four-fold from 5% to 20% over the pre-pandemic numbers.

Distributed teams aren’t able to meet with prospects together in person, or decorate an office for someone’s birthday. They also can’t easily catch up at the water cooler or enjoy a spontaneous team coffee break. Company field trips or activities like a group volunteer day may have also been postponed.

For construction businesses whose workforces are often spread out on different projects, the changes have been different. Office staff may have moved to remote work or alternating schedules, while those in the field have had to add masks and social distancing to their safety protocols.

Construction companies are facing the challenge of making a permanently distributed team feel connected, during and after a pandemic. Remote team-building events like picnics, happy hours or holiday parties might have been reduced or canceled in recent months. Still, a lack of shared social events does not have to mean a lack of company culture.

How company culture hasn’t changed

The book Workplace Psychology by Kris Powers defines organizational culture, a.k.a. company culture, as “a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that show people what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior”.

One common misconception is that extracurricular activities that workers do together, or “free things” they’re provided with, constitute company culture. Company culture is as much a set of shared beliefs and values as it is a style of interacting. Hence the building blocks of company culture don’t require that employees are in the same office or engaging in team building in one physical location.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “Organizational culture can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, including leadership behaviors, communication styles, internally distributed messages and corporate celebrations.”

When construction businesses build and maintain a strong company culture, it manifests as acts of kindness among workers and a shared sense of responsibility. This can come out in simple acts like your workers leaving a job site clean, your front-office staff greeting visitors with kindness and professionalism, your supervisors responding calmly when a customer complains, or your seasoned workers voluntarily helping to mentor new hires.

6 Tips for Building a Remote Company Culture

Here are some tips for establishing and upholding a strong company culture, regardless of the industry you’re in.

  1. Establish trust and psychological safety.

    In a study on psychological safety and learning in work teams, author Amy Edmonson described “psychological safety” as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up”. Edmonson emphasized that psychological safety doesn’t mean an anything-goes atmosphere. Still, workers need to feel that their voices matter and will be heard, whether they are asking for a refresher on a safety procedure, or expressing concern about a lack of instructions or a tight schedule. This makes employees feel “psychologically safe” and primed for productivity.

    These values can be communicated from the point you post job ads and begin interacting with potential employees. If your company places a high value on promptness and responsiveness, you need to reply to applicants promptly by email or even text. If you find it difficult to get back to job candidates in a timely fashion, you might consider talent management software that automates the process.

  2. Communicate vision and values and how to live them.

    Your vision and values need to be more than just a poster on the wall. Let’s say a core company value is to lift up an overburdened team member. When HR or leaders speak about this core value to employees, and show by example how to live it, you drive the point home. So in this example, leadership could recognize employees who are doing more than their share, or they could shift work from them, even pitching in to help.
    Company core values can be discussed on the phone with remote onboards, provided in printed materials, or—better yet—presented in a branded company video. Onboarding software allows you to create a tidy packet of materials that employees can access in the cloud to ensure everyone starts at your company on the same page.

  3. Create an onboarding “buddy system”. 

    Workplace Psychologynotes that “organizational insiders” such as supervisors, coworkers and mentors, are powerful tools for helping new employees adjust to a company and job. A trusted mentor provides workers with answers, advice and support. While mentoring can happen naturally, organizations can make it more official by connecting new hires with a mentor. If you prefer to keep it informal, you can call it a partner, or even a “buddy”. What matters is that the partner have a willing and positive attitude, and enough experience with the organization to be able to answer basic questions about things like workflow, schedules, hierarchy and safety.

  4. Recognize employees who are living out the company’s core values.

    This is a no-brainer: If leaders are talking about and demonstrating core values and an employee models this, acknowledging that employee’s efforts encourages them to repeat the effort, and creates strong social proofing for other team members to follow suit. In remote work conditions, this is especially important, as workers don’t often witness each other’s work. This only has real power if the leadership puts the values or practices into visible action first.

  5. Establish regular rituals.

    Recurring team planning meetings as well as retrospective meetings to examine what went right or wrong on a project are helpful in giving workers a voice in their work—promoting that employee-focused leadership mentioned above. It’s important to have fun rituals, too: Setting up team meetings that involve a quick board game, a wheel spin for a gag-gift prize, or a round of trivia can bring laughter and help meld the team together. These activities can be done while social distancing or over a regularly scheduled video meeting. Having employees take turns suggesting the trivia topic helps everyone feel involved.

  6. Improve communication.

    Most companies’ core values have something to do with quality of a product or service, good customer relations, or a highly-valued team. All of these things can benefit from better communication. HR should ask workers for feedback on company culture in a periodic survey. Also, leaders can require them to jot down one opportunity for improvement at the end of each workday, whether it’s something they could’ve done better, or a tool, process or approach that your business could improve upon. Employees should have the chance to bring up one item each in a weekly team meeting, in addition to one-on-one improvement meetings with managers once a month.

    A quality time and labor tracking software may offer features that ease employee communication from the field, such as field notes, and allow them to relay messages and attach photos to update the office on job site incidents in real time.

Once again, company culture is not how many foosball tables the office has, or how many happy hour tabs the company picks up. Company culture is shared values and beliefs about how the company does business, interacts with employees and even helps the community at large. With a thoughtful and intentional approach, these values can be pinpointed and conveyed from anywhere.

However, when employees are spread out, it takes real strategy by HR and management to show employees what a company’s culture is about, and to demonstrate it in action. With the immediate tasks of hiring, onboarding and payroll management on your hands, it’s difficult for an HR department to contribute to this much-needed endeavor.

Arcoro’s applicant tracking system (ATS) and onboarding modules allow you to warmly welcome candidates and employees from afar with templates and tools that show  the value your company places on responsiveness, timeliness and convenience for workers. Our time tracking module fosters trust by demonstrating the importance you place on keeping up with jobsite activity and paying employees in a timely and accurate manner. All our modules automate tedious HR tasks and paperwork, leaving time to develop a strong culture that employees are proud to be a part of.