With the threat of the delta variant lurking, strict lockdowns have been reimposed in several countries, such as in Australia, in China, and in the Philippines. This caused companies to implementfull work-from-home (WFH) policyanew while others just extended their existing ones.
Even beyond the pandemic, many companies have already decided on their hybrid policy, i.e., employees working from home part of the time and in an office part of the time. In fact, according to the recent Accenture Future of Work Study 2021, 83 percent of workers surveyed said a “hybrid model would be optimal.” This is further supported by a survey I conducted with a retail company which revealed that 67 percent of the workers prefer hybrid.
This means that workers will be primarily communicating with their managers, colleagues, customers, and other stakeholders using the virtual medium. In the last seventeen months of the pandemic, how organization members communicate virtually is already redefining their organizational culture.
In our consulting work with several companies which is mainly done through virtual means, we observed two emergent norms when employees attend virtual meetings such as townhall, departmental, customer, and supplier meetings, and even virtual trainings. One is where many employees have their cameras off during a viral meeting; the other is where almost all employees have their cameras on.
Consider these examples.
A local distribution firm had its townhall meeting with the CEO. Majority of the employees have their cameras off. When one manager prodded them to turn on their cameras, a few complied. The employees were disengaged. This company is experiencing several organizational issues such as low sales, unhappy customers, and prolonged collections periods.
A global services company has been running several virtual workshops to train their employees. On many occasions, majority of the participants had their cameras off despite the inciting of management. This company is experiencing a high employee turnover.
A local financial services firm conducts their internal and external meetings with employees having their cameras on with a professionally curated virtual background. Most of the employees actively engage during virtual meetings. This company has been experiencing double-digit revenue growth amid the pandemic with high customer satisfaction ratings.
These anecdotal accounts highlight how organizational communication shape a company’s culture. Evidently, a 2020 analysis of several studies on organizational culture revealed that “organizational communication media affectorganizational culture”, apart from transformational leadership.
The study, authored by Aryani and Widodo and published in the International Journal of Higher Education defined organizational communication as “the process ofsending and receiving various messages in the group contained in the organization’s formal and informalorganizational structure which includes downward communication, upward communication, horizontalcommunication, and interline communication”. Organizational culture, in turn, impactsemployee motivation, organizational commitment, job satisfaction, employee engagement, job involvement, innovation, productivity, performance, and organizational citizenship behavior, according to the study.
You may argue that the lack of engagement in virtual communication is the offshoot of “bad” leadership, or it’s coming from an already “bad” culture. But when the pandemic started, all organizations moved to virtual communication at the same time. Based on our experience with our clients and partners, those who are successful in weathering this pandemic storm are those who quickly adapted to the virtual way of communication.
So how can you transform the way the organization members communicate effectively in a virtual setting? Here are some of things we prescribe.
Enable the employees to effectively communicate virtually. This involves taking inventory of the employees’ internet speed availability and upgrading it if necessary to enable a decent video conferencing capability. The company can provide an internet allowance for at least 25mbps dedicated bandwidth and upgrade all necessary hardware and software to make sure that audio, video, and applications are all set up. This also involves training the employees on virtual meeting etiquette that includes turning on the camera, making virtual eye contact, and being “camera ready”.
Build a foundation of trust. Since the employees are working remotely, they need to be provided with clear goals and directions. A manager should not frequently check up on the workers, but instead have a regular “how-are-you-doing” calls. Management should communicate with the workers with empathy, through listening, trusting, and understanding.
Have regular employee engagement activities. This can be done through synchronous meeting sessions such as attendance in wellness webinars or having icebreaker games in-between meetings. Digital engagement tools can also be used such as having “interest” channels in the company’s intranet site where employees can join in and engage in conversations with colleagues.
Organizational communication alongside a transformational leadership approach is vital in transforming an organization’s culture and adapt to these challenging times. Enabling the whole organization to effectively communicate virtually will have a huge impact on the company’s performance.
The author is CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm.He is the Chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is Fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation.He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org