3 Ways to Extend Workplace Culture Beyond Office Boundaries


Remote work is here to stay so HR needs to help create a “new normal.” Susan Insley, VP, human resources at VMware, shares how HR can help extend the workplace culture beyond the physical office.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced leaders across industries to rethink employee experience. Beyond the lessons of business continuity, employee safety, and health, this extraordinary period has shown us that now is the time to reevaluate our workplace visions and the factors that contribute to a positive and productive workplace culture.

We’re seeing many companies, big and small, make major changes to their work policies especially when it comes to working from homeOpens a new window . Salesforce announced it’s extending its work-from-home policy into next summer, while others such as Twitter, Square, and Zillow have announced that employees will be able to work remotely for as long as they want. Like many companies, VMware expects to have a hybrid model, or what we call a distributed work cultureOpens a new window , with upwards of 50% of our employees taking advantage of increased flexibility.

Because employees don’t want organizations to go back to the way things were, we in HR need to help surface a “new normalOpens a new window .” And as we do, we must consider all options, even ideas that had previously seemed too radical to roll out, especially those boosting workplace culture beyond physical offices. Here are three ideas.

1. Create Shared Experiences

With many workforces still dispersed, it can be easy for people‚ even whole teams, to feel isolated, stressed, and burned out. This is a tough time for those having to juggle new personal responsibilities like homeschooling with work and others without effective ways to separate their home and office spaces. One way for HR and business leaders to help employees feel connected and maintain a workplace culture is to create shared experiences.

A shared experience is an opportunity for employees to connect, unwind, and feel empowered to express themselves. For us, that’s included virtual get-togethers where employees can learn something new about one another and talk about something other than work:

  • Talent shows
  • Coffee or happy hours
  • Trivia events
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Group “watercooler” spaces (think Teams, Slack, etc.)

However, we understand that many employees are dealing with Zoom fatigue, so it’s essential to make these optional. These events are an informal way for employees to connect and feel supported but shouldn’t be required or looked down upon if they cannot join.

In addition to group events, it’s equally important that managers regularly connect with their people on an individual level to ensure they feel supported. Questions managers should be asking their team members include: Do you feel comfortable and safe working from home? Are your goals and expectations clear? Is there anything else you need to be productive in your current work environment?

Through these one-on-one meetings, managers can learn how to support their employees’ unique work and psychological safety needs. While we’re all going through the pandemic together, everyone is different. HR and business leaders must take the time to ensure their employees are feeling supported and connected and have the tools and technologies they need to continue building and strengthening relationships with their coworkers through engaging digital activities.

Learn More: How Employee Engagement Analytics can Impact Work-CultureOpens a new window

2. Improve the Digital Employee Experience

One of the ways organizations maintain business continuity is by ensuring employees have the right technologies and apps at their fingertips. A seamless digital employee experience – including the ability to easily access the information and resources they need – anytime, anywhere, on the devices they choose positively impacts business outcomes, according to a recent surveyOpens a new window . These include industry competitiveness, employee sentiment, and talent recruitment. HR and IT teams need to work together to ensure your organization provides the best digital employee experience so your employees can do their work as quickly from anywhere as they can from an office.

When work-from-home mandates began, many IT and HR leaders were thrown together to make decisions fast. It’s so essential for our organizations and for us to continue to connect regularly, HR and IT counterparts working together to evaluate the systems in place and make adjustments, quickly as needed. HR’s value-add to IT right now is in knowing how well employees are engaged – whether workers have all of the tools they need and if they know how to use the resources most effectively IT is providing.

HR teams are also best positioned to ask if there’s anything else employees may need to help them do their work effectively. And we can share that knowledge with IT to boost our digital employee experience.

Like all relationships, there will be bumps. For example, HR’s excitement about the future state and the innovation possible may need to be tempered by IT teams that want to help but understand the real-world costs and resources needed for what’s being proposed. That’s helpful because HR and IT can work together to prioritize what’s possible and weigh that against schedules, budgets, and impacts. Despite any friction that might arise, it’s worth the time and effort for HR and IT to collaborate because, with the right digital employee experience, people are better equipped to communicate, engage, and do their best work.

Learn More: How to Assess Candidates for Company Culture FitOpens a new window

3. Build and Deepen Trust

Distributed work can make supervising more challenging for some managers. We’ve all seen ill-fated attempts at creating transparency – for example, knowledge workers asked to report their time instead of their output – lead to employee dissatisfaction. Not only can this behavior hinder personal success, it can significantly damage relationships and company cultureOpens a new window because it undermines trust. No one appreciates micromanagement, whether it’s in the form of schedule monitoring or excessive one-on-one meetings.

Managers who question an individual’s ability to be productive can expect to receive the same level of distrust back. For example, some remote employees feeling pressured to overcompensate may always be available but deliver inconsistently. Leaders must create a space where employees can feel comfortable saying “no,” just like they did when they were in the office.

It’s incumbent upon HR leaders to guide both managers and employees to a mutual level of understanding and trust. We can help by ensuring both parties create and measure themselves against tangible metrics. HR teams have the frameworks to share including key performance indicatorsOpens a new window (KPIs), objectives and key results-based tracking (OKR) methods, and check-in reports. With quantitative information, employees know exactly what is expected of them and managers have a way to assess if, and when, additional supervision is needed. Of course, adding qualitative information is also a best practice that can be helpful in supporting a later promotion request.

Modernizing Workplace Culture Is a Work in Progress

Business leaders may overlook the connection and relationship components of work, but HR leadership cannot if we expect all employees to do their best and be their authentic selves at work.

Organizations have been quick to integrate processes and solutions that empower distributed work, and our job as HR leaders is to extend them to boost office culture beyond traditional physical spaces. Shared employee experiences, improved digital engagement, and deeper trust are invaluable assets that deserve the same level of attention and innovation as customer-facing business initiatives because they foster the connectivity, openness, responsibility, and assurance your workplace culture deserves.

How do you think employers can extend the workplace culture beyond the office? Tell us on LinkedInOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , or FacebookOpens a new window .