Ask HR: How Can We Maintain Culture While Working Virtually?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP December 17, 2021
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Ask HR: How Can We Maintain Culture While Working Virtually?

​Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

I am an owner of a small consulting agency. We have been working full time from home for the last 11 months. We've lost a lot of our interpersonal connections. How can we maintain our unique culture when most of our interactions are virtual? —Henry

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Businesses fortunate enough to operate either partially or fully remotely are all facing similar challenges. They are being forced to reimagine how to foster and encourage connections among their staff. As a business owner, you need to set the tone for what kind of culture you want to cultivate.  

Start by communicating your personal commitment to staying connected and engaged in activities with your staff. Employees are more likely to follow your lead when you clearly express your intentions and demonstrate your commitment to strengthening those connections. Send regular videos with key business updates and reinforce your company values and the importance of staying connected.

Being on camera for meetings helps colleagues remain connected and engaged. You will want to be mindful of "video meeting fatigue," so be strategic when asking your employees to be on camera. Develop a guideline to prioritize the types of meetings for which employees are expected to be on camera and designate how often they should occur. Knowing that workers are often juggling work and home life in the same space, it is important to be flexible and understanding.

Don't underestimate the importance of social interaction. When working in person, employees have multiple opportunities to connect and interact socially, but when working remotely, this element gets missed. These connections foster understanding and empathy among co-workers and mitigate workplace stress. Allowing informal time for workers to catch up during meetings helps strengthen social cohesion. 

Take time to recognize and thank workers who embody the cultural traits and behaviors you value. In the isolation of remote work, workers miss the organic direction, rituals and cues from their co-workers and managers that form the context of the workplace. In the absence of in-person interactions, you should be intentional and overt in communicating your purpose, your values and the behaviors you want your staff to personify.  With some forethought and planning, you can cultivate a workplace culture to successfully transcend the digital divide.


I have worked for a marketing agency for eight years and built some substantial client relationships. One of my clients recently approached me about working directly for them. I am interested, but I am concerned that if I say no or if it becomes public, it will affect my relationship with both my agency and the client. How can I navigate exploring this option and still maintain my working relationships? —Priscilla

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Even as you explore your choices, you will still have an opportunity to maintain and cultivate these valued working relationships. You'll first want to verify the guidelines for moving forward.

Start by checking your noncompete agreement with your current employer. If you have a signed agreement, you may not be allowed to work for a client or a competitor of your employer for a specified period.

Next, speak with your client to see if there is a nonsolicitation agreement. Your current company may have structured a relationship agreement with your clients to limit the utilization of the company's employees. Once you verify that there aren't agreements in place preventing you from working directly for your client, then you are free to explore your transition options further.

Until you've made your final decision, keep the conversations confidential and ask your client to do the same. Should you choose to accept this new opportunity, have a candid discussion with your employer. Let your manager know when your last day will be and inform them of your strategy to transition any current responsibilities. Lastly, connect your other clients with the new point of contact at your old company.

However, if you choose to remain with your current employer, be honest and upfront with your client. Thank them for their interest in you and highlight what you value about your current position. Let them know you continue to look forward to a positive and productive working relationship even if it isn't directly with them.

Embrace this experience as an opportunity to deepen your professional relationships. With this in mind, any decision you make will be a positive one for your future.

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