Both employers and job candidates have come to consider culture and cultural fit important elements when making or accepting offers. But in a world where much hiring is taking place remotely—often via videoconferencing and tools like Zoom and Skype—how can companies adequately convey their culture?
It's a challenge that many HR professionals have taken on, and they have important insights to share.
Start with the Basics
"Corporate culture has never been more important to recruiting talent," said Antonia Hock, global head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, a consultancy based in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area that works with organizations to enhance employee and customer experiences.
Hock recommended starting with the basics—like the job description. It may sound simple, she said, but "so many of these are poorly written, focusing only on the vocational skill required, and give a candidate no sense of the environment or point-of-view of the overall organization." Hock recommended devoting space in the job description to company culture, how the team functions, and the values and traits that are ideal for thriving in the company.
She further recommended taking the time to create a "candidate experience journey" to "chart out all of the touch points and processes from initial contact through first day of work." This will provide insights into the areas of opportunity to communicate about or reinforce culture.
When most hiring was taking place through onsite, in-person interactions, employees would automatically get a sense of the company culture. Now, things are different.
"Understanding an organization's culture and hiring for cultural fit has been one of the most challenging parts of the interview process going virtual"—for both job seekers and employers, said Larry Jacobson, global head of talent acquisition at SimpliSafe, a provider of home security systems with headquarters in Boston.
Now, more than ever, Jacobson said, it's important for employers "to be very intentional about communicating your culture." In a remote environment, he said, "there is going to be a gap since candidates no longer have the benefit of sitting in the waiting room and observing lunch time, hallway conversations or meetings in progress."
Hiring teams have been trained "to clearly articulate what it's like to work at SimpliSafe," he said. Today, the focus is "less on what life was like in the office pre-COVID, with perks like Bagel Thursdays and catered Friday lunches and happy hours, and more on conveying our culture of collaboration, communication and respect, and how we have continued to live that out in this new normal."
Honesty and transparency are critical, said Brianna Foulds, senior director of talent acquisition with Cornerstone, a people development company based in Santa Monica, Calif. "The goal isn't only to hire candidates, it's to retain talent—so honesty is a two-way street to make sure a candidate will be successful at your organization."
One way to do this, she said, is by using specific examples. Consider involving employees not directly related to the hiring process who can share their own experiences. "Research shows company values and employee testimonials are two of the most important types of marketing content for candidates," she said.
Ann Nihil, operations and culture manager for Fracture, a modern décor company based in Gainesville, Fla., said that if these interactions can't take place in person, especially during the pandemic, create "day-in-the-life-of scenarios." These "may significantly help prospective candidates to better understand what the new working environment may be for a company that went from onsite to virtual," she said. Interviewees, she added, want to "understand how we manage across teams, what tools are available for collaboration, what future opportunities there might be for onsite meetings and team-building events."
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
When the ability to convey culture through physical interactions is limited, communication becomes even more critical to ensure connections with and between employees.
"To make up for the lack of in-person interactions, over-communication between managers and direct reports is imperative," said Peter Jackson, CEO of Bluescape, a remote-work-collaboration software company based in San Carlos, Calif. Consequently, he said, it's important to prioritize personal connections. "Fostering culture with a remote workforce is new for most," he acknowledged.
"People need more human conversation, and organizations should encourage social interaction among employees," he added. "Instead of going directly into work-related topics, use the start of each meeting to catch up and talk about personal matters. Another great option is to schedule virtual coffee breaks or remote happy hours with your teams."
Tactile interactions matter and serve to help convey culture. Those interactions can be conveyed in a remote world, to a certain degree, through old-fashioned snail mail.
"Getting something delivered is exciting, and we can't forget the power of corporate swag in helping someone feel connected and special," said April Callis-Birchmeier, principal of Springboard Consulting, a change management consulting firm based in Lansing, Mich. "Send gourmet coffee with a cool company mug to start those early Zoom meetings, or use a vendor such as Spoonful of Comfort to put together an individualized 'welcome to the team' package." And take the time to make it personal, she suggested. "Sending handwritten notes about why you are excited they are joining the team will be saved for years to come."
Because an important part of communication is the specific language used in your organization and industry, Callis-Birchmeier cautioned employers not to assume that new staff members will automatically understand this terminology. "Taking the time before meetings and group events to talk through terms and language that is commonplace is extremely helpful for new team members," she said.
Culture can be conveyed—and reinforced—remotely. But more so than in physical workplaces, it requires ongoing mindfulness and explicit attention to even the small things.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.