Our council's culture is thriving remotely

By Gill Kneller | 28 October 2020

The current question that gnaws away at me is how can we embed the right culture when colleagues might have never actually met each other or even stepped into the office? This is an even bigger challenge when creating one team from two councils (with two politically separate entities).

Like most other organisations, we’re mainly working from home so the only interaction is digital.

Culture is that intangible feeling you get about an organisation from the environment you create. Much of this used to rely on physical presence but now we need to find new ways to replace physical representations of culture remotely. With every digital conversation we have, we are embedding our values, traditions, behaviours and attitudes via our screens.

For this to be positive, leaders now need to have a new skill set and higher emotional intelligence than ever before to pick up on more subtle behaviours and cues than they would see in real life. This is something we need to nurture and develop.

Communication couldn’t be more important but digital communication means we’re using a different language.

In some ways, I’ve seen this give colleagues a new boldness – now, they are far more likely to ask me a question in the ‘chat’ than they would have in real life.

And the outpouring of positivity, encouragement and friendship is apparent when I glance through staff meeting comments – which just wasn’t possible before we went digital. We now have more colleagues in a ‘room’ together than we ever did ‘before’. But is it enough?

James Dyson doesn’t think staff can be trained effectively at home and that creativity doesn’t happen there either, so can we make this happen? I’ve seen a burst of creativity with staff finding solutions to challenges and embracing completely different ways of doing things, along with different ways of connecting via WhatsApp, social media, Strava – you name it, they’re doing it.

We have building control officers filming site visits to share with trainees – and instead of learning from sitting next to someone we now have colleagues working ‘side by side’ by having an online meeting running in the background so they can bounce ideas around – as well as office banter! After all, what is culture without that?

Gill Kneller is chief executive of East Hampshire DC and Havant BC


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